Chris Smaje is one of the smartest people thinking and writing about the future of food and farming. I can’t remember when I first started to follow him, but I do know that when a new post from him pops up in my reader I ignore it until I know I will have time to read it properly. So it was yesterday when, after a few days away, I came back to Back to the future through mixed farming, the first in a series of posts about his new book.
That book is Saying NO to a Farm-free Future, which looks at the reality of using bioreactors to feed the human population, a view exemplified by George Monbiot in his Regenesis.
There is no way I am going to reflect on each of the forthcoming articles, which I am looking forward to with great pleasure. Rather, I’d like to encourage you to read them (and the book) for yourself.
Pessimistically, I’m sure I will not live long enough to see the changes that, like Chris, I consider inevitable. But, as he says, it isn’t easy either to describe or promote the necessary changes. Chris quotes Jim Thomas from his article George and the Food System Dragon and I think it is worth quoting that section in full:
Leaning into the complexities of local agroecological diverse food webs is maddeningly unsellable as a soundbite. George presents agrarian localism as a ‘withdrawal’ but its more in the gesture of “staying with the trouble” - a phrase feminist scholar Donna Harraway so brilliantly coined to dismiss big, male, over simplistic technocratic solutionists who claim to have the ‘one big answer’ to our global polycrisis. (sound familiar?). Staying with the trouble and leaning into food webs means embracing a messy politics of relationship, nuance, context, complexity and co-learning. It means a single clever journalist sitting in Oxford can’t dream up a cracking saviour formula all by himself in the space of a 2 year book project. its why (and how) we build movements - to figure this stuff out collectively. So relax - take off the armour - make friends.
I miss that movement. Time was, long ago and far away when I was a near neighbour of Chris, that I would have relished the opportunity to be an even greater part of a local producer economy, but it was not to be.