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175 8 8.Alternatives Are there workable alternatives to the dominant agricultural system in the United States? Thousands of people believe there are, and they are hard at work promoting what they see as necessary substitutes for the present large-scale, specialized, mechanized, chemical-intensive farming that produces most of our food and fiber. These critics of the present system may agree on what is wrong with the present system, but they advocate different prescriptions for its reform. The labels they use for these alternatives also vary—permanent, sustainable, regenerative, biodynamic , holistic, natural, ecological, organic, low-input. In this chapter, I survey some of these alternatives. Lonely Farmers At least in a global perspective, some deeply ingrained aspects of farming in America were soon ubiquitous, particularly those involving farm placement and ownership. The first English settlers in America came largely from a village-based agriculture. Homes and churches were located in a rather compact area, with fields and forests surrounding the village.This pattern prevailed briefly with the first settlers inVirginia and for at least a few decades in parts of New England. In New England some of the new towns even kept the open field system of East Anglia, with heads of families assigned areas of the commons to cultivate each year. The early New England towns, with more land than they could clear and cultivate, retained ownership of the forests and meadows, as well as a village commons (some of these still survive). But as the population increased , and maturing sons needed land of their own, towns made grants 176 A Revolution Down on the Farm of land located farther away. Many of these new landowners built homes on their land, creating a mixed pattern of village dwellers and dispersed farmsteads. In time, the majority of farmers would live outside the town centers, with some too far away to attend church and school or even participate and vote in town meetings. Communal norms became more difficult to enforce, and the sense of community weakened. In the southern colonies, a somewhat different pattern developed. There, large royal grants led to sales to individual farmers, who usually chose to live on their land.Widely scattered homesteads became the rule. Towns and villages were few in number, and any type of close communal life was almost impossible.This was also the pattern in most of NewYork and Pennsylvania. But in the Hudson Valley and in the South, a few very large landowners were able to acquire dependent workers (indentured servants or tenants in NewYork, servile workers in Maryland andVirginia ), which led to clusters of dependents around the principal plantation home.Thus, by the eighteenth century, the typical American farm family lived in near isolation in its own small kingdom, with very little external control over its operations. The geological survey after 1794, and the township pattern it created from Ohio westward, reinforced this pattern of settlement and an agricultural system of widely dispersed farmsteads. In the nineteenth century, as settlements moved into the more arid Great Plains, wheat farming or, farther west, the grazing of cattle led to farm and ranch homes that were a mile or more apart. European visitors were often amazed at what they perceived as the lonely lives of American farmers. Some eastern reformers lamented the antisocial aspects of such settlement patterns, and European immigrants, particularly women, suffered from their lonely lives on the plains. Only in the twentieth century did improved roads and automobiles lessen the isolation. Ironically, today the patterns are shifting again. Unregulated suburban sprawl and strip development along highways have blended urban and rural settlement patterns, even as an integrated employment market has allowed most ruralAmericans to work for urban or suburban firms. The most influential critic of dispersed farms was economist Henry C. Carey. He was a friend of RalphWaldo Emerson, an adviser toAbraham Lincoln, and one of the founders of the Republican Party. He eventually rejected free-market theory and free trade.The son of an Irish immigrant, Carey had an animus against the United Kingdom and its new factory system that had reduced low-paid workers to something close to slaves. He wanted tariffs high enough to foster American manufacturing and 177 Alternatives stressed consumer demands and mild inflation as engines of economic growth. Carey absorbed some of the ideas of Comte Claude Saint-Simon and sought a richer communal or associative life for Americans. From his perspective, farming in America was a major scandal.As he put it, we...


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