Book Reviews, Business & Money, Charles, Gardening & Farming, Life Advice, Political Economy, Practical Skills
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The Market Gardener: A Successful Grower’s Handbook for Small-Scale Organic Farming (Jean-Martin Fortier)

My barn has a split personality. On one side, you may not be surprised to learn, dusty in the gloom, carefully organized and stacked, are defensive implements of war, slumbering until the day of judgment. On the other side are implements of agriculture, for I also aspire, in the now, to be a peaceful gentleman farmer. That is, not a profit-making farmer, or even a farmer who sells anything, but someone who enjoys being outdoors and learning how to grow plants and husband animals (and bees). As I expand from simple garden plots to acre-plus growing, I turned to this book to expand my knowledge. I got what I was looking for, and I also was inspired to think about two closely-related topics: modern farming practices and fat people.

Of course, in agriculture even more than in most areas of applied arts, book learning is no substitute for experience. Not only are the variables nearly infinite, so that no book can hope to cover all situations, but any book with specifics is going to focus on one geographic area—in this case, southern Quebec, whose conditions are considerably different from my own Midwestern climate. Nonetheless, a well-written book such as this frames thought processes and offers data that makes the gentleman farmer’s task easier. Or the market gardener’s task, at whom this book is actually directed—someone who aims to make a living from selling quality produce to those who will pay a premium for it.

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The core concept of market gardening is that some consumers will pay extra, and give up the convenience of buying any item at any time, in exchange for receiving the freshest, best produce (or other products, such as meat, though the author, Jean-Martin Fortier, produces only vegetables), often from a farm with which they are personally familiar and to which they have long-term ties. Fortier, a leading exponent of market gardening, sells his farm’s produce at local markets, and also sells “shares” to locals as part of a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program, in which consumers at the start of each season purchase a share of the crop, and receive regular weekly bundles of produce throughout the growing season. This is a subscription box model, really, though one developed long before the internet made the model ubiquitous.

Fortier explicitly aims to encourage young people to consider market gardening as a permanent, full-time occupation. That’s what he and his wife chose to do, in their twenties (he is now 43), and by his account it has worked out well for them. What does “well” mean? He gives figures for revenue and expenses, and it appears that his family clears around $70,000 (Canadian) each year, or did in 2013, when this book was published. But he also gets three months off in the winter, he’s his own boss, and he gets to listen to the birds when he works. Certainly, this is a far more healthy lifestyle, physically and spiritually, than the vast majority of jobs young people take now.

Market gardening isn’t a spiritual quest, however. It’s entrepreneurship, and should be viewed as such. In today’s culture, entrepreneurship is thought of mostly as a way to get rich, and that’s certainly how I thought of it when I was running a business. I’ve offered detailed thoughts on entrepreneurship before, through my own lens, but we should remember that it’s perfectly reasonable to bear the costs and risks of being an entrepreneur not because you want to get rich, but because you want to do something you enjoy and which helps accomplish other ends important to you. Certainly, that’s why Fortier went into this line of work. But never forget, there are plenty of costs. The work can be quite hard, and entrepreneurship, of any kind, most definitely isn’t for everyone. It’s a good idea for far fewer people than the number who think it’s a good idea, most of whom see splashy profiles of successful entrepreneurs and fail to count the costs, including that most entrepreneurs fail. The same is no doubt true of farming as a business.

How practical is being a market gardener for a young person in America? We’ll talk later about how broad a consumer reach market gardening has, but sadly, being an entrepreneur, especially as a young person in America, is not easy, and harder than it used to be. For one, let’s be honest, the Canadians do a better job in letting young people start their working lives without debilitating financial liabilities. To take the two major areas, college costs are far lower (Fortier went to McGill); you can’t start a business when you must start paying back massive loans. And in America, you have to get health insurance, especially if you have a family, and individual policies are crushingly expensive. But agriculture has many other disincentives to American entrepreneurs, even aside from that most people think “entrepreneur” means “tech entrepreneur,” so there is little cultural support for getting one’s hands dirty for a living. Prime among these is regulation, eagerly desired by large concerns in order to create barriers to entry. Stories are legion of “health” regulators shutting down small farm operations for ticky-tack violations (that may be a problem in Canada, too, but Fortier doesn’t mention it). Worse, though, for an agricultural entrepreneur, is that by driving down labor costs through importing illegal and legal immigrants, as well as “legitimate” methods such as economies of scale, big agriculture sets an expectation of low prices among consumers. Thus, I’m far less optimistic than Fortier about the practicality of market gardening as a career path for young entrepreneurs, even though I’m in total agreement with him about the upsides of it.

I wish it were practical. A substantial amount, probably the substantial majority, of jobs in America today have no value whatsoever; it is simply legions of “email workers,” in the words of Gord Magill, who churn paper while looking down their noses at those who work with their hands. Of course, people take those jobs because they allow the lifestyles desired today—Fortier says manual labor is pleasant, and I agree with him, but most people don’t, sadly. Far better to earn $150K as someone working half days on Zoom at something completely ephemeral; that’s what the people want, or think they want. But if the alternatives were less risky, maybe they’d get more traction.

