How does one tell the difference between bad ag and good ag? Some would paint all ag black. Citing special anthropological definitions, they contrast it with horticulture. I am inclined to stick with commonsense understandings that work for gardeners, farmers and other folk too. I am using the term agriculture in the sense of cultivation, any cultivation.

So what is the essence of Ag the Undesirable? Ag the Ugh? The ugh-culture. Ugliculture. We should be able to recognize it when we see it. I am proposing that we make it easy on ourselves and keep it down to stuff anyone can understand. Bad cultivation is readily recognizable by

  • the stench of desperation now; and
  • the damage left behind for the next generations

Ag as desperation was plain to see among ancients whose social systems depended on men and beasts working dawn to dusk cranking out food. Aided by slaves, animals, and clever gadgets, their work continued hard and awful, and their health and longevity took a beating. It is practiced now by rural neighbors who labor in their fields in safety garb and face masks to protect themselves from the noxious chemicals they apply to the land. It is alive among farmers who employ the poor from far away and put them up in miserable, unhygienic conditions, so that their misery shows up in contaminated food somewhere else. It is well-served by factory-farms who keep food animals under a state of steady torment and gross neglect and whose illnesses and drugs show up in the human food chain. It thrives among the corn farmers who “can’t afford to” worry about effluent from their fields killing the Gulf of Mexico.

People are desperate to make a profit, desperate to pay the bills, desperate to keep the farm, desperate to provide for their kids, desperate to keep their head above water. The acrid odor of desperation wafts over the land…. as it wafted over the fields of Sumer and the gardens of latter day Easter Island.

Living in lower Mesopotamia was hell but high yields from laboriously irrigated fields made it all seem worth it (to some, anyway), until the soil turned white and died. Silent deserts smother the ground where Babylon’s fertile fields once lay. Living on Easter Island was easy, but more and more gardens were needed for more and more people, and more and more forests were cut for more and more statues, until the soil washed off to the sea and the springs dried up and life turned poor, nasty, brutish and short. The Sumerians and Easter Islanders cashed in the future of their descendants for bare sand, hunks of rock: a lasting desolation.

It’s not about plow vs low-till, fallow or no fallow, animals or no animals, or return on investment… It is far, far simpler. Desperation makes for poor husbandry. Poor husbandry today leads to blighted land tomorrow.

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