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Farming for a Small Planet

Farming for a Small Planet

Frances Moore Lappé
How we grow food determines who can eat and who cannot—no matter how much we produce.
Most startlingly, emissions from food and agriculture are growing so fast that, if they continue to increase at the current rate, they alone could use up the safe budget for all greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

Ah, the pleasures of overpopulation.

Five by five - to use a radio term !!!

I was just on the phone with Brian Czech, the president of CASSE, the Center for the Advancement of a Steady State Economy. He is in Arlington, Virginia - I am in Calgary, Alberta.

We are all getting desperate at the lack of an overarching paradigm shift in thinking - which this article addresses in one of its details.

I am preparing for a crash - but hopeful in the long run.

However - the universe I have studied has no steady state - anywhere - at any time.

And so I think we should continue our presence in space, which will contribute more in the long run than anything else.

In raising our sights - literally - we will gain the necessary perspective to see what is going on below - from the elevated platform of the space environment.

Small scale organic farming - by all means - Wendell Berry territory ~

But we cannot think only tactical - we must go strategic - as the quote from the article by Frances Moore Lappe suggests - ergo:

Viewed from above (space) - we will do the paradigm shift required. And it is in our nature to do this - a point often missed down here on Terra Firma !

To paraphrase from Hollywood:

‘We should not go quietly into the night.’

PS: (illustration of the depth of the problem of the ‘perfect storm’)


Thank you for your perspective and good info which needs to be addressed over and over. Mainly, are soil is dead from years of overproduction and large swatches of sameness and no rest and the continual use of chemicals and now GMO seeds which put small farmers out of biz. Soil can no longer absorb and appropriate amount of carbon that it used to which causes more emissions?


It is so nice to have something this meaningful and hopeful to read these days, and to know that there is a way, a much better way, that is possible. Just as health care needs to be liberated from corporate control, so also does agriculture. There is more critically important information in this one article than in a whole month’s worth of Trumps’s utterances!


Let’s see:

The way we grow our food destroys soil fertility. Check.
The way we grow our food depletes soil 10 to 40 times faster than it’s replaced. Check.
The way we grow our food produces mega powerful greenhouse gases. Check.
The way we grow our food poisons our bodies. Check.
The way we grow our food kills insect pollinators. Check.
The way we grow our food and the food we grow leads to malnutrition. Check.
The way we grow our food creates gigantic dead zones in oceans. Check.
The way we grow our food causes chronic health conditions. Check.
The way we grow our food creates dependence on corporate chemicals. Check.
The way we grow our food depletes aquifers. Check.
The way we grow our food poisons rivers. Check.

Our food system is causing human, plant, animal, insect and fish extinctions. This must be news on all the t.v. channels. Okay, lets see what’s on. CNN: Trump. MSNBC: Trump. Fox: Trump. BBC: Trump.

Even on Common Dreams, for every story chronicling the death of life on earth there are a hundred stories about Trump and his thousand vulgarities.

We are all so fucked, really truly fucking fucked, so very very fucking fucked.


What the article’s author calls “industrial model”, the simpler way to describe it is as capitalism. The article goes on to suggest replacing this “industrial model” with agro-ecology, which may well be a better way of farming, but it won’t solve the food problem. Only replacing capitalism with the socialist system can do that.

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What overpopulation?

Karl Marx certainly did not accept it existed and he described the waste of London’s waste being flushed into the Thames rather than re-cycled as manure.

Those who consider the planet is overpopulated i think should answer why the Netherlands, one of the densest populated countries is a major global food exporter and why a prolonged drought in America never leads to famine as it does in Africa where the population numbers are often lower

Fertility rates are dropping around the world, frequently below replacement levels.

There is no over-population problem - there is a capitalist problem


Moore Lappe’s general tenor here is correct, but we cannot re-integrate or even integrate market principles. They are what they are: they drive disintegration. They are for shuffling currency from producers to “owners.” The principles that care for humans are those that care for Earth and for return of surplus to our systems of supply: ecological principles.

  • It is unlikely that politicians driven by corporate money will work against the large corporations that extract profit from farms and food.

  • It is unlikely that those large-scale farmers who are not these few large interests, but who are getting by on narrow margins augmented by government subsidy and with capital leveraged for land, poisons, and equipment, will decide to risk the farm by playing against government and banks to use regenerative methods, particularly if they have already created a hole for themselves by largely killing and destroying or even losing their soil. That is the case for most.

We have to largely supplant our farmers and largely supplant the market. This means gardens at homes and parks and schools and churches and shelterbelts around cities, in something roughly like the manner of the organoponicos during Cuba’s “special period” after the fall of the Soviet Union. That does not mean altogether boycotting stores or farmers, nor is it likely to mean food independence for many of us. at least not at first. But we ought to be getting the low-hanging fruit, so to speak–fruit and nut trees, perennial herbs, backyard chickens, and vegetable gardens put in a bit at a time.

There’s quite a lot of available information; we are far from alone in this. But for those of us starting with little experience, it does take a bit before we find ourselves reliably productive. It’s worth starting before things fail, in whatever of the many available ways that they are apt to.