Anyway, the book itself consists of Fortier going through all aspects of his operation, from site selection and preparation through winter storage after harvest. The Market Gardener is, as I say, for those who want to make a living, a profit, from market gardening; Fortier focuses on crops that can be sold for high profit margins, which means primarily good-looking vegetables that can be identified by the consumer as fresh. That excludes quite a few crops someone with an extensive home garden might want to plant, such as potatoes. His highest revenue (and profit) crop is greenhouse-grown tomatoes, but he grows a wide range of other vegetables, from turnips to radicchio. Each of these is covered in some detail.

Almost all of his farm is set up in raised beds of standardized length (a hundred feet). This is only one example of how his operation is designed for efficiency, something any entrepreneur needs to be aware of, but one sometimes ignored, especially because an operation (in any industry) takes on a life of its own, having to be immediately responsive to the many unexpected demands placed on a business. It’s easy to get lost in the weeds and end up with a Frankenstein’s monster of a business, and as the proverb goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, so planning ahead is key.

His farm is an acre and a half of intensively cultivated land. This includes a heated greenhouse and two unheated hoophouses. Fortier uses no tractor or other large-scale mechanized implements; rather, he uses a walk-behind tractor that, with different attachments, cultivates thirty-inch raised beds, and a variety of hand tools for weeding, along with insect netting and similar aids made possible by modern technology. This is physically demanding, and in many ways complicated, involving complex schedules for planting and harvesting, as well as crop rotation, and for cultivation, cover crop planting, and similar necessary activities.

Although, as the subtitle notes, this is a book about organic farming, Fortier is not a purist. He doesn’t use artificial pesticides, to be sure, but he uses petroleum, both in his small-scale machinery and in products such as insect netting. He uses manure from factory-farmed chickens. He rejects no-till (leaving plant debris on the surface rather than turning it under, and planting through it), and he gently sneers at those who claim that “proper balance” will eliminate weeds and insects.

So this is a great book if you want to learn; Fortier writes well, the graphics and illustrations are excellent, and the book is even an uplifting pleasure to read. I highly recommend it even if you’re not considering any type of farming; it’s interesting in its own right. But let’s turn to what this book can tell us about America’s approach to food.

First, is market gardening a concept that has broad appeal to consumers, as Fortier thinks? I am skeptical. We associate CSA and farm-to-table with Brooklyn hipsters because that type of person is the primary market; as with so many things, from buying made-in-the-USA products to exercising, the average person pays lip service to the concept, but won’t inconvenience himself to do something that requires the least cost, in cash but even more in effort. (When our Peloton was delivered, before the Wuhan Plague, the setup man said that the vast majority of bikes are never used.) Fortier notes that “enthusiastic consumers ready to pay a premium for fresh, organic produce are usually found in large urban areas,” which I’m sure is true, but even in urban areas such people are a small minority. Smaller towns also have some such consumers, but fewer, and Fortier admits that in rural areas, people tend to grow their own, and thus the market is extremely limited—not to mention that the distances in rural areas make selling harder.

This is just a subset of the broader modern fundamental food problem: that most people claim that they want fresh, healthy food, good wages for producers, and “food security,” yet they won’t pay anything for those things. The market gardener must locate that small set of people who will. This challenge is similar to that faced by airlines. Now, I have no love for airlines, and less love for the farce that is “service” on airlines, but it is true that most airline passengers won’t pay anything for service, even as they wail about it, instead gravitating to the very cheapest fares. However, with the magic of big data, airlines have successfully algorithmically sorted and separated those who are willing to pay, who self-sort out of a vast pool of consumers. That’s not possible, at least to the same degree, for the market gardener, necessarily limited in his geographic area. As a result, I suspect market gardening is not a viable career path in most areas—and in edge cases, there’s little way to find out except by trying, which can easily lead to entrepreneurial failure. I can’t think of a good solution for this, given the current culture.

Second, does market gardening provide broader social value? Fortier strongly believes it does, mentioning especially food security—that market gardens are not subject to the same supply chain failures that can affect industrial agriculture. I don’t dispute that such failures are possible, perhaps even likely. But I doubt if market gardening is the answer. Fortier’s products are extras—the amount of calories from his farm would only feed a handful of people, given that he produces no calorie-dense products. Food security only comes from growing grains, and it’s extremely hard to feed a modern town, much less a city, with small-scale agriculture of grains. And I’m all in favor of localism; among other benefits, as Fortier notes, it adds “resiliency” to a community, and I would add that it increases social trust, something in short supply nowadays. But again, it strikes me as quite clear that most Americans won’t actually take any actions that cost them anything to advance these social benefits.

This is especially true with respect to food because the unfortunate reality is that most people today are gluttons. They want to stuff their faces, six days a week and twice on Sunday, which is why most Americans are fat. Most people, instead of fresh tomatoes, want a BK Double Stacker King with a giant fries, and for no more than two dollars. This is terrible, and one of the strongest indicators of the spiritual decay of America. I’m not as hung up on the physical debilities produced by food as those on the Right like Bronze Age Pervert, but a diet of high fructose corn syrup, vegetable oils, and processed foods is certain to be damaging, doubly so when consumed in quantities grossly in excess of the body’s needs, triply so when coupled with no exercise. It’s therefore no surprise that eighty percent of those hospitalized during the Wuhan Plague were obese or overweight, probably a large part of why the Plague has been less damaging in Africa, where few people have the luxury of being fat.

