February 12, 2014

Agrarianism: Forward or Backward Thinking?

There was a comment made during my radio interview with Scott Terry which struck a chord with a lot of listeners. In fact I'm guessing quite a few homesteaders have heard it in one form or another too. It is the idea that agrarianism necessitates the abandonment of all technology, of all things modern. Many a homesteader has been accused of being a hypocrite for using cell phones, power tools, and the internet.

I think part of the reason for this is because agrarianism is thought of as an historical event, a way of life associated with pioneers and Little House on the Prairie. What is true, is that agrarianism is a cultural, economic, and social structure based on agriculture. It's not specifically rural because even merchants and tradesmen can be dependent on the land albeit in an indirect way, such as bartering. Today when we think of agriculture, the technology minded think of industrialized, centralized agriculture run by corporations. This is agriculture as a business endeavor rather than a way of life. Today, technology is the modern way of life.

Seeing technology as a standard by which to live reflects a dependence on technology without which life as we know it would cease to exist. This is true, of course, for most of the modern world. However, real life options are not technology versus no technology, but rather technology as a lifestyle versus technology as a tool. The difference is in either being totally dependent upon technology to function in the world, or in being free to use as many or as few technological innovations as one desires; even to live without.

Unfortunately, the technology-as-a-lifestyle mindset assumes that only technology brings progress. That any other way of thinking is anti-progressive. Progress as the ultimate good ignores potentially devastating consequences and never stops to evaluate the results.

The heart of the modern agrarian movement is not saying technology is evil, but rather dependence on it and the consumer system it fosters is unwise. Most of what it has produced is not sustainable: chemical agriculture depletes and poisons the land, dependency on consumerism produces mountains of trash in overflowing landfills, globalized food production gobbles up precious petroleum reserves for transportation, monoculture crop failures are catastrophic to the world food supply, genetically modified seeds are patented and illegal to save and plant, yet they are pushed on all of us including third world countries who really can't afford them. Science hasn't fixed any of these problems yet; what makes us think it ever will?

All of this is key to the simpler life many people long for. The very technology that is touted as being able to save the world is actually destroying it. But in the end, it boils down to individual choices; choices about how we choose to live and what we choose to buy. The homesteading movement and return to agrarian values is a reflection that people are beginning to understand there is a better way to live. It's not going backwards, it's a course correction. It's moving forward in the right direction.


  1. "The heart of the modern agrarian movement is not saying technology is evil, but rather dependence on it and the consumer system it fosters is unwise." I think this belongs under your "quotes to contemplate" section!

  2. So many good points made in this article. We use technology to help propel us to a more self sustained lifestyle. We use it to cultivate our garden so we can plant non GMO plants, etc. There is definitely a place for it, even this computer I'm using allows me to read articles like yours to help me better understand what's going on, what's working and what's not with other like minded bloggers.

  3. WHAM! Could you hear me slamming my soap box down? It is necessary for our mobile society to have the resources like the internet because we don't have any family nearby to teach us. We don't have any family nearby period. Technology for learning is, unfortunately, tied to technology to "make our lives easier!" Well. That is not healthy in the long run. Our minefield is choosing WHICH steps to take forward and which ones not to.

    As for GMO's, why should we all have to forgo saving seed or have our nearby fields affected? Since they are so smart, why don't they just develop a "Germinator" that has to be purchased along with their tainted seed? That way, the seed couldn't develop into a plant without it. Why do they get to claim nature under patent rights? If I had known, I would have patented it firs!

  4. I meant to say first at the end there!

  5. JW, wow, what a compliment! Thanks! I confess that I do sometimes quote my book on my book's facebook page. :)

    Izzy, well put. Unlike the local communities of yesteryear, our modern agrarian community is spread out all over the world. The internet is the next best support system to real live people.

    Barb, excellent points. The "no work" mentality nowadays is especially destructive, but then jobs nowadays are pretty unfulfilling.

    The germinator idea is excellent. Not that the industry would agree. They contaminate neighboring farmers' crops and then persecute the farmers for the problem they themselves created. How screwed up is that!

    Jaime, thanks!

  6. Shouldn't the plan always be to do what works best?
    I get so tired of folks telling me what I need, and how to live. I've been living for a while now, I think I might have it figured out. ;)

    while I would love to have a nice little farm with critters and such, I know that for now that just isn't possible for me...so I live vicariously through you.

