Hipsters, hippies, and false agrarianism
When I was a teenager, I had a fortune of spending some summer days on a small farm that was about to be absorbed into a suburban sprawl. My uncle's father owned an old, wooden farmhouse and several acres, and spent his later years there after his retirement from professorship. I have a fond memory of early summer mornings harvesting some odd-shaped vegetables.
As someone who grew up in the heart of a major world-class metropolis, it was a great experience. Every year, my parents would take me to various rural areas for u-picks -- strawberries in the springs and usually sweet potatoes or chestnuts in the falls.
But in the grand scheme of things, these u-picks are tourist attractions. As such, visitors would never see 90-plus percent of what actually goes into making the u-pick happen.
Fast forward to 2018, I am frequently appalled to witness city-dwellers who cannot tell a wasteland apart from a farm. Too many of them seem to falsely think that everything outside of the urban growth boundaries is a "farm." They see an abandoned grassland and they think it's a farm. They cannot tell a difference between a logging zone and an agricultural zone. They see a vacant, decayed wooden barn on a road and think everything around it is a farm. This gets pretty stupid after a while. And they think farms are some kind of idyllic paradises where happy farmers co-exist with happy animals and nature.
The urban cultures -- both the hippies of the 1960s-70s and the hipsters of the 2000s-10s -- have constructed a highly romanticized yet unreal fantasy of an agrarian society that stands in contrast with their urban and suburban environments. They wrongly equate agriculture with nature and farming with primitive life when the complete opposite is the reality. The modern urban obsessions with farmers' markets, so-called "farm to table" movement, and "homesteading" movement belie the historical and lived realities of those who engage in agriculture.
The cognitive disconnect between the fantasy version of agrarianism and the challenging realities of real farmers and agricultural industries is somewhat comparable to the difference between the BDSM version of a torture chamber and an actual torture chambers run by a repressive dictatorship. The hipsters and hippies can, at will, choose to occasionally engage in what they believe to be "farming" (a backyard vegetable garden is not a farm) as a hobby -- but they never have to worry about crop failures or having to take out a loan to replace farming equipment and pay for crop insurance. Nor do they know that many family-owned farms spend fortunes to comply with contractual requirements imposed by agribusiness giants (e.g., frequent upgrade and purchase of required equipment) and a slew of government regulations just so that they can have a stable income.
People who fantasize "natural farms" and "farm to table" are almost always middle-class city slickers who have no clue whatsoever when it comes to agriculture. The permaculture and homesteading fetishists also fall under this category, just a bunch of hipsters and hippies who fantasize some fake good old days that never were.
These folks tend to be the same people who endlessly pontificate on the merits of organic produce and the evil of genetic engineering, completely oblivious to the reality that food security is one of the greatest concerns of the United States and around the world and that in Oregon alone, roughly 1 out of 8 people cannot afford food (despite the fact that heavy federal subsidies make certain types of crops outrageously cheaper in the U.S. when compared with other industrialized nations).
Frankly, genetic modification is as old as agriculture itself and therefore the civilization itself. There is no such thing as "natural farming." Agriculture began as humans learned how to control natural phenomena to their advantage, allowing them to shift their food sourcing from hunting and gathering to a planned cultivation of food-yielding plants. As they learned how these plants grew and under what conditions, they began improving the crops to maximize the yield and to adapt to their environments. Most grains we eat are products of millennia's worth of crossbreeding various species of grass. And with the growing world population and climate change, we are pretty much forced to use all the scientific knowledge to maximize output while minimizing resource use. Almost everything we eat today is in its current form because of human interventions and manipulations.
The recent studies have not conclusively shown that organic produce is nutritionally superior, but it is inefficient and costly to grow it.
In certain impoverished third world countries, NGOs and scientists are teaming up to develop genetically modified crops to prevent malnutrition and diseases. For example, rice is spliced with carrot genes to create rice rich in vitamin A. First world problems should not stop legitimate scientific research to improve health and to save lives.
This trend in false agrarianism is hurting real American farmers who supply the city-dwellers with affordable food with a remarkable level of efficiency. As urban hipsters buy up agriculture-zoned lands for their CSA and "homesteads" they expand the gentrification outward beyond the urban growth areas. This causes the increase in tax burdens and leads to financial hardship -- and ultimately, displacement -- of the rural populations. Yet, these lands are no longer producing as much to feed the people. CSAs are generally just for a small group of members, and homesteaders are not really interested in (or capable of) genuine agricultural pursuits. Some of them even start a commune. As I learned the history of failed communes in the past, one of the primary reasons why such pseudo-agrarian communes failed was that they were absolutely clueless when it came to farming! But alas, they wouldn't learn from real farmers who lived there for generations; instead, they try to lecture and protest the farmers for allegedly destroying the environment or some silly concerns. They don't like it when the farmers almost inevitably turn out to be conservatives and "hillbillies."
No wonder why the rural folks think people are coming from Seattle, Portland, or San Francisco to take away their freedom and destroy the American way of life.
This is what happens when society has become so polarized to the point where one group of people do not care to learn from the other groups of people, and they'd rather choose fantasies over venturing out of their own bubbles to explore the world out there. Children who grow up in the country have 4-H and FFA. Then there are county fairs and state fairs, which to this day remain to be expositions of the best in local agriculture. But how many hipsters and hippies actually care to visit county fairs (maybe they can't deal with country music, manure smells, and so many American flags)? How many of their children join 4-H?
Don't take me wrong: I am at heart an ecofeminist, and to a great extent, influenced by anarcha-feminism. But I reject nature worship at the expense of human rights or economic justice. And I am genuinely concerned with the level of cluelessness among so many people who think they are doing something good.