TBT: High-Tech Agrarianism

Lately I’ve been heavily focused on yard work, as my lawn and flower beds were resembling an abandoned lot more than a well-maintained lawn.  As such, I’ve had small-scale farming on the brain more lately, even though the only edibles I planted were one forlorn banana pepper plant and some oregano (although the celosia leaves are edible before the plants flower).

Naturally, my mind returned to this March 2020 essay, “High-Tech Agrarianism.”  It’s perhaps a testament to how much we have adjusted to The Age of The Virus that I did not go out and till my half-acre, instead letting it loose to its recent weedy state.

Reading over this essay, which I wrote in the week after South Carolina schools shut down, it’s interesting how much I’ve mellowed on The Virus.  I was skeptical of it beforehand, but when schools were shuttered for the last two months of the academic year, the sense that something big was wrong only grew.  The most remarkable aspect of The Virus is that, even with shutdowns, the economy kept going, and there’s not the same sense of depressing listlessness that reigned during the Great Recession.

Of course, the economic fallout may very well be delayed, and I’m in a much better position financially and professionally this time around than I was in 2009.  The government distributing $1200 checks and propping up businesses probably smoothed out the economic disruption a bit, too.

It’s also interesting that other than wearing masks and sanitizing ourselves and our things constantly, life seems to be marching on more normally.  The True Believers in The Virus scold large gatherings, but people want to be together.  We can limit crowds only so much—people are going to congregate.

The Age of The Virus aside, the idea of tilling suburban and small town acreage is a prudent, if difficult, job.  I still maintain it’s a better use of land than a lawn.  Instead of mowing and edging, put that effort towards watering, weeding, and fertilizing.  Crops look good—and taste good, too.

That last paragraph probably highlights my ignorance about agriculture—something I’m working on as I flirt more and more with the idea of converting my yard into arable square feet.  We’ll see where I am in another six months.

Here’s “High-Tech Agrarianism“:

The coronavirus situation—which I am convinced is both quite serious, but also inspiring some huge overreactions—has created a world that feels almost entirely different than it did even a few days ago.  This time last week, I was convinced that the whole thing was way overblown, and that life would largely continue apace, minus some school closures here and there.

By Friday evening I was growing more concerned, as everything began to get closed or cancelled.  I proctored the SAT Saturday morning and even went out of town that evening.  At that point, I thought the risk of my school closing was greater than it had been even two or three days before, but I still figured it was a relatively remote possibility.

Then Governor McMaster announced the closure of all South Carolina public schools (I teach at a private school, but we always follow gubernatorial closures)—and a bunch of other stuff shut down.  I picked up dinner at a Hardee’s in Florence, South Carolina Monday evening after a guitar lesson, and it was surreal—everything was gone from the front, and the cashier had to give me a lid and straw according to their new cleanliness guidelines.

(Let’s take a moment to thank all those service industry folks and long-distance truckers who are continuing to work and risking exposure; they are unsung heroes.  Also, spare a thought to people in those industries that are out-of-work at the moment.  They need our love and charity now more than ever.)

That’s all to say that, in a remarkably short period of time, the United States has undergone a major paradigm shift.  The world of Saturday, 14 March 2020 at 2 PM—when I emerged from the cocoon of extended time SAT testing—was a different than the world of Wednesday, 18 March 2020 at 9 PM (when I’m writing this very belated blog post).

One trend—that I think will be positive if it endures—is the implicit rejection of globalism.  People are suddenly awakening, dramatically, to the manifold downsides of open borders and excessive global economic integration.  Suddenly, localism is back in vogue.

One of my musician friends, a bit of a Sandersnista hippie-dippie type (but attractive enough to get away with it) has been posting Left-leaning memes consistently throughout this crisis.  But one meme caught my eye:

Grandma - Local Supply Chain

Here’s good ol’ Granny tending her garden.  The meme is right:  I know from family lore that my Mamaw and Papaw fed themselves, their children, and a lot of other folks in the mountains of southwestern Virginia during the Depression with chickens and crops they raised themselves.

That got me thinking:  could America see the return of widespread of homesteading, or some modern-day version of Jeffersonian agrarianism?

I was pondering this question on my way to church tonight (yes, yes, social distancing, etc., but it’s a small church, and we had a very small turnout, so I’m sure it was fine to attend), driving through the fields on the outskirts of Lamar.  I began pondering the notion of a society with our level of information technology, but that saw most Americans farming or gardening for at least a small bit of their sustenance.

Such a system would be “high-tech agrarianism”—it would combine modern technology, especially information technology like the Internet, with millions of freehold agriculturalists.  Yes, we’d still have the huge mega-farms, we’d have people working in offices, etc.  But people would be making good use of their land, too, growing crops instead of grass.