Americans simply won’t exercise basic discipline, even when the benefits are in no dispute. Much of the reason is that the social disapproval that used to apply to the obese has disappeared in most of America (less so among the rich, but even there it is mostly eroded), along with all the other beneficial social stigmas that used to exist. I, certainly, assume that any truly fat person I meet has a problem with discipline more broadly. Although there are certainly exceptions to this, several of whom are friends of mine, lack of discipline in one area of life correlates strongly with lack of discipline in other areas of life. We should bring all the social stigmas back, including those tied to obesity, and that’d help market gardening too!

And while the masses lack virtue in this respect, let’s not forget that a lifestyle of solipsistic gluttony is something desired by our globalist overlords, for us. They want us passive; they want us all to literally eat the bugs, live in the pod, take the drugs, and watch the porn, sedated and compliant, while they, of course, lead totally different, glittering lifestyles. Thus, they want food to be ever cheaper (which it is—the average American spends far less on food as a percentage of income than in the past). I don’t know what Fortier’s politics are; probably Left, but likely of the type of Left with which I largely agree. (I doubt if he thinks much of Justin Trudeau; he says market gardening “allows us to participate in society without being completely embedded in the globalized economy,” and Trudeau is the ultimate empty-suit globalist.) Therefore, I can certainly get on board with widespread adoption of the program Fortier advocates; it’ll both improve virtue and undercut the oligarchy. As with so many things, however, I don’t see that being possible until there is a reset of social beliefs.

Third, turning away from consumer behavior, should we use the power of the state to reduce factory farming in favor of smaller-scale farming such as Fortier’s? I am violently opposed to factory farming of animals, which is an abomination. I don’t think animals have rights, but we do have duties with respect to animals, and treating animals cruelly so Americans can eat large amounts of cheap meat is terrible. Meat should be vastly more expensive than it is, and under Foundationalism it will be, because factory farming of animals will be outlawed. But what of industrial-scale crop agriculture, in part the fruit of Norman Borlaug’s Green Revolution, the triumph of Wizards over Prophets, of technology overcoming natural limitations?

I think we should distinguish between aspects of industrial agriculture. For example, simply because modern agriculture is done on a large scale, with expensive equipment, and has therefore eliminated the family farm as an option for most (though obviously Fortier is in a sense trying to bring it back), is not inherently bad. An increasing population (or, rather, increasing for the moment) almost certainly does need the efficiencies of scale that come from mechanized farming. True, smallholders have been the backbone of most successful societies, but that doesn’t mean we can artificially create smallholders. On the other hand, the massive use of herbicides and pesticides, monoculture crops, and genetically-modified crops must necessarily have costs as well as benefits, and our warning antennae should perk up when we are told there are only benefits. Not to mention there are some activities that have only costs, but those costs are invisible because delayed, such as the destruction of aquifers by irrigation, or invisible because we are lied to, such as the diversion of cropland to produce the fraud of ethanol. Big agriculture, desirous of cheap labor, is also, as I say, a massive proponent of illegal immigration to the United States, something that has been hugely destructive of the American working class (and something I intend to cover in more detail in a future discussion). Thus even in crop farming, the giant corporations who dominate industrial agriculture, both as producers and as the direct consumers of farm products, are the enemies of a decent society, something that has become increasingly evident in recent years.

I would, and hopefully will, destroy these corporations and take several other actions, addressing the concerns above, that will necessarily raise the price of food, but are required to rebalance our society’s relationship with food. Market gardening may not become the dominant paradigm, but we’d all be a lot better off if it became a major paradigm, and for that to happen, the state will have to reset the balance of costs and benefits of today’s agricultural system.


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34 Comments

  1. Joe Blow says

    Agree with everything you say except with respect to meat. Meat from ruminant animals is the healthiest food there is for humans. I know this from personal experience, since it eating a diet that is just beef and some greens and tubers has fixed *all* of my health problems and allowed me to eliminate all of my medications. The human race evolved for a couple million years eating virtually nothing but ruminant meat and only resorted to eating plants when the ruminant population had been overhunted.

    https://www.timesofisrael.com/for-2-million-years-humans-ate-meat-and-little-else-study/

    Raising ruminant animals is very good for the environment, eliminating the need for pesticides and fertilizer. Cattle turn inedible grasses into the highest-quality food there is, with no need for anything else but water.

    What we need is to repopulate the Great Plains with huge herds of cattle, buffalo, elk, and other ruminants. Such herds also improve and deepen the soil and can reclaim semi-desert land. Yes, gradually eliminate factory farming, but massively incentivize production of ruminant meat and we can simultaneously solve the health crises (including obesity) while protecting the environment.

    • Charles Haywood says

      Oh, I’m not opposed to meat at all. I completely agree that quality meat in moderation is very healthy. It’s the mass quantities of cheap meat that people are encouraged to consume, and that are gotten through animal cruelty (and unnatural practices) that I object to. And I like the Great Plains idea!

