And he’d given up on ecology when the ecology magazine he’d been subscribing to had shown its readers a plan of a self-sufficient garden, and had drawn the ecological goat tethered within three feet of the ecological beehive. Newt had spent a lot of time at his grandmother’s house in the country and thought he knew something about the habits of both goats and bees, and concluded therefore that the magazine was run by a bunch of bib-overalled maniacs.From Good Omens, Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman
I was listening to Good Omens again after reading it a few years ago, and I appreciated the quote above. It sums up my jaded feelings about a lot of books and articles on ecology and agriculture.
While moving my desk I found some notes I made about ten years back when I was preparing to jump into farming. Back then I was scouring out-of-print books for information on how pigs and chickens were raised before industrialization. My goals were worthy enough, but what a sucker I was for impractical ideas. So many unmanageable, unscalable, unachievable ideas…
One thing I didn’t appreciate was how many “experts” are actually only vocal novices. It was true in the old books and it remains true. Perhaps it is a little worse these days because the barriers to broadcasting ideas are lower. So much of the advice for farmers is based on people’s expectations of how the system should work, not built on years of experience. In one particularly egregious example I recently read, the author hadn’t even started his farm before he wrote his book the farm he planned on establishing.
I’ve come to appreciate experienced farmers more. Even if their practices aren’t fully compatible with mine, they embody a deep and hard-won wisdom. Often the agriculture of the possible is the only sustainable agriculture. Many of the people who were loud voices in ecological agriculture ten years ago are no longer farming. I’d like to make it to the ten year mark, and beyond. Maybe I’ll last to the point where I can be the crusty old grouch who has a few well-tested ideas worth listening to.