The Virginia Coal-Field, More than just a story:
A hundred years ago, General Imboden rode down into Wise County, Virginia, 200 miles west of Blacksburg, Virginia, from Pennsylvania on a horse, rode over these hills, saw the coal and timber resources, and then went home to tell his company: "Buy it!" he said and they did. Other companies followed and they've been reaping the rewards of their wise investment ever since. There comes an end to almost any investment. Buildings deteriorate, machines wear out, and coal seams run out. Some coal seams, like crops and milk, become too costly to work; the total costs of labor, machines, mortgages, obeying new rules, and paying new taxes exceed the income; dug deeper and deeper to find only thin seams of high-value-coal, the costs of mining, processing, and delivering coal exceed the income. That ends the story.
My analysis of the reports of Virginia coal field resources and reserves, of mining rates, of investments and failures, of regulations and their relaxation or tightening all add up to what I conclude is an awful problem. Make no mistake, it is a three-part problem:
I am convinced that unless major strides are taken in and on behalf of the coalfield, it will become a rural slum. It will be a place of desolation and poverty - a tax burden on Virginians and the nation. Salem and Roanoke, Virginia, are 150 miles away, too close not to be affected directly. More importantly, knowledge of its existence will diminish my humanity, and that of other thoughtful people. The quality of my life is tightly bound to the lives of my fellow Virginians, Americans, and friendly people around the world.
Perhaps such comments are too personal. Consider the old but useful phrase, "Your end of the boat is sinking!" I am convinced that Virginia - the southwestern coalfield region - is the boat and we are in it together. I see no way to separate my personal concerns from those of the people of the coal field. The coalfield is the seven-county region of Virginia - Lee, Scott, Wise, Dickenson, Buchanan, Russell and Tazewell. If there was not a chunk of coal in it, I would still be concerned. Coal is not the issue. The issue is the lives of a quarter-million people that live there now and may do so for the long-term future, at least fiftyyears, so that we can relate that period with coal extraction. The issue is: what shall become of the people of the coalfield? How shall we create a viable, human, humane place for people, given the looming changes in coal? This is now a single-industry region. Like the mill-town, the industrial hub, when the doors shut, the town suffers. It is no intellectual leap to think of this as the coal-region and when the mines close, the region suffers. Not the region, mind you; not some impersonal place on a map, mind you, but people - all of those beautiful people here, the people who have yet to glimpse their potential; the wonderful children still eager to learn. They still hope.
I'm not depressed or despondent. I just have a feeling that people don't see the same problem or situation as I do. Sometimes living close to a problem can make you ignore it. (Like driving a car with bad brakes; you really ought to do something about it, but you have to get to work!) We have a bigger problem than any car or household or medical problem. It's treatment can't be put off.
That problem is: How can we plan, design, and set in motion a scheme to make the coalfield a fit place for people and beasts - within only ten years. We must discuss seriously the coalfield in the next decade. I see a solution. There may only be one. It needs to be discussed because we all need to know it. There is no time for false modesty. Lots of ideas are needed fast, then a general consensus, and then positive, powerful steps need to be taken. There will be disagreements, but action will be needed. Ten years may sound like a long time to a college student, but four years seems pretty short to most graduating seniors in high school or college. Remember taking your child to the first day of the third grade and asking, "How could this be? She was just born yesterday!" How long did it take to get your place of business going from the first idea to the day you were in the financial black - about ten years? How long did your doctor spend in school? How long did it take for the latest change in mining regulations or reclamation? Ten years is a very short period in the coal field. There is no time to waste. I wish I had seen the problem as clearly much earlier or I would certainly have said something. (I tried to express these ideas in 1985. It must have been too shrill. Now it is 2014 and I have a lower voice and I think the problems have gotten worse and some new ones appeared like mushrooms on the lawn..)
Dickenson County is a beautiful mountainous county in southwestern Virginia. It is one of the seven counties there with underlying coal. There are 1,055,240 acres in the Virginia coalfields. Dickenson County has been about the third largest coal producer among the counties of Buchanan, Lee, Russell, Scott, Tazewell, and Wise. All of the data on acres and tons and employees and coal characteristics seem to pale when EPA and the Department of Energy suggested (1990) that past estimates of Virginia's clean, recoverable coal were inflated and that the reserves, if depleted at the current rate, would not last more than 33 to 42 years. Well, that was 1990 (or before, since approvals and publications move slowly) and here it is 2014 and not much seems to have happened...other than more coal has been removed and natural gas-competition has occurred and prices shifted briefly. Now what?