      • Joe Blow says

        I’m glad you’re not opposed to meat, but I don’t see the problem with meat being affordable for the average person (“cheap”).

        I also don’t see that people are encouraged to consume “mass quantities” of meat. Yes, they consume mass quantities of grains, sugar, and seed oils, though, especially in the form of processed foods, and this causes the health problems that we have. I eat about 1-1/2 pounds of beef per day, split between the mid-day and dinner meals, and it completely satisfies my hunger. My blood pressure dropped from 158/110 to 110/68 without medication, all my bloodwork looks great, I stopped needing GERD medication, my autoimmune symptoms went away, I dropped 50 pounds in a few months, I sleep like a baby. Anxiety symptoms gone as well, which I hadn’t realized had anything to do with the food I was eating (a lot of processed junk). All of the gut/digestive problems I’d developed resolved themselves, but only after I dropped the great majority of vegetables and fruits I was eating as well as the processed foods. I don’t think we’re really meant to eat vegetables – they’re basically famine food, something we resorted to when the big game disappeared due to overhunting – and fruit is basically just sugar.

        I don’t mean to start a meat/vegetarian argument. It’s just that I’ve come to see, personally, that meat really does heal. (Here’s a website devoted to stories about that: https://meatrx.com/category/success-stories/). And it makes sense that it would, since we evolved basically eating just meat, for a couple million years. When something works as well for you as meat does for me, you want to get the word out to other people who are suffering needlessly.

        All the anti-meat talk does concern me because I need it to be healthy and enjoy life. I get very ill if I have to eat grains or legumes, especially soy. Even most vegetables – the nightshades, cruciferous vegetables, etc – cause me trouble. The ability to get quality meat at affordable prices is very much a life-or-death matter for me. Hence my response to your post.

        • Charles Haywood says

          I don’t really think “affordable” is the same as “cheap,” especially when one axis is quantity. I do agree that a diet heavy in meat seems to be not as healthy as we’ve been taught, and is perhaps healthy (at least if prepared properly, that is, not fried), and I’ve heard lots of stories like yours, which make sense for the reasons you state. Of necessity, high-quality meat not factory farmed is going to be more expensive than meat is now. That doesn’t mean it’s not affordable as a pillar of the diet–a poor person might have to sacrifice to make that possible, but there is nothing at all wrong with that, in fact, that’s the way it should be. We as a society assume we should be able to afford everything we want, hence debt, etc., etc. (It is bizarre to me that my children, no matter how much effort we put into lecturing them, will never viscerally feel that “we can’t afford that.” Only part of that is that we have money now; but it’s also the culture. Until I was 25 or so, I simply had no extra money at all, and regularly forwent almost all the things I “wanted.”)

          I hate vegetables, myself, so I’m certainly in favor of meat!

  2. Dean Ericson says

    Excellent review, timely topic — food is foundational. Striking how every aspect of revolutionary society suffers from its destructive effects, yet perverse incentives keep us rolling along the road to ruin. In this case: industrial agriculture + mega-corp’s processed foods + mass-marketing delivers cheap calories and makes big profits but at the cost of poisoning people with junk food, undermining local producers, empowering mega-ag-corps, et cetera. The Revolution is like alcoholism, or sin: you know it’s killing you long term but short term, hey, let’s party!

    I recently bought tomatoes at Whole Foods. Nice ones, had stickers reading, “Backyard Farms, Maine Grown”. Maine tomatoes? Look it up… okay, backyardfarms.com… whoa, 42 acres of greenhouse growing just tomatoes, year-round, in the middle of no-where central Maine, local population five thousand or so, about 200 people working there. An example of a successful market-gardening entrepreneur — tomatoes, again:

    https://www.backyardfarms.com/how-we-grow/our-greenhouse

    • Charles Haywood says

      Interesting place. Tomatoes seem to be the thing; presumably they’re the highest profit everywhere. They use IPM, too (integrated pest management), which is smart–not “organic,” but one shouldn’t be a slave to definitions.

  3. Joe Blow says

    A couple other related stories:

    * Livestock farmers are refining their techniques for rotating livestock – cattle, chickens, hogs, etc – through pastures, one after the other, in a certain order and pacing, which has synchronistic effects. The chickens eat the maggots in the cow poop, for instance, which cuts down on the fly population, making the cows happy.

    https://www.pri.org/stories/2017-08-05/some-farmers-are-rotating-livestock-not-just-crops-protect-land

    * Rotating herds of large ruminants through marginal land is reclaiming it from desertification. Their hooves break up the thatch and hardpack, their urine and droppings fertilize it, and there is tremendous plant growth after just one season. They used to think that desertification was CAUSED by ruminant grazing, and now they’re finding that it’s caused by the ABSENCE of ruminants. Perhaps the death of the megafauna (hunted to extinction by humans) caused the development of deserts like the Sahara?

    https://www.ted.com/talks/allan_savory_how_to_fight_desertification_and_reverse_climate_change

    • Charles Haywood says

      That’s very interesting about the cause of desertification. One of the claims in books about the American Indians is that the whites destroyed the Plains with cattle; interesting if that’s not true.

