I feel a heavy hand tonight, to write this piece because it has been fermenting in my mind for some time now, actually since I wrote the post about hand tools. This is something I want to speak with clarity and coherency about the use of machines on the farm, mostly I am referring to the large machinery like harvesters, tractors, tillers, weed badgers, farm vehicles, etc. I think I can talk with some authority here given my extensive study of permaculture, traditionalist agriculture, and my world work on different ethnic farms. Having also been doing this steady now for 3 years.
In the world of monoculture farming, you are sure to get one thing, by necessity, one crop of whatever was planted, in long row upon row of the same fruit, grain, cereal, vegetable, or nut, and that’s it. Sometimes these farms can swell to immense proportions, in the hundreds or even thousands of acres. The crop is planted once in the case of an annual, and then reaped of all it’s bounty at the end of the season, using powerful machines, then they lie dormant and must be planted again after winter. All the product is shipped far off, probably to another country, and a laborer of the farm may spend years in this field and never even consume what comes off the plant, because it is cleaned, processed, and packaged exclusively for someone else. There is something wrong here.
Now the root problem of this comes in when you ask how you can sow 1 million seeds of rye, or 50,000 blueberry bushes, or half a million heads of corn, then you must also reap them when they are ready to eat. The machines that are used make a lot of noise, consume petrol, are dangerous to operate, they break down and need hard to find parts shipped from Japan, they are ugly and do not fit with the landscape, they damage the crops extensively, break water lines, compact the soil, leave permanent scars and ruts in the fields, need sometimes several people to operate, and are only good at doing one job at a time, during a short window of the year. The aura of different problems can continue but I will posture these as some prime examples. One must ask why there is need for this? Why do machines have to come in the game?
Because sustainable farming does not have anything to do with producing a vast amount of crop to provide a city with their groceries, it means first taking care of yourself, and making sure your closest family, and maybe your small community will be provided for, of course this is most efficient when solo, for then only one person needs to be taken care of. When an entire suburb needs their greenhouse kale every day of the year at their local grocery store chain, there is no possibility of these foods being sustainably grown, and nurtured into existence without machines. When you bring in the big metal, you cause more damage than good, and the attention to quality in work depletes.I have personally experience the gamut of different farming techniques from smallholding front yard gardens to permaculture, biodynamic principles, organic community gardens, monoculture, polyculture, silviculture, and every other culture you can name, almost. When an individual or collective of green minded people put in the conscious energy of planting a garden that is dymamically active, or establishing a food forest that actually mimics nature, and generally sowing a small scale plantation, or orchard of some kind, then there is no use for the big machines. There is nothing quite as dexstrous as the human hand when a blueberry bush needs combing, nothing as efficient as a ladder and a long reach to get every walnut or hazelnut off a tree in fruit, and almost nothing more traditional in the ethnic history of agriculture than good old fashioned shucking of corn. There is no mutilation to the plants that have worked so hard with the natural elements to thrive, no broken branches from awkward machinery, no missed berries, and a more subtle appreciation for the actual food you are receiving from nature. It is slow pace, but does not mean thousands or millions of dollars in investments.
One lazy beer gut can run over a field of barley, and not give a flying fuck where it goes, what it is making, or what it does to the earth, so long as he gets his pay and can afford his bills. He is not a farmer who switches gears, presses buttons, pulls levers, and moves tyres over the soil, killing all other life to keep a few hundred of the same, ignoring the importance of diversity. When you stand barefoot on black earth, or crawling near the shade of plants breathing in the microbes of the soil, and the fresh air, in the elements, with 4-5 others doing the same, carefully digging each potato out of the ground, allowing yourself to be alright without aesthetically perfect food, then what is gained from the work is not only a yield, but an experience, a challenge, and a lesson of teaching. You may find 10 or more plants that you chose to identify that you have never known before, you may see wildlife, in their macro-or microfauna varieties, you don’t need to be closed in a metal box with earplugs, and safety protection, you can forage all day, and not have to take 3 square meals, which is so unnatural anyways. Even weeding can be a catharsis, when the same task is repeated, you no longer have to think about it, and your mind can tackle those pent up problems you have held on to for so long. You can use the weeds as a metaphors for those issues in your life you want to defeat or take complete control of. This idea came to me while weeding a field of shrubs, moving down the line, row by row forever, but at least I kept my dignity, and I had my night planned out before me already in my mind. Through seeing the sacred in the mundane. You connect to if not a wilder instinct, at least a true understanding of agrarian lifestyle. A dependency on the soil that humbles the human nature.
There is no need for the big guns, the crows and the wasps are not vermin, and the winged or shelled ones pose no real danger, no is no such thing as weeds, it is mankinds inventioned farming and his fossil fuel burning behemoths that are the real problem! Can I pose a solution? Think of a pig as having a tiller on the front, and a manure spreader on the back, think of the chicken as a mobile pest control vehicle, think of the dog as an off road sheep herder, the cow as a furrow cutter, and the workhorse, or work moose for all you Canadiana folk out there as a winch trailer for those buff logs to haul from the woods.