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Pictured: Not a farmer.

From Heel to Hero

American cultural identity began to coalesce around the “settlement” of the west at the beginning of the 20th century. The country both celebrated and mourned the closing of the American frontier, the demise of the fearsome-yet-admirable noble savage, and the disappearing wildness of the empire’s most recent conquests. Where once cowboys and homesteaders were a White underclass that powerful Anglo-descended Whites were happy to send toward the setting sun into the unforgiving maw of brutal winters, hard sod, hail, tornadoes, and Indigenous people determined to protect their children; the dawn of the 20th century saw that underclass elevated as exemplars…


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Image from the author’s keynote from the National Young Farmers Coalition, describing the current model of agriculture in America which the Justice for Black Farmers Act not only fails to challenge, but actually manages to reinforce.

In a nutshell, the Justice for Black Farmers Act is a neo-Homestead Act that would transfer some 32 million acres of land (an area roughly the size of Connecticut) to African Americans in perpetuity, in addition to addressing the endemic racism in the United States Department of Agriculture, funding agricultural research in historically Black colleges, and making a number of long-sought amendments to the Packers and Stockyards Act of 1921.

It’s a bill so loaded with oversights, anti-solidarity, and implied acceptance of settler-colonial agricultural ethics that it can’t even be viewed as incremental progress or a step in the right…


How America’s favorite farmer lost his way.

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Joel Salatin at Polyface Farms (image from The Beef Site)

If you’re reading this, you probably know who Joel Salatin is. He’s the outspoken and vaunted founder of Polyface Farm — arguably the most famous farm in the world (as far as famous farms go) — a grazier, sustainable agriculture advocate, author of a number of books, the subject or feature of several food documentaries, and was made famous by Michael Pollan’s bestselling “The Omnivore’s Dilemma.”

Joel Salatin is also a world-class bigot. Let’s explain.


With zero incentive for change, big agriculture will always get bailouts

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Racism, environmental decline, animal welfare, and human health are tied in a Gordian Knot around the issue of food. Common sense would suggest untying it be left to people with demonstrated expertise in its varying facets:


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A new study has the conservation community abuzz with the (very, very old) notion that Native Americans lived in a pristine, Edenic wonderland whose ecological contours they barely altered.

This incredibly bold interpretation of the study’s results is being rapidly spread by shockingly irresponsible headlines such as “Native Americans Barely Impacted Landscape for 14,000 Years. Europeans Came and Changed Everything” that are being copy-pasted and rushed to publication by media that really ought to know better, like EcoWatch.

Even Native people — my own family members included — are sharing this interpretation of the study without actually reading beyond the…


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For fans of Braiding Sweetgrass, the following understated excerpt is probably the most important in the entire book;

“English is a noun-based language, somehow so appropriate to a culture so obsessed with things. Only 30% of English words are verbs, but in Potawatomi that proportion is 70%.”

This statement alone captures a good 80% of what that book had to teach.

Wade Davis’ “The Wayfinders” begins with a long chapter about the rapid extinction of languages effectively being bred out of existence in favor of the efficient economic language of English, like in engineered corn displacing the rich genetic multitudes…


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Allan Savory speaking at TED. Source

A man named Allan Savory gave a TED talk that changed the course of my life.

In this talk, he speaks in vivid terms about the environmental disaster of desertification (the process of arable land turning to desert because of drought, deforestation, etc.), and the counterintuitive miracle of using livestock, which are often blamed for the agricultural practices that lead to desertification, to reverse it.

I ate his talk up and bought his book, “Holistic Management.” At the time I was still a software engineer living in Washington, D.C., looking to make the leap from the tech industry to sustainable…


The romance of neoliberal peasant farming blinds us to our collective power

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Photo: Texas Co-Op Power

Let’s get this out of the way, first:

  • I am a small farmer, operating on 40-ish acres in Virginia’s Northern Neck.
  • I am not paid by, in hock to, in league with, or particularly happy with Big Agriculture. I’m just a guy who’s been in the small-sustainable farming business long enough to understand that the model is fatally flawed, and mature enough to say it out loud.
  • To my friends who run and staff farmers markets: This essay is hard on farmers markets. …


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EAT-Lancet Seeks to Frame a Healthy Baseline Diet within the bounds of the ecologically possible

If you vaguely recall news headlines about an environmentally sustainable diet that recommends eating one hamburger a week, one steak a month, or two eggs a week… then what you’re recalling is the EAT-Lancet commission report:

“The EAT-Lancet Commission on Food, Planet, Health brings together more than 30 world-leading scientists from across the globe to reach a scientific consensus that defines a healthy and sustainable diet.”

It’s a long, semi-dense, and sweeping report that touches on everything from natural resource tolerances to tax policy to epidemiology, but it’s to be expected that diet-obsessed Americans immediately zeroed in on the core…


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Tortillas in Oaxaca, (Ilhuicamina via pinterest)

There’s a magazine out there called Garden & Gun, and I’ll admit this up front: it’s a southern-lifestyle rag that’s been one of my favorite lazy reads for years. And now, I think the time has come to cancel my subscription.

The publication became known to me by way of my in-laws, who have introduced me to lots of things White people like, most of which involve dipping bourbon into things and things into bourbon. …

Chris Newman

Building a new, accessible, open, and democratic food economy in the Chesapeake Bay region @ Sylvanaqua Farms

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