All of the data and analyses do not seem to make any difference. The coming catastrophe is too great to comprehend. It is so great that it is unthinkable. It must be left to someone else...the government ...or someone...just anyone will do... Overcome by the prevalence of instant foods and rapid technological progress, it is impossible to imagine that somewhere there is not an instant answer, a sure success story, a discovery that will be made in time to avert the crisis. I do not recommend prayer, even in unison in large groups. All of the recounting of greed, human suffering, resource abuse, ignorance, unsafe practices, careless ness, alcoholism, drug dependence, labor stresses, and conflicts over land restoration will not make the situation right, even understandable. Finding blame will help little and will often add justifications and excuses for the offenders not to participate in the new order for the area. We have to put most of that history behind us, not forgetting it, but using it to add precautions and backup mechanism to future design.
We have a bad situation that cries out for support and subsidy but we have a poor community, few taxpayers, a single-industry community, a low population of voters, and an area physically and mentally miles away from Washington, DC, as well as from the state capital of Richmond. You can hardly "get there from here"...or anywhere. When it is time to allocate tax money, legislators look at both where the money came from and where the votes emerge. The answer: not in Dickenson County.
The county is part of the Appalachian Regional Commission area. That cooperative federal and state program has helped; perhaps there is more that it can do as a member of a team working throughout the region. Dickenson residents cannot alone justify or pay for modern highways. Highway access is badly needed but in the future energy-short environment, alternative strategies will be needed. Moving ideas and messages, not people, will be priorities for the future. Other things like building materials and food of course have to be moved and that will only occur with high energy costs. The new world for which the residents of the area must prepare will not be similar to the world of the past or the world on current TV-display. The situation is one of freedom, for there is little baggage, nothing in the wagon from the past investments in structure, roads, dams, highways, schools, religious structures, and buildings for governance. The situation is one for building for survival but also for leadership and prominence in the new age.
Sooner or later we have to bring general discussions into focus. We have to move the rhetoric closer and closer to reality. I deny much rhetoric, only a sincere desire to communicate some of my thoughts as I wrestle with the regional problem, trying to see it from all sides. I'm trying to understand it well enough to see some of the critical points. In some computer analyses experts talk about "sensitivity analyses." That idea is to find the variable or one piece of an equation to which the end results is most sensitive. Where will a little change make the most difference in the desired results? I'm trying to do a mental sensitivity analysis (and ask for the help of other in doing so for the region and beyond). I am encouraged by the thought: Maybe our solution will be very beneficial if also used elsewhere.
It may be necessary to claim your spot, dear reader, as center of the universe. I reject thoughts about how far we are from the capital or from DC for those have a hidden assumptions or two about where the center of power is. It implies high importance to areas that have not been very helpful in the pasts and that some will claim, are the source of the problems faced now. Claiming "source" puts blame elsewhere and, though it provides personal feelings of relief, it hardly contributes to the new personality of the solving community, recruiting you the reader. Rejecting thoughts about how far we are from the state capital also is a clear statement that distance is no longer very relevant in the new world of the county in the next 50 years. We are hooked up with the rest of the world. We are no longer moving coal but ideas and services. Our work no longer moves at the ponderous speed of loaded trains but at the speed of electricity. We are as close to New York and Bombay, India, now as we are to Richmond in time and major service needs and many more customers for our ideas, services, opportunities and products. It is hard thinking about a world map or globe with your point (or Dickenson County) highlighted and centered, but that is the way some of us must try to think and visualize our physical location. The world globe on the desk is a good image because no longer should we be trying to think about how big the world is, how high the mountains, how far across the oceans but thinking about how small the world is, compressed by modern communications. These are intellectually challenging times. That may be a ho-hum statement for many people because most times have been challenging. Ours is not a ho-hum time because many things are changing in massive ways around the world... together. The changes are crucial and we can wait for them as they flow over us, or we can shape and mold our conditions (like moist potter's clay) and even shape the region. (I can imagine in time of grand thought that we can create systems here that will help re-shape major areas of the rest of the world.)
An early glimpse of the vision that I have for the spaces and people on "farms," whole rural regions, is that Rural System will embrace and develop a new "enterprise environment" (probably called a "double-E") on separate land and water ownerships wherein people will have great success in improving the social, economic, and environmental health of the region and thus each EE and all that it promotes and supports will become effective and expand. The system will invests in private lands and waters to enhance their productivity and similarly influence, years later, Virginia, then whole nations. The work will be recognized as the product of a special paradigm in comprehensive rural resource management, motivated primarily by well-gained stable profits resulting in a notable change in diverse operations and small businesses somewhat related to prior "agricultural cooperatives." Perhaps Rural System will become profitable operating well past this century, given its 150-year planning horizon sliding forward annually. It will be a dynamic alternative to the present, lasting in the rural world with decent work and stable, high-variety, intensively-managed resources for people.
Seeing us as the central point of the globe's surface helps us realize how we are influenced by world "things." But we need not become tired from listing the influences, only realize that they are ever-present, and that we can, perhaps, influence things around us. We can be producers, service agents, and providers of unique opportunities to the rest of the world. We need to realize that we are citizens and that gives us an enormous responsibility as world citizens to assist and build in powerful ways. "From those to whom much has been given, much is expected" can be viewed as religious or as a simple statement of the market and the expected: "pay up."