  7. Technology in and of itself isn't evil. Each person needs to decide what works best for them and their lives. What works best for me might not work best for the person down the road. Now I will say that GMO are evil. There is absolutely nothing positive to come from the in the long run. How can something that is supposed to kill a bug be safe for human consumption? As far as homesteaders using technology I don't understand why they are bashed for it. Wanting a simpler, self sustaining life does not mean you need to cut yourself off from things that can make those goals easier for you.

  8. It's hard to live these days without some sort of technology. What bothers me and scares me more, are things like a local city trying to annex 5,000,000 acres of prime farmland for city expansion. This is the land that grows the crops and raises the meat that feeds us. How much longer can we take farmland out of production for houses, and still feed ourselves?

  9. Renee, absolutely. I'm not sure why folks feel that they have to impose their opinions on others. Even without a farm or some land, you still make good choices for you and your family. That's what it's all about.

    Sarah, good question. It would seem obvious to take the best from both worlds, wouldn't it?

    Michelle and Megan, thanks!

    Nina, I heard on NPR that China is planning to move millions of farmers into the cities as laborers. I'm guessing this is part of the global mindset, the one that thinks food will be grown in some countries for the rest of the world. Doesn't make any sense, does it?

  10. Leigh,

    Very well stated! I agree with you and many of the comments to this post.

  11. Totally agree. Man has been a technological animal since s/he made the first stone tool and started the first fire without waiting around for lightening to strike. We simply haven't been very good about looking at the consequences of our technology. Instead it has become a good in itself for most of us and those of us who ask if it is all as good as promised are looked at like we were somewhat insane. I got that when I quipped that I didn't want a phone smarter than I am.

  12. Makes me think of the Amish. They are not exactly Luddites. They being a big adopter of Solar. They simply want to maintain their culture and slow the adoption of technology to a point of being able to handle it. :)

    I am not a luddite. Even Before the Tiny House, the tent was setup to have wireless internet! :)

  13. Excellent points. Even though I'm not a homesteader, I try to always question if things could be done a different way..what can we do without and what do we really need. I like all my technology but like to think about how to be prepared to not have it if need be. So much to think about always. Thanks for a thoughtful post. xo

  14. Sandy, thanks!

    Mary, LOL. Excellent points. The problem with Man is that as a species, we have no clue as to balance. It's in the human nature to want things faster, easier, fancier. That's why I wanted a little piece of land, to get away from all that!

    Cloud, I thought about mentioning the Amish, but for some reason didn't. They are an excellent example of a functioning agrarian community. I doubt very many homesteaders are a true Luddites. Most of us seem to agree, however, that we don't want to be at the mercy of technology to have a functioning, comfortable life.

    Liz, thank you! I'm honored. :)

    Sherri, thank you for that. I think folks need to understand that these are choices no matter if we homestead, live in the heart of the city, or something in between. It only takes losing electricity for a few hours or days to realize how pathetically dependent our society is upon it.

  15. Good article Leigh. I wrote on this subject some time back ( http://www.cultivatedforgod.com/2013/01/technology-how-should-we-view-it/) after a number of conversations with Scott. What is often missed is that to question technology is not to say it is bad but to be wise in how and what technology is implemented.

    Truth is no homesteader I know of should say they totally eschew technology since the even the cast iron skillet, the hammer, the saw and the home one lives in are a form of technology.

    As you said it is wise to ask questions of technology and see if by its implementation it becomes a tool of ours or do we become its slave and thus dependent on it.

    Thanks again for the article. Just got the book and will be starting in as soon as I finish the stack by the bed I am in the middle of.

  16. Very well said! Excellent post.

    I'm reminded of something Wendell Berry said. It's not about a hatred of machines or technology, but rather about an unwillingness to allow them to destroy community.

  17. An interesting post that I enjoyed reading.

    Thank you. Love love, Andrew. Bye.

  18. Technology has improved a lot than before. It is in peoples hand how they use it. Many good and bad things are there even in cellphones. Now it is very easy to talk to peoples who stay at a long distance.
    We need to enjoy the good things and leave out the bad ones.
    Happy Valentine Day!!

  19. Tony, thank you so much for the blog visit and taking the time to comment. I love your article; it hits every nail on the head. I’ve added a link to it on my sidebar’s “Homesteading Viewpoints”.

