Vanishing Resources for the Small-holder and Homesteader
I first became interested in small-holding and small-stock raising back in 1975 when I purchased a book by John Vivian titled, Homesteading. It was an inspiration for me that was something to strive for and achieve. I’ve heard various unfounded stories of how Mr. and Mrs. Vivian and family finally fared, but all are unfounded and largely rumor. Oddly enough there is little on the Internet about them, only occasionally the used book being offered for sale. Be that as it may, it seemed a viable alternative to the corporate treadmill and its largely unsatisfactory results.
Admittedly, times were simpler then, or more correctly, most folks could be satisfied with one landline phone or one over-the-airwaves TV; or were more than willing to forego these and other luxuries in favor of a simpler and more spiritually rewarding lifestyle. Since then we’ve become jaded with just getting by so now we crave new, better, and the latest giffengood… Heck, today, we want everything we own to reflect status even if we personally don’t need or even want the latest gadget, video game or large plasma TV. It’s all about perceived social position, status, and wealth, in short, approval.
However, I’m off on a tangent once again. The thrust of this article is that back when I was getting my feet wet in backyard small-holding by gardening, small scale husbandry, and trial and error experimenting there were many, many resources available to research and that was way before the Internet put researching at our fingertips.
Indeed, in addition to books and grassroots magazines, time was when your friendly County Agent was not only there to help but more than willing. He offered advice, but also, would send off samples to the State Agricultural Agencies. This service operated under the County Extension System, which worked with their respective State Agricultural Colleges to provide information, advice, and testing services which were generally free or nominal at best. These aids provided needed experience for future agriculturist at the colleges so, in fact, it was a mutual win-win situation.
Such helpful advice was not limited to the State and County agencies but the Federal government had many programs to aid the small-scale agrarian, new homesteader, and even the backyard gardener. They had a division of the Federal Agricultural Department, the Office for Small-Scale Agriculture; this agency not only could be accessed via phone and snail-mail but regularly published small pamphlets on various aspects of husbandry, gardening, and a myriad of connected subjects. These agencies also offered grants to those clever entrepreneurs to research and develop new techniques and businesses that could spawn economic growth.
Furthermore, there were private groups, organization, and corporations who also played roles as key providers of articles, but also hands on experience through seminars, conferences, and experimentation which were open to the public: clearly despite not having the advantages of the Internet resources for the small-holder abounded.
So what happened to these treasure houses of information for the “little guy”? While a simplistic answer would be hippy homesteaders of the 1960’s, 70’s and early ‘80’s grew up, stopped living off Daddy’s dole, took responsibilities and got corporate jobs …in short, they became yuppies. The real answer is far more complex, however!
Events and time conspired to undermine the naïve and altruistic values of the day. The hippies, largely but not exclusively children of privilege, saw that homesteading was not the Garden of Eden they envisioned, where one had only to reach up and grab a fruit from the apple tree, then continue to weave market-demanded baskets and smoke a Doobie. Small-scale agriculture required work; good hard labor in the dirt and filth. It also required intellect… There were diseases, pests, predators for which one must be ever alert and vigilant. Then there were the competitive market demands for products which, these hippies thought the clients would beat a path to their door. Slowly by slowly, these folks, spoiled by instant gratification, became disillusioned by the slow, hard, methodical input needed.
Still there was a remnant who still wished to persevere in the good earth and wrest a living from the soil. They plodded along seeking solace in the soil and the rhythms of nature. They not only renewed their spirit but lived in the spirit by knowing that the hand of God is in His creation of nature. This is not to say that I worship nature far from it; I see in it the world God wished for us, all of us, to enjoy but for the fall of Adam. In the natural world which, we experience we are seeing but a fraction of Paradise for which man is intended.
So with the disillusionment of the mass of the old homesteaders the demands for services and resources lessened. The agencies, organizations and resources began to re-make themselves conforming to the new market trends, that of the “green” and sustainability movements. No longer was practical advice dispensed, rather, politically correct propaganda, social services and social justice became the norm. The colleges no longer conducted services for the small-holder but more and more catered to Big-Ag, who largely funded their agendas. The same situation happened at the government level, with Department of Agriculture disbanding the Office of Small-Scale Agriculture in the mid 1990’s. I’ve found also that the local county agents now largely serve the social services and when they do serve small-scale Ag, it is usually inconsistent and incompetent through employing volunteers to handle these functions. This is especially true in States transitioning from agriculture to the service, information and technical economies.
The grassroots magazines formerly printed on newsprint paper are now glossy, chic and mainstream magazines featuring all the same materialistic adverts and so-called “crunchy-con” sustainability nonsense of the general issue magazines.
With all the above stated, we must bear in mind that when God closes one door He opens another. The advent of the decline in the golden age of small-holders coincided with the introduction and growth of the Internet. This now facilitates direct research available to all who seek it. Of course, this puts the onus on the individual researcher to find not only what he needs but means he must learn to separate truth from fiction when it comes to small-scale agriculture, or anything else on the Internet.
So in the end, resources are still available, but require the reader to work harder and dog deeper for veracity in the results. Hard work, however, is no stranger to the small-scale holder as outlined above. Prudence, as in all things, is warranted!
Remember, continue the Rosary to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, but also in keeping with the gist of Catholic Rural Solutions blog, pray the ejaculation: Mary, the Multiplier of Wheat, keep us from want, most especially in these dark, uncertain and increasingly perilous times.
Richard of Danbury, D.S.G.