      • demosthenes1d says

        Livestock grazing and desertification is complicated. It isn’t simply herbivores=good. Some ecosystems are adapted for intensive grazing some aren’t. All grazers aren’t created equal either, goats and horses will ruin pastures that cows and sheep will improve. But the management intensive grazing/mob grazing types like Allan Savory would say that huge bison herd is the ideal grazing method for most grasslands – the animals come through an area only a few times a year, they graze basically every bit of grass, and they leave manure and urine evenly distributed over the ground. They are kept tightly bound by herd dynamics and predators so they don’t graze only on the most succulent shoots or their preferred forage. Fenced in continuous grazing of cattle, on the other hand, can be very detrimental, especially if overstocked, and if winter feeding is done in concentrated areas.

        There has been a lot of work done over the past few years to improve grazing, and it is starting to really be taken up by the ranch community. This includes frequent rotations through smallish paddocks, improved water access, rolling out hay, multispecies grazing, adding legumes for nitrogen fixation, etc., but all of these things take labor and know-how and a lot of ranchers still continuous graze and overstock and continue to degrade rather than improve their soil.

        Grazing is great, when done in the right places. There are many areas of America that would be an ecological disaster to grow grains on, but make great ground for grazing and orchards. One of the things that irritates me most about the current crop of meat-skeptical environmentalists is that they pretend all of the grazing land could be turned into corn fields in order to produce many more calories per acre. Contra Joe Blow I am not anti-grains, but we should work with nature when possible and plant corn in north Missouri and run cattle in south Missouri.

        One last note – the great plains were once called the Great American Desert. That is partly because desert had a larger semantic range than it does today and could mean any place that was treeless and uninhabited (or uninhabitable as many people thought at the time), but it is also because the 19th century was extremely dry in that region. The climactic record shows there were several droughts comparable to the 1930s dust bowl. Wild herds respond to droughts with mass die offs. People, being ingenuous and hungry, tend to come up with ways to provide animals with water and keep their stocking density higher than carrying capacity during tough times, which is when the severe damage is done. That is (part of) why very drought susceptible regions like the Sahel have seen so much desertification; the population can’t or won’t relent on grazing pressure when they have dry seasons which causes permanent damage to the sward.

  4. spotted eagle says

    There are a lot of benefits to growing food locally that people will actually pay for if given a choice. It has to be an all or nothing because I’m not going to subsidize the local farmer’s market myself and give the town sociability, resilience, and meaningful jobs, if my neighbors can enjoy all those benefits while getting factory food at half the cost. So the town needs to subsidize its local food production for security reasons having to do with supply lines, but also for sociability, jobs it provides young people and manual laborers, and the aesthetic value and spiritual value of knowing where food comes from in a sustainable way that is beautiful. I pay a premium to pick my own blueberries and strawberries because of how beautiful it is walking through the orchards, seeing other people young and old enjoying the outdoors in the sun and breeze. As more evidence comes out about the health risks associated with factory farming and processed foods, there will be more pressure to find a collective solution to a collective problem. We are already paying for it through obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and I guess respiratory viruses, higher insurance costs, hospital costs, and viral spread, so I agree with investing up front in preventative solutions because the down-the-road problems cost more even if it takes a while to connect them back to the original source. Young people are getting burnt out from consumerism mass media entertainment and virtual everything, remote learning and zoom meetings, and a local food market connected to a community farm where you can pick your own food and participate in growing/harvesting is exactly the hands on reality that society wants. Millennials can wear boots and flannel without having to pretend, and it pays for itself because they are being productive. They can be around farm animals in everyday life which is more natural and provides a peace of mind instead of paying to go to the zoo. It’s built in exercise so it saves on gym costs and health costs again.

    • Charles Haywood says

      Sounds right, and I agree it can be very attractive to the young. I’m all for state action, as I say, and that includes local government, to create the right incentives.

  5. I’m a huge fan of personal gardening and have done a lot to implement this in my own life. From my perspective this has a lot to do with mankind’s call to dominion (to which I would add the same thing you have about treatment of animals).

    I do think that if we intend for the world to be a better place in the future, we’ll have to work towards a culture where we don’t simply rely on global supply chains for literally everything. That will require more work (or at least more diversified work) but work is ennobling.

    As a reformationist guy, I prefer to see this sort of thing voluntarily adopted, so I encourage everyone to do this.

    I wrote a short article on the theological aspects of environmentalism here, if anyone is interested.

    https://worldtocome.substack.com/p/environmentalism-and-dominion?r=786km&utm_campaign=post&utm_medium=web&utm_source=copy

    Lots more could be said, but it’s a starting point for aligning our view of the environment and food production with God’s design. Love to hear feedback if you agree/disagree!

    • Charles Haywood says

      Good article. Wheaton is interesting, too; as I noted in my review of Retrotopia, there are a lot of these types that have odd overlaps with the Right. I certainly think the place to start is with each individual; if each person capable did what was possible with his resources (e.g., someone who lives in a city apartment is different from a suburb dweller), it’d make a good deal of progress. And there is quite a bit of that at the edges–beekeeping, for example. Moreover, these things grow organically (no pun intended), so once it’s started, unexpected things develop.

