Updated: Feb 15
“Now this is the Law of the Jungle -- as old and as true as the sky;
And the Wolf that shall keep it may prosper, but the Wolf that shall break it must die. As the creeper that girdles the tree-trunk the Law runneth forward and back — For the strength of the Pack is the Wolf, and the strength of the Wolf is the Pack.”
― Rudyard Kipling
“Let me tell you something about wolves, child. When the snows fall and the white winds blow, the lone wolf dies, but the pack survives. In winter, we must protect one another, keep each other warm, share our strengths. So if you must hate, Arya, hate those who would truly do us harm.”
― George R. R. Martin
Ancient and arching mythology lends us the wolf as a powerful example as we consider today’s challenges facing farmers -- as well as the cooperative, collaborative, and collective future of small and midsize farms. As Rudyard Kipling tells us, and so do our indigenous neighbors, the value of the wolf pack is more than merely a sum of its parts. Though wolves are individually fierce, they innately sense the risk of operating outside the pack. Their survival instincts sense the greater power of a pack of wolves as opposed to the danger of a lone wolf, and opt for traveling as a pack instead of venturing out one by one. When a wolf is missing, the pack knows the wolf is at its greatest risk.
Humans, farmers in this case, seem to have different resource constraints or realities, and thus, priorities, than that of wolves — farmers aren’t collectively hunting prey, or acutely focusing on surviving winter winds, so we don’t have to align as closely with each other as the wolves. Aren’t we, though? If we look beyond our modern comforts, we are reminded that our competitors are certainly hunting us — our winter winds are equivalent to advertising budgets, capitalist food trends, industrial subsidies, corporate distribution control, climate change, and favor of mass production over nutrient density and quality. Bee Wilson goes as far as to say that “we are the first generation to be hunted by our food.”
It doesn’t seem far off, then, that as far back as Roman mythology, wolves have appeared as gods of agriculture and war. The courage, bravery, and collective will required for both endeavors and represented through their organization is incredibly steep. The story of the wolves applies here, to us, if we are willing to admit the forces we are competing against.
Local farm networks already share the instinct of the wolf's pack. We share knowledge and resources, set up side by side at markets. To plant a seed and expect that something will emerge later in the season requires trust, skill, and risk. We engage with risk by spreading it — amongst CSA members, as an example, amongst a cooperative, in others. Less than 50 miles of geographic separation can drive a disparities in crop success and crop failure, so collaboration is paramount.
Local farms also know the value of the pack's individual wolf -- we are each working, honing our skills, strengthening our business models. If our businesses fail, the individual wolf falls.
In 2020, we need a deeper level of collaboration that unites a wolf pack of farmers. We need a pack in order to take bigger risks, one that transcends the human limitations of disagreeing on details, and focuses on services, not sweeping comprehensive solutions, that systematically grow farm business models and increases production on the community level.
This collaboration doesn't need to put farmers all into the same formula, but rather asks us to build a framework that both supports and draws strength from farmers of all sizes, abilities, interests, priorities, and production skills.
This collaboration does need not to focus on past cooperative development in all ways, but certainly some components are worth including. We need to recognize and unite against the threat of climate change, divided communities, and capitalist competition, while also helping farms stay independent and distinct.
This kind of farming doesn’t happen on accident — this kind of farming takes a series of deliberate steps on the way to a clear vision, allowing each individual farm to stand up on its own legs, in their own ways. This kind of farming doesn’t rely on status quo market structures, set up on the capitalist stilts of supply and demand. The market is set up that way to give control to data gatekeepers, to favor those who have been “doing it” “the longest.”
Our new market plan understands small farm economics by calling out the models that will work, while supporting growth of models that fit economic and ecological efficiency standards from the first steps of farming.
Our new market plan weaves a web of interdependent, mutually beneficial relationships amongst farms of varying abilities, sizes, and strengths.
Our new market plan differentiates farm businesses from subsistence/hobby farmers in the midwest. It rejects “niche” as the modus operandi for local farming and prefers the word “regional.”
Our new market plan flips the supply chain on its head, redirecting supply into efficient, low cost supply chains to reach actual community demand while answering to what farmers can realistically supply, from an ecological perspective.
What is this new market plan? That is what we are conceiving now, in so many ways. I believe that we have to work backwards in order to move forward -- so that's where I'm starting. An end vision.
Join us as we define this vision and fight corporate controlled agriculture to return control of markets back to the farms who built communities in the first place.
My role, I believe, is to start relationships between farmers and buyers and give them the tools to continue the relationship for many years. To define market channels that can not be confined by "saturation" -- outlets that want more local food, ask more farmers to get into farming, and reward farmers for taking the leap.