I guess you have never had the experience of being cheap, disposable labor with zero rights in the workplace. Have you ever been homeless and arrested for being that way? They now have machines for removing the homeless from outside the owners’ sites. Are you going to eliminate capitalism? Good: do it soon.

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No, the soil is not dead. It is full of earthworms and bacteria. It is, however, slowly washing away. Most farmers do much better now than a few decades in the past, but soil loss is still far too high and a very sad situation.

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While there is some truth in everything you mention, much of life is adaptable enough to survive. I’m an optimist and think we are only moderately fucked.


No, we’re totally fucked. 56 years after Silent Spring, corporations have now captured the government to the point where they now write the very studies that regulate their industries.

Rachel Carson’s warning of unintended consequences of pesticides has been completely forgotten. The EPA, formed as a result of the publication of Silent Spring, is now, effectively, an arm of the chemical industry.

–at this rate, the oceans will be dead except for jellyfish by 2050
–we’ve lost 70% of insect pollinators in the last 40 years
–we’ve lost half the population of wild animals in the last 40 years
–at least 200 species go extinct every single day
–almost every bite of food we take now contains some type of poison
–we drink microscopic plastics in every glass of water

After reading this article, I did a youtube search on Frances Moore Lappé and she was saying the exact same thing 8 years ago. Nothing has changed.

The major story of this time in history, is the death of life on earth, and there is almost no coverage of it in the press. And if there is, there is invariably a ‘solution’ offered to the problem that involves technology of some type–geoengineering to stop global warming, GMO’s for droughts, biofuels for oil, even talk of colonizing Mars when the Earth becomes uninhabitable (!)

Technological fixes are all spin, sophism that allows corporations, and the governments that represent them, to keep going down their life-destroying paths in money-making contentment.

Want to see what pesticide farming looks like? watch this about RoundUp in Argentina:


Or like the “kitchen gardens” which the Soviet Union countenanced after Stalin died. The people growing food in those kitchen gardens could sell what they produced as they wished to their neighbors; small scale free markets. In the 1970s people observed that those kitchen gardens used a tiny fractional of the Soviet Union’s agricultural land, but produced a large share of the total output. Which served as an indictment of Soviet style industrial agriculture.

BTW, somewhat the same has been permitted in North Korea since North Korea’s famine in the 1990s.


I would like to pose a few questions.
¿ What is “industrial agriculture”?
¿ How did we get to this system from the small-scale farmer touching the soil of 200 years ago? ( noting that farmers of that era, overgrowing tobacco, destroyed agricultural land in Maryland in that period…)
¿ In what ways is the current system of most agriculture in America good? and bad? What needs to change?

BTW, noting from Peak Oil, and such books as ‘The Long Emergency’ and ‘A World Made by Hand’, when cheap fossil energy runs out tractors won’t operate and many of the efficiencies of our current food production won’t work anymore. Quite likely, to feed ourselves, people will have to stream out of the cities to the land. Hopefully ownership of large farms will be land-reformed so that each new small farmer owns their plot of land.

“… the soil is not dead. It is full of earthworms and bacteria…”

You plainly have no clue about soil life. Continents are painted in massive swathes of degraded soil, poisoned by industrial ag, bereft of key biological elements of soil ecology.

Yes the soil is washing away, you got that right. But your mental image of soil “full of earthworms and bacteria” describes soils under natural ecological processes, or under agroecological practices, not soil under industrial ag practices.

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Look at the bright side. The pharmaceutical industry can develop and profit from all the bad health effects. The technology industry will boom as we make mostly futile attempts to fix our messes. This means jobs and profits! OK, tongue out of cheek. The human species is the worst plague the Earth has ever had to deal with, but, you know, plagues come and go, and I simply don’t see enough people who truly want the tremendous changes necessary. I hope we will have enough small changes here and there to carry on…

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I’m a 69 year old farmer living on land purchased by my great grandfather. I’ve farmed my whole life. I basically farm by “industrial ag practices.” Like quite a few farmers, I am and have for many years been a 100% no-till farmer. I have buffer strips along my creek trying to keep soil, nutrients, and chemicals out of the watershed. Likely some nitrogen moves to ground water, but I try to keep my nitrogen applications on the low side. Soybeans help the following crop with the nitrogen that they fix. My soils were quite eroded when I began farming and I do work at contour planting in the areas that need it. The last thing in the world that I would want to do is to take a chance on losing my farm. I’ve seen some farmers try organic farming and it is generally a nightmare of weeds and the seeds that persist, sometimes for many decades. Believe me, I know my soil better than you.


We can exchange personal bio another day, TM.

But nothing in your reply relates to the supposition that there is an over-population problem but it confirms that the effects of capitalism itself is the issue to be highlighted an addressed.

Nor can i alone eliinate capitalism, it needs yor help to do it , also

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Capitalism thrives because it has a nearly limitless supply of cheap, disposable labor.
Many socialists have told me this. Everything in my reply relates to this. Labor is exploited because it is abundant. This is plainly obvious.

I will give you personal bio right now, today. I have been cheap, disposable labor with my rights denied, many times. And it is painful.

You had the same experience, no?