Of course, I then began to ponder if such a society could have ever developed organically.  My instinct is no—it required the massive integration of local, regional, and national economies to raise production efficiency to the point that we can have widespread, niche-y specialization in tens of thousands of fields.  Greater efficiency fed into greater technological advancement, which in turn led to greater efficiency—and on and on and on, in a revving upward cycle.

But now we’re staring down this virus, which is leading governments all over the world to close stores, cancel events, lay off workers, turn away elderly patients, and on and on.  Those long, efficient supply chains are massively disrupted.  People are hoarding toilet paper and bread in the hopes of riding out likely (and, in some places, actual) quarantines.

I’m assuming life will return to normal… eventually.  But when?  So far, many of my assumptions about the pandemic have been incorrect (it turns out this time, the media wasn’t just crying wolf—well, not entirely, anyway; it still seems that some of this panicked response is driven by ridiculous media spin and speculation).  If we continue down this road of greater and greater decentralized isolation, people are either going to riot, or figure out how to provide for themselves.

In such a world, maybe high technology and small-scale farming could work keyboard-in-glove.  I’ve long advocated for some return to a simpler, more agrarian, more localized life.

Of course, I’m romanticizing America’s Jeffersonian past.  Farming is hard—and risky (of course, that hardness made our nation great).  I certainly don’t know anything about it—another truth to the meme above.  Also, if we’d continued as a mostly farming nation, we wouldn’t have the means to fight this virus, or to figure out how to fight it.

That said, converting your half-acre lawn into a garden full of corn, squash, peppers, lettuce, cabbage, beans, berry bushes, etc., seems like a far more productive use of your little plot of land, and one that could save your life and the lives of others in a pinch.  That seems sensible.

We could also do with some can-do gumption, like Granny had.

Home Depot is operating on shortened hours, but they’re remaining open.  Maybe now is the time to buy a roto-tiller.

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Gardening

We’re back into the full swing of things after the glorious three-day weekend.  As I noted in various weekend posts, I spent much of the Labor Day holiday gardening.  My house was starting to look haunted, the weeds were growing so high:

Flower Beds - Before

My girlfriend took the weeding with gusto, while I raked out pine straw and debris.  I also pulled and cut some gargantuan weeds from my woefully neglected grapevines (which are, nevertheless, producing big, fat grapes).  After a couple of hours the beds were much improved:

Flower Beds - During

As with many home improvement projects, there’s the tedious part—in this case, weed-pulling—and then there’s the fun part.  For us, the fun part was going to Home Depot and Lowe’s to find plants to beautify the beds.  Over the course of two days, we found some beautiful options, including some colorful mums.

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Memorable Monday IV: Happy Labor Day [2020]!

It’s Labor Day 2020 here in the United States, and it’s been a productive weekend for yours portly.  My girlfriend and I completely recreated my weed-strewn flower beds, and I felt like my parents—wandering around the garden centers of Lowe’s and Home Depot looking for cypress mulch and discount flowers.

Today, I put down some more mulch, and the beds are looking quite nice.  I also swept out my barn—filled with the corpses of roaches caught in the latest defogger blast—and did some light vehicle maintenance.  The in-cabin air filter in my little Nissan Versa Note SV desperately needed replacement, and I can now breathe easier knowing a clean filter is in place.  I vacuumed out the car, too, and took the opportunity to hose down its filters and various components, which are now drying outside.

Looking back to my Labor Day post for 2019, it’s striking to note the difference in my activities.  That Labor Day I played video games; this Labor Day, I’ve been a productive adult American.  Granted, I was sick, but perhaps I’m finally growing up.

Regardless, the rest of today will be spent relaxing a bit, as well as doing some planning and grading for the short school week ahead.  Next weekend I plan to hit the yard with a new battery-powered string trimmer, pending its shipment and weather permitting.  It’s interesting how I will put these necessary home improvement projects off for weeks, but when I finally get to them, I don’t want to stop!  Such is the joy of homeownership.

With that, here is last year’s Labor Day post, “Happy Labor Day 2019!“:

It’s Labor Day here in the United States, a day to celebrate the hardworking men and women that make our country great.  Yes, I’m sure a holiday engineered by labor unions (like the radical nineteenth-century union the Knights of Labor) has some seedy progressive origins, but I think we can all appreciate a Monday off.

It’s been a pleasant weekend here at the Casa de Portly.  All the ambitious plans to grade and catch up on work predictably flew out the window, and I’ve gotten loads of much-needed rest.  My hacking cough is virtually gone, and I’m feeling rested and relaxed—a rare sensation for yours portly.