      And, of course, this builds individual resiliency. All the things Wheaton advises will help you out if there is some major crisis, so on that basis alone are worth looking closely at.

      • Gramophone says

        I don’t think the overlaps are odd – the fundamental Leftist impulse is to flatten hierarchy, which is an impulse just as natural to humans as a want for hierarchy and leaders to follow. Localist eco-folk seek to do just that. It’s just that their wants for doing that are closer to how we’ve been built to be, contra post-Marxist crackpots. I don’t think a desire to flatten hierarchies is unhealthy, the Marxist thought pattern specifically is.

    • demosthenes1d says

      I like the article jbray, much to agree with. Are you, by chance, a reader of Jim Jordan?

      • I picked up one of his books, more or less at random, since he was recommended to me. Crisis, Opportunity and the Christian Future. It was okay. I since stumbled across a 6 part lecture series of his, which touched on some of the same themes I was trying to bring light to. It had more to do with Biblical Interpretive principle than dominion as such, but I get the impression topics of dominion are on his mind a lot.

        Do you have any recommendations to another book of his that you’ve enjoyed? I’d like to read more of his stuff.

        • demosthenes1d says

          I would only recommend “Through New Eyes,” which is an introduction to Jordan’s distinctive brand of typological reading. Really great stuff, but as the person who introduced Jordan to me said: “The whole time you are thinking he’s either onto something, or he’s on something.” There are definitely some bones to spit out with the meat. Your brief discussion of the garden as a place that is to moved out from — as a central sanctuary — is consonant with Jordan’s reading. And he is really good on the way the Genesis archetypes are repeated throughout scripture and the world, and the progressive development that happens each time those themes are renewed in scripture. Jordan has thousands of hours of lectures too, many of which you can get on the Theopolis Institutes podcast feed. If there is a particular topic that interests you they are worth engaging with.

  6. Adam says

    Great article as usual, Charles! You mentioned in a comment sometime in January that you’re almost done with the Foundationalist Manifesto. How close are we to seeing it published?

    • Charles Haywood says

      It’s basically done, but I need to cross reference all my writings against it, to point people to additional thoughts on each Pillar. That’s taking longer than expected!

  7. Gramophone says

    Can’t help but note that you skipped tubers, which are calorie dense enough to serve as the basis of a diet: The Okinawans for example famously subsisted mostly on sweet potatoes, and I don’t think I need to mention the Irish. Potatoes are tasty and grow just about anywhere.

    As Sasha Chapin notes over at Pirate Wires:
    https://www.piratewires.com/p/inside-silicon-valleys-dangerous

    “To state the obvious, as a civilization, we’ve done everything we can to remove any form of resistance or discomfort in our lives, and the results have often been disastrous.Somehow, it turns out that nearly every time we remove one of the thousand natural shocks of existence, we find out that we needed it, and we have to replace it somehow. Exercise, Vitamin D supplementation, Slack channels—these are all contrivances designed to replicate things we’ve lost.

    What if hunger is in a similar category?

    As a culture, we fret endlessly, for good reason, about how to deal with the rising tides of obesity and diabetes. And, largely, the fretting takes the form of wondering what we should eat—which nutrient profile is optimal, what supplementation we might need. But this is all kind of stupid, given the variation we see in traditional diets. If you think that low-carb is the way to go, it’s hard to explain the vigor of Irish peasants, or the remarkable health of Okinawans, who mostly ate sweet potatoes and whole grains before we ruined their diet. Fan of plant-based life? The Inuits do pretty well with no dietary fiber intake whatsoever. Think sugar is the issue? Tell that to the Hadza people of Tanzania, for whom honey is a cornerstone of nutrition. Even a quick survey of humanity reveals that we’re truly omnivorous. Every traditional diet is better than the Western diet, but they’re all totally different.”

    • demosthenes1d says

      Gramophone,

      I agree with your last paragraph. There seems to be a lot of food anxiety in my circle (somewhat insular reformed), people are constantly trying new diets (Paleo, GAPS, SCD, AIP) and I always try to explain that there are people all over the world who have subsisted and thrived on almost every imaginable diet for hundreds of years. In many Asian nations people get over 1,000 calories/day from rice, Hindus and Jains have been vegetarians for centuries, Mesoamerican commoners seem to have eaten almost exclusively rice, beans, and greens, arctic people eat mostly fat and meat, and medieval farmer got upwards of 80% of their calories from bread. Also, people have always sought out variety when they can get it, those Inuits who are living off almost all meat and fat will take berries, greens, roots, etc. during the summer when they can get them, and subsistence farmers love to be able to afford, or be potlatched, a piece of meat.

      Of course, different diets require cultural knowledge. For instance, Indians who ate lots of corn nixtamalized it to make the niacin biologically available. Mexicans kept the practice intact, but it was lost in the US Southeast and as corn became the staple pellagra became endemic. Many cultures have food taboos or stipulated food preparation techniques and at least some of these are due to cultural evolution to avoid nutritional deficiencies.