    I am honored that you bought my book. It’s nowhere near the caliber of Michael Bunker, but in my own way I hope to encourage folks to begin to rethink their lives and how they live them. Perhaps Dan’s and my personal experiences will be useful to others, perhaps not. But if we don’t begin to change our way of thinking and our assumptions of “reality”, we are in for a very rough ride.

    Bill, thank you! And I love Wendell Berry. Great quote.

    Mama Pea and Willow, thank!

    Andrew, thank you for the visit and comment!

    Weekend-Windup, hello! Welcome. It's so true that both good and bad have come from technology. I think much of the "bad" is in the way we use it, and the mental/emotional dependence it creates for some folks. Not always easy, I'm sure but as you say, that's what we need to leave out.

  20. We share many values, and I applaud your post. Thank you for putting into words so much of how I feel.

    The part where we differ is this: "Science hasn't fixed any of these problems yet; what makes us think it ever will?" It's not Science that is the problem. It's that solving these problems isn't necessarily profitable for any one entity, so much as a betterment for all of us. If it doesn't profit one entity (person, corporation), the only way it will be solved is if (1) we crowdsource it, such as through public ("government") research (which is a hard sell nowadays!), and (2) none of the corporations mind (and they do!). So I don't see these problems solved anytime soon, pretty much on purpose.

    Else, I think you're spot-on, and I'd like to thank you for being out there, blogging about your experiences. I've been reading (not commenting) for quite some time, and my husband and I recently bought some acres which will one day be a minifarm, in part because I think people like you are the future.

  21. Laureth, welcome and thank you for your comment! I wholeheartedly agree with what you're saying. My usage of science is in the common (mis)understanding of it, that it can indeed solve all the world's problems. But of course that science is profit motivated! We're just not supposed to notice, Nor are we supposed to be aware that presented results often contain more misinformation than accurate information. I have an acquaintance who works for a university which receives Monsanto funding for research. She admits they won't bite the hand that feed them. The sad truth is that the term "science" has become the vehicle which is used to justify the actions of government and industry.

    Congratulations on your acreage! That's very exciting. I see you have a blog so I'll have to check it out and your progress as well.

  22. Very interesting post. Eschewing technology doesn't make it go away. Yes, you can definitely choose NOT to have an I-phone (I don't) or other techno-garbage, but still use a computer as a way to communicate. I don't think that makes anyone a hypocrite. After all, if you were to hold up "Little House on the Prairie" as an agrarian ideal, you'd have to acknowledge that the Ingalls' had technology, embraced it, and purchased and used it whenever they could. In the beginning of the book series, they were almost wholly unto themselves. But towards the end, they were as dependant as most of their neighbors on things like coal for heat and the shops for food. Were they better off than the townspeople? Yes and no, but they were in no way totally self sufficient. And that means that they embraced technology and became dependant on it as well to an extent.

    I don't think it is possible to ever be self-sufficient. I DO think it is possible to be much more self-reliant than most people are willing to be. There is no need to shop for everything you need to eat just as long as you have a patch of ground or even a bucket of dirt, but most will not see it that way. It's too bad for them. As for me, I choose this lifestyle because I want out of the system-even if just a little bit-and this is what I can do to acheive that. Technology can help with that goal and allow me to learn things I wouldn't otherwise be able to learn, or aquire the things that I need to aquire to live this lifestyle (like a butter churn. There's a paradox--using the internet to buy an old fashioned thing like a butter churn. Mull that one over). Very much like the Ingalls. But an I-Phone attached to my head like some weird appendage? Nah. Not for me. I say use what you can (reasonably) while you still can, and don't become too stuck to it that you can't change later when it's no longer there. I think that's the safest way to go.

  23. Jocelyn, excellent points, well put. The other day Dan and I were talking about Little House technology of the time too. Now we think even their technology outdated, but it was technology!

    I think you nicely summarize how many of us feel about the whole issue. I agree that we'll likely never become totally self-sufficient, but by having the goal we have something to continue to work toward, no matter how far we get.

  24. Very well put. A lot of people forget that technology has brought us some amazing things, but people abuse those things and thats when the system gets wackadoo. I'm trying to lessen my consumerism lifestyle as well. We bought 10 acres and we're starting over. Thanks for your blog. I love reading about how someone has already done what I want to do. It can be done!!

  25. Stephanie, hello, welcome, and thank you for your kind words! I think the more folks who make this a goal, the better impact we can have. Glad you're jumping on board. :)


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