“Like it or not, addicts say, they have fewer and fewer choices in buying drugs.”

That’s a throwaway line in a recent Vanity Fair feature, one that has had a fair amount of play in the blogosphere.

I lied. That’s not actually the true quote. The truth is:

“Like it or not, farmers say, they have fewer and fewer choices in buying seeds.”

But that is not true. The article dishes the dirt on Monsanto, with plenty of detail that may not be familiar to the average VaFa reader. I hope those readers enjoy it. But my point is to address the addicts, not to excoriate the pusher.

That kind of talk -- oh, we can’t help ourselves -- is, I believe, both the root of the problem and the source of a solution. It is very like addiction; the farmer wants to get free, but cannot because of peer pressure and the endless promises of the true happiness and perfect release that just one more hit will bring. But if those farmers were in Africa, rather than America, we’d know what to do.

We’d empower them, teach them to participate in improving their own livelihoods, improve access to markets, fix the policy framework; all that. At least, that’s what we say we’d do.

Because the farmers are in America, we say “that’s the way the market works”. We step over the addicts in the gutter, and we believe them when they say they are powerless to resist.

Industrial farming has been horribly deskilled. Farmers plant the seeds The Man sells them, when The Man tells them. They spray with The Man’s chemicals, harvest, and sell the “product” right back to The Man. And they take the money they earn to the store, where they buy processed food from the Man. Farming has had the heart ripped out of it, and farmers unbuttoned their shirts to allow it.

It does not have to be that way, especially not if the farmers in one area could agree just for a moment -- a season or two -- not to beggar their neighbours. Imagine a group of farmers, the ones around Vanity Fair’s Pilot Grove will do, getting together and working with some unprotected soybeans. Selecting the varieties that do well for them. Maybe planting mixtures. Rediscovering the skills of timing, of reading the weather and the needs of the crops. Sure weeding fields is hard work; I know, I’ve done it. But farm labour can provide jobs and keep money in a community. And when the time comes to harvest, I’ll bet a buyer could be found who would pay top dollar for high quality soybeans. They don’t even have to be organic to be desirable in the market.

Rather than chase one another to the bottom, bemoaning their lack of options, they could band together and support a real community with a real economy that values skill and experience and the food those talents can produce.

”Economics” may dictate one set of choices -- play The Man’s game. But it is important to realize that it is emphatically not the only game in town.

I long to read about industrial farmers saying no and reclaiming their lives.

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