I also rediscovered a fun little turn-based strategy game that has devoured some of my time this weekend:  Delve Deeper, from Lunar Giant.  You manage a team of five dwarfs as they “delve deeper” (get it?) into critter-infested mines, all while competing against other, AI-controlled teams to mine and loot the most treasure.  It’s simple and not exceptionally deep, but it’s quite fun.

I’ve also played some Left 4 Dead 2 with the boys, and watched the heartbreaking finale of the USC-UNC game.  Knocking off top-seeded Alabama in a couple of weeks is looking less and less likely.  Ugh…—but Go Cocks!

That’s it for today.  We’ll be back to history, politics, and the culture wars tomorrow.  For now, enjoy some downtime with your family, and try not to think about the collapse of Western civilization for at least one three-day weekend.

Your portly,

TPP

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Lazy Sunday LXXXII: Rural America

After a week of incredibly hot weather here in South Carolina, Saturday brought a blessed drop in both the temperature and humidity—a foretaste of autumn.  My girlfriend and I spent Saturday weeding my disgracefully overgrown flower beds, which were mostly weeds strangling the life out of everything but the hardiest of perennials (and my robust banana trees).  We then did some new plantings (with a few more to put in, as well as some mulch).  The results were pretty good:

Lamar House - After Planting, 5 September 2020

It felt good to get our hands (and clothes, and faces) dirty, digging through the dirt and nurturing plant life.  My mother is an expert gardener, so I’ve picked up a few simple techniques from her; otherwise, we just bought flowers we liked and plopped ’em in with some in-ground bedding soil and a some water.  Fingers crossed that everything survives.

My mind has been on the soil lately, and our connection to it.  I have a fondness—perhaps a tad romantic—for country life.  With current trends in the cities—rising home prices, rising property taxes, and rising urban violence—country life seems like an attractive, even inevitable, alternative.

As such, I thought I’d dedicate this week’s Lazy Sunday to some pieces about rural America:

  • TBT: Rustics Have Opinions, Too” – This piece dates way back 2009, when the blog was in its first iteration on Blogger, and I was still enthralled with “Randian-libertarian economic” philosophy.  Such are the follies of youth.  However, I did notice even then the deep disdain of limousine liberals for the rest of us here in “flyover country,” a disdain that, at least in part, accounts for the TEA Party movement and the Trumpian revolt of 2016.
  • High-Tech Agrarianism” – When The Virus hit, people were in a tizzy about having enough toilet paper and food.  People gained a renewed interest in gardening as a source of sustenance, not just beauty.  In this post, I mused about a possible return to small-scale homesteading, coupled with our advanced information technology.  Essentially, I posited a world in which people still work, albeit increasingly from home and on more flexible hours, and can use their time to tend to small crops to supplement their diets.
  • SubscribeStar Saturday: The Future is Rural” – One of two recent posts on the lure of rural America and small town life, I argue here that life in the country offers many attractive incentives for working families.  Not only are cities pushing people away with high prices and crime; the country is ready to take in telecommuters who earn good money but want a low cost of living in a safe, healthy environment.
  • SubscribeStar Saturday: Small Town Natalism” – The second post in my Saturday series about small town and rural living, this post is a preliminary sketch of a policy proposal:  applying nationalistic, pro-birth natalist policies to the small town context.  Instead of wasting money on seldom-used public facilities, local governments could offer a stipend to married families with children to encourage increased birth rates.  That would grow towns organically and attract new residents, thereby broadening the tax bases in often distressed rural areas.

That’s it for this week.  The garden is calling to me.  Time to put down some mulch!

—TPP

Other Lazy Sunday Installments:

Richard Weaver in the Age of The Virus

In the Age of The Virus, we’re beginning to reevaluate the way we live.  I’ve written quite a bit about distance learning, and photog has a piece up on his blog predicting a larger shift to remote work.  That transition would threaten micromanaging middle managers everywhere, though, and one doesn’t become a micromanaging middle manager without a knack of occupational self-preservation.

I’ve also been interested in the potential cultural impact.  Already there seems to be a minor revival in interest in gardening.  Part of that is prudent:  we need to have some food to fall back on should the supply chains face further disruption.

But I also suspect some of it is spiritual.  Modern man has become divorced from his roots in the soil—in Creation.  Modernity has liberated us from the constant fear of want, but that liberation came with a price:  we traded the liberty of the soil for the chains of comfort.  Growing a little vegetable garden, however meager, is a way to reconnect with the land, and with the beauty of God’s Creation.

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