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Fifty Million Farmers

Twenty-Sixth Annual E. F. Schumacher Lectures October 2006, Mount Holyoke College, South Hadley, MA

Richard Heinberg, October 2006

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Summary :

We have been trained to admire the benefits of intensification and industrialization, but as I’ve already indicated, we have paid an enormous price for these benefits—a price that includes alienation from nature, loss of community and tradition, and acceptance of the anonymity and loss of autonomy implied by mass society. In essence, this trade-off has its origins in the beginnings of urbanization and agriculture.

Could we actually regain much of what we have lost? Yes, by going back, at least in large part, to horticulture. Recall that the shift from horticulture to agriculture was, as best we can tell, a fateful turning point in cultural history. It represented the beginning of full-time division of labor, of hierarchy and patriarchy. Biointensive farming and permaculture are primarily horticultural rather than agricultural systems. These new intelligent forms of horticulture could, then, offer a viable alternative to a new feudalism with a new peasantry. In addition, they emphasize biodiversity, averting many of the environmental impacts of field cropping; they use various strategies to make hand labor as efficient as possible, minimizing toil and drudgery; and they typically slash water requirements for crops grown in arid regions.