      Maybe GMOs, and seed oils, and factory farmed meat are completely different and people just can’t live on them and be healthy, but I doubt it. The problems is likely lifestyle rather than simply nutritional inputs (besides volume!).

      • Carlos Danger says

        Demosthenes, your example of nixtamalization was new to me. It was fascinating to read more about it. So that’s how they make the masa for tortillas, tamales, and pupusas!

        The process of soaking and cooking corn in an alkaline solution before hulling it was apparently discovered sometime before 2,000 BC and passed down for millennia. Early on people did not have the technology to make vessels to put directly on fires to cook in. Instead, they may have used chunks of limestone heated in a fire and then dropped in a vessel containing corn and water.

        How could primitive people have developed a process like this that was later lost to some of us? With my strong interest in the evolution of technology, the nixtamalization technology gives me food for thought.

    • Joe Blow says

      I think there’s a distinction to be made between surviving and flourishing. Yes, human beings can survive on grains and tubers, or refined seed oils and processed foods and even veganism. Eventually, though, the long-term health effects catch up with them, making for advancing unwellness, and in the very long term, the population adapts to the insufficiencies by, for example, becoming physically smaller. From what I’ve read, we are six inches shorter on average, and our brains are 10% smaller, than those of humans before the era of agriculture began. Look at how short and squat Central Americans are, who have lived on suboptimal diets like corn for millenia.

      To flourish, our bodies need something in the neighborhood of optimal nutrition and hormetic challenges. Regarding our nutritional needs, consider that our bodies are literally composed of meat. When we consume the meat of other animals, we get exactly the components needed by our own bodies, in the appropriate proportions. Yes, it is possible to survive by cobbling together nutrients from a variety of other, poorer, less complete sources, but they come with a load of toxins (phytates, gluten, oxalates, etc) that meat doesn’t have. In addition, a recent study I read (sorry, don’t have a link) found that meat contains a huge number of micronutrients of various types that just aren’t present in plants.

      A plant has to defend itself by making its tissues toxic to animals, since it can’t run or fight. But once you’ve killed the ruminant animal, its tissues are completely safe to eat. So with meat you get a complete nutrient profile – and the optimal energy source, animal fat (the energy form our own bodies store excess energy in) – and none of the gut-damaging plant toxins.

      • Gramophone says

        That probably isn’t just due to meat being great – it’s pretty likely that our non-agricultural ancestors ate a more varied diet of. More meat, but also just a little of all kinds of different things, which should provide good nutrition and enough calories. They also weren’t taxed and the lifestyle is less repetitive. For early agriculturalists, they got calories, but other sorts of nutrition fell, they were taxed and their life was more repetitive. None of that is especially conducive to good health, especially since you need rice and beans type combos to get good nutrition from plant sources.

      • demosthenes1d says

        I don’t think this is good reasoning for a few reasons:

        1) There seems to have been a lot of variation in paleolithic/Mesolithic peoples height/size. Studies indicate that people in the early paleolithic Europe were taller than many (not all) modern European nations, but people in the late paleolithic were about 5’5″ for men and 5′ for women; about the same height as pre-industrial Europeans. See “Evolutionary trends of stature in Upper Paleolithic and Mesolithic Europe.” Diet isn’t the only thing that matters for stature, which leads me to:
        2) A lot of other stuff happened with the introduction of agriculture that affected human health. Disease burden went WAY up, fertility increased (children were weaned earlier, women had more children, and women had children earlier), population pressure increased, interpersonal violence decreased, etc. These could all have had different environmental and selection effects on stature.
        3) People in the west today are taller than the tallest estimates I have seen for paleolithic man. Cro-Magnons (at their tallest – see above) had an average male height of about 5’9, the Cheyenne were likely the tallest people in the world in the late 19th century (which is good for your thesis overall!) and the average male was about 5’10”. Most western European people are taller than that now, despite all of the plant matter, seed oil, and non-ruminant meat, etc. that they eat. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Average_human_height_by_country
        4) There is more to flourishing than height. Many of the longest lived people are Asians who eat very little to no ruminant meat, subsiding instead on mostly grain (rice), vegetables, and some fish. Compare the list of nations by height (above), by meat consumption (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_meat_consumption) and by longevity (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_life_expectancy) and I think it completely blows your theory.

        I think that protein is great, and part of the reason people have been getting taller is greater availability of protein. But, on the other hand, people like the Maasai also seem to be getting taller despite going from a lacto-carnivore diet (many Maasai formerly only drank raw milk and cattle blood and ate raw meat and occasionally honey; zero fruit or vegetables) to a more western diet. I think the phytotoxicity stuff is plain wrong, people have long thrived on plants and they will continue to do so.

        • Craken says

          There’s a fairly well established inverse correlation between height and longevity in modern nations (not in places where height is determined by disease burden or malnutrition factors). https://www.researchgate.net/publication/11355931_Height_body_size_and_longevity_Is_smaller_better_for_the_human_body Each extra inch of height costs about a year of lifespan. Interestingly, the height difference also accounts for the entire male-female longevity gap.

