I’ve been watching an interesting and important discussion play out for a number of years now within the environmental movement and ecological farming community. It appears that on one hand we have a group that is convinced by the data that farming to feed a population which is growing exponentially through traditional land based means is doomed to be an ecological detriment. Our current system should instead be replaced with high tech solutions such as vertical farms and laboratory processes to create the nutrition this population needs. As a result we could return much of our farmland to rewilding efforts to recover the natural environments and biodiversity that we've lost, in no small part due to modern agriculture.
On the other side we have people who are convinced by the data (often the same data) that we need to return to a deeper and more compassionate relationship with the earth, one that allows for us to produce a yield without compromising the ability of all other life forms to exist and thrive. In this way we can both feed the population and restore our role as environmental stewards. Rather than returning many farms to rewild, we could incorporate habitat and biodiversity into our production methods and foster the recovery of wild species in a way that enhances the resilience of our production methods.
Instead of isolating human activity from a pristine concept of the natural world and permitting destructive actions in the remaining space, we could consider all of our necessary functions within a globally connected landscape for their potential to enhance all forms of life, not just our own.
These two contrasting world views recently came to head during a debate between Allan Savory and George Monbiot. Allan represented the side of holistic management, taking into account the infinite complexity of the natural world to create management frameworks to operate with this nuance in a way that respects all the cycles and life affirming principles of our world.
George has been an outspoken critic of this position, especially in how it relates to the management of livestock in farming, arguing that there is no potential for beneficial ecological outcomes in livestock farming, and that in order to combat the climate crisis and mass biodiversity loss, high efficiency farming must be leveraged, along with technologies such as precision fermentation, to produce plant based protein alternatives to meat.
I’ve linked to the video recording of the debate in the show notes for this episode on the website, in order to let you make up your own mind about which side you support. I also want to express that I don’t consider these two positions, certainly not in their rigidity, as the only positions in the broader discussion. At the same time I know that anyone who has listened to more than a few episodes of this show will know which direction I lean personally.
That brings me to today's interview in which I’ll be speaking with Chris Smaje. Chris is a university-based social scientist turned farmer. Has co-run a small farm and market garden for the last 20 years. Along with farming he is a dedicated voice for regenerative and locally based food systems. He's the author of 'A Small Farm Future' which articulates his vision and the details of a society built around local economies and food systems, and his most recent title, 'Saying NO to a Farm-Free Future directly confronts the popular arguments in favor of manufactured food and removing food production from the land.
In our conversation we start by identifying the sources and advocacy of industrially produced food and farm alternatives. We break down the manipulation of data and reductionist thinking that results in conclusions that technological fixes are our only solutions.
Chris also paints a picture of his ideas for a brighter alternative to these conclusions and what is possible in a more locally based and decentralized configuration of our sources of sustenance.
We also dig into the active role that all of us can play in creating this alternative future and accelerate a transformation in the role of farming as well as supply and production of food to one that serves the broader community of life that we’re all connected to.
This is one of my current favorite subjects of exploration as it is connected to so many aspects of how we live, organize ourselves, co-create culture and community, and manifest our future. I hope to explore aspects of this with many more people and perspectives in the coming months, so please, if there are people that you would like to hear me interview about these topics or if you’d like to add or challenge any of the points in the upcoming discussion, I encourage you to reach out on our discord community or to me directly at email@example.com