Thursday, May 14, 2009

Finally! Another Notes from the Margin Installment from Jim & Diane Hunter of Hunters' Greens

What's so Different about Hunters' Greens

Written by Jim and Diane Hunter
Thursday, 14 May 2009 14:08

Now that there are dozens of CSAs in Clark County, Jim and Diane are feeling a little deflated. When we were the only CSA, or one of a handful, we felt pretty special. But now, Well.... not so much.

We can still say we are the oldest CSA, and at another level, we should be bursting with pride that the model we introduced to the county is going gang busters, and changing the face of agriculture in our community.

But as you might imagine, Jim and Diane have never been content to be one of the crowd, so we find our selves itching to distinguish ourselves.

Recently we have begun to understand and feel in our bones a set of values by which we can distinguish ourselves in a new way. This set of values combines good old depression era frugality with a more contemporary sense of conservation. In essence it turns one of the classic premises of economics on its head. Rather than striving to see how much we can make, we find ourselves striving to see how little we can live on.

Now, intellectually this idea is not new to us. Jim was reading about it in the seventies. At that time, visionary economists like E.F. Schumacher and Herman Daly were beginning to question the assumptions of classical economic theory. They questioned the value of growth for growth's sake, and whether the size of a country's gross national product and it's rate of growth were meaningful measures of the country's economic, social and environmental health. They made the connection between ever expanding economies and environmental degradation and depletion of finite resources. They asked whether there might be other principals for guiding an economy that would result in healthier outcomes.

One notion that Daly focussed on was that rather than simply measuring how much we produce, we should first ask ourselves towards what end or goal are we producing things, and how much of what do we want to produce to achieve our goals. Then we should go about figuring out how to achieve our goals using the least amount of finite resources and creating the least amount of pollution.

For our first several years at Hunters' Greens we were at least partially stuck in the old model. We have been chasing a particular amount of gross farm income. We had read that CSA farmers Bob and Bonnie Gregson had achieved this amount, which years ago was the average family income in their region. Later, we chased a similar amount because the U.S.D.A.'s Census of Agriculture found that the top quarter of farms in the country make this amount or more. We felt that surely if we belonged to this group, we would be deemed significant.

This magical level of income has always remained just out of reach, but we increasingly find we are managing on less. But our need to feel our work was meaningful and not be written off as a "hobby farm" or "hippy dropouts" continued to drive us to achieve that "magical" income bracket. This drive was fed by remarks by local government officials that farms less than ten acres were not "really" farms, and could not support a family. In terms of land use policy, their judgement matters, and a study they commissioned argued that a farm that did not produce a $40,000 family wage job did not deserve protection as an agricultural resource.

But the logic of Daly leads to different conclusions. If we can demonstrate that we can meet our goal of providing an income to support a frugal and sustainable lifestyle using less land, fewer finite resources, and causing less pollution, then the land in Clark County should by extension be able to support more farm families while depleting fewer resources and causing less pollution. In turn, by employing more of our population in an industry that utilizes local resources, we would be able to reduce commuter traffic, and the considerable resources and pollution that represents. We would would need less land for roads. More of the family and business revenue would be spent locally, creating a stronger economic multiplier effect and generating more tax revenue. And if these farms have the infrastructure and markets in place to be successful (by the measure of their own goals and aspirations), then this will reduce the desire for farmers to sell out to developers, and thereby conserve more open space, maintaining a better quality of life in the community. As E.F. Schumacher put it in a nutshell, "Small IS Beautiful!"

So if we follow Daly's model of defining success as achieving a set of meaningful goals with the minimum use of resources, the experiment we are living at Hunters' Greens becomes a model crying to be replicated across our community, not only in agriculture, but potentially in a wide variety of local resource based industries, and in every household. DO WE MATTER? YES WE DO!

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