          It’s an open question, however, whether the factors that have increased height in recent generations also contributed to the Flynn effect on IQ. I suspect it’s a minor contributor, but the evidence is still highly interpretable.

          I’m not inclined to dismiss phytotoxicity concerns too quickly. Consider the evolutionary perspective. Agriculture only stretches back ~15,000 years. That is the maximum period for the process of genetic adaptation to work–for those who trace their ancestry back to the earliest farmers. But, there are still a few hunter-gatherer groups today with zero adaptation to agriculture. On the adaptation ladder everyone else is between these two extremes. By contrast, adaptation to hunter-gatherer diets runs back ~1,000,000 years. A complicating factor, of course, is that these diets were highly variable, depending as they did on the food resources that could be extracted according to time, place, and human skill. We could also get further into the weeds in terms of discussing the introduction of particular foods (most seed oils) and the genetic modification of foods (eg, high gluten wheat) which have happened so recently as to have circumvented any effective adaptation by anyone; that these two examples of adaptive recency form an enormous part of the standard diet means they are perhaps unintended, but not the less large scale human experiments. Given the “gatherer” aspect of hunter-gatherer diets, I am far from opposed to plant consumption per se; but, there are risky plant foods, mostly those which are novel in some way.

          • demosthenes1d says

            Thanks, Craken. The height information is important to note. It is generally observed that larger species live longer, but – perhaps counter-intuitively – within a species smaller members live longer. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3651517/

            I think it is likely that improvements in nutrition (including less iodine deficiency) and less exposure to lead play a role in the Flynn effect. What has caused majority of the effect, and indeed how “real” the Flynn effect is, is more of a mystery to me.

            On phytotoxicity: you accept that hunter gatherers did eat plant matter and they had highly varied diets, so that isn’t the issue per se. (For more on contemporary hunter gatherer diets this is pretty good https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/why-paleo-diet-half-baked-how-hunter-gatherer-really-eat/) I think the best argument against the idea that the actual paleo diet was mostly carnivorous is how much people seek out and enjoy sweet things and how effectively people process sugar and simple carbohydrates. Clearly people were eating enough of this stuff to have our tastes engineered around it (eating it MUST have led to a survival advantage). Compare our taste profile to more pure carnivores like cats (https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/strange-but-true-cats-cannot-taste-sweets/).

            I’m curious what “novel” plant foods you are concerned about. You list two things 1) seed oils – there is a lot of info/argument out there about seed oils and I think they may be slightly unhealthy, but not due to phytotoxins, more due to lipid profiles; and 2) GMO high gluten wheat which is not currently approved anywhere.

      • demosthenes1d says

        One more thing, I forgot to discuss brain size. It appears that part of the agricultural revolution and foundation of civilization was a “self taming” of humans. Selection pressures were in favor of increased neoteny and decreased aggression (these pressures go back before civilization, but they were supercharged at that time). Humans show much more neoteny than great apes, for example, and especially male sexual selection of females is strongly in favor of neoteny. With an increase in neoteny comes a decrease in brain size, but not necessarily intelligence.

        The same pattern is seen in domesticated animals. Domesticated dogs have neotenous features because they are bred for less aggression, more play, and more “cuteness” which for their human owners means neotenous features. This process also results in a smaller brain. But- domesticated dogs aren’t stupider than wolves; they have less keen senses and are less aware of subtle changes in their environments, but they are much better at interpreting complex signals and symbols and solving problems. Humans have probably adapted in a similar way – losing some acuteness of the senses but gaining in interpretive faculty.

  8. Charles Haywood says

    I have nothing to add, but I must say, the comment section here has been getting consistently excellent!

  9. Ninsquee Mcnabb says

    Just stumbled up this blog after the Anton interviews and was pleasantly surprised to see this one reviewed. It was formative for me and gave me a push to drop out of university to start a market garden.

    I think some of your hunches are right though, unfortunately. This is by no means an easy way to make a living. Jean Martin’s results are tough to replicate, partly because he’s incredibly efficient at managing complex systems and partly because markets for niche food are not universally accessible. For example, I chatted a while with a market gardener from British Columbia and they told me they get $12/LB for baby carrots and have more demand than they can meet from upscale restaurants (this was pre-COVID). The best we can get in Manitoba is $4/LB, so his $150k per acre can begin to look a lot more like $50k per acre depending on where you’re farming.

    One of the tragedies of this model so far is that it has only caught on with the libs. We live in a small town 45 minutes away from a big city and almost all of our business comes from wealthy urban professionals. As much as I’d love to see a rural renewal here, a burgeoning local food economy and a proliferation of (useful) artisan products, it seems for now we have to just ship the stuff to the city for the consumption of the elites. And I’m conflicted about recommending this as a career path to young adults. On one hand, a lot of the work they’re headed for is absolutely soul crushing and pointless. I get to work at home on a beautiful property, produce something of real value, and eat well. Many would be healthier and happier doing this. On the other, I don’t think an average person can make enough money at this to raise a family without some supplemental income. It will take some heavy handed policy by the state to make this more viable.

    • Charles Haywood says

      Interesting; and as you say, mostly confirms (unfortunately) what I suspected. Thank you for the detailed comment!

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