The owners of rural lands, now some 80% of the total US population living in cities, need a solution for how to stop or slow the out migration of rural people to cities. They also need solutions to improve the health and education of the people there, to provide meaningful work for them, and for ways to stabilize the essential small communities for them. They need a private company working for people and their communities. They need one that's working in the face of public efforts that have not worked for too long. The flight from rural areas is large and swift. The remaining people suffer. Rural System is more than a lawn-care company; it's a solution to a giant social problem.
High-school graduates now understand and use the word "ecology." They know that the clean food and water that they require comes from ecosystems and they understand (sort-of) that land and water has to be managed. They are not sure how "conserved" relates to "managed," but they all know that people and communities are related to good land that is used well and managed or cared for. Now living in cities, most know nothing about the details of management, or conservation, or its language, and rely upon others, the 20%, for their food, water, and lumber. Those people live in the eastern US and here and there on small farms ... and they are going bust. The land has been over-used, exploited, and mis-managed. The farms are too small, too distant from services and markets, and massacred in changing price events. Farm people suffer from rapidly-changing climatic assaults. They are dependent upon well-managed natural resources and the stable income from such management ... and now they are leaving the rural areas. There is great instability. The energy costs of farming and travel, already depressing, advance on the people there. The evidence is in. Few people can meet modern farm challenges alone. Many face related financial challenges as well (greater than average unemployment data (now 2009) at about 18%).
In the US and globally there has been a set of changes wrought by both causes and effects. Conditions, threats, residences, processes, limits and regulations, knowledge and markets have all together changed so that we can no longer do farming as it has been done. It's not 'broke.' It does not exist like it once did. It does not need another technique, expansion, subsidy, or regulation. It cannot meet the needs of modern society. The world has changed; major parts affecting farming and agriculture have changed. Grains are no longer eyed for eating but fuel production. Grasslands may be eyed for factory fodder rather than landscape beauty in herds of foraging livestock. There is no evil force becoming successful. Things are just different, really different, and the old ways will not work, even with 'some adjustments.' The evidence is in: farms and farmers are failing. The "trip to town" is now too expensive; the country store is gone. Operations that were once marginal are now sub-marginal and people are on welfare, moving to cities, exploiting their acreage while subsidized by their urban employment. Families are different and children's expectations are TV-influenced and hard work and low salaries have never been enticing. Some people are merely holding land and speculating on positive future returns. New ways are needed to deal with rural conditions - their products, services, and people - and they are now so different that history will note them ... and a successful response to them ... like the profound changes of the industrial revolution. The sharp break will be called the rural reformation.
Rural areas are hard to define. Herein, they're just "not cities" and some of those diverse border areas. They are farmed areas, the open areas near factories, the mining areas, the forests and pasture lands seen from highways across the country. There are about 1.3 billion acres of privately owned rural land, 60% of the nation. Of these acres, 850 million of them are classified as forests and rangeland. There are a mere 2 million family farms left in the US. Forty-four percent of farm land is now owned by non-farmers. The number suggests a major shift has been made in knowledge about the land but the shift also hides the concerns for the land and its productivity. In Virginia, for example, 60% of the 25.4 million acres of the state are in commercial timberland. Of that, 80% is privately owned (not federal, not industrial). The state has a $3.3 billion tourism and travel expenditures enterprise ... and 15% of the entire work force of the state (248,000 people) depends on the forests ... yet most such land remains unmanaged and with harvests virtually unsupervised. The highly-valued tobacco crop has lost its value and farmers of those special lands and traditions now seek an alternative crop ... (Rural System's proposal, think plural crops) just anything (but within their financial requirements) to stay on the land of their parents. The rural lands and the people who feel responsible for them in some way are under intense pressures. These pressures include the uncertainties of residential development, costs of new services, changes in the beauty of the landscape, loss of a sense of place for many, conflicts between energy and water uses, continuing soil erosion and its consequences, and changing wildlife populations, some being threatened, others becoming so abundant as to become pests, stock killers, and disease carriers.
The Steps of an Evolving Idea
I've presented my understanding of the rural conditions of the Eastern USA. I perceive it's true for most of the US and I've seen closely related conditions in other countries. I'm wrong for some large properties, for those that are now skillfully managed and have been over many years, and a few others. The notable exceptions do not deny my premise: Rural USA is in big trouble and a very great, probably new, approach is needed to reduce it and hopefully to change it to health and productivity for the long run.
Rural System is a result of working down a path of a pragmatic combination of political, economic, and ecological idealogies -- efficient large- /small-scale operations, high technology / hand labor, regulation / personal freedom , ancient / new, current / 150-year planning horizon, a regional democratic economic economic system / globalization, independence / government laws and regulations, capitalists / producers, individualism / regionalism. (See Reich, 2008:23)
Because of my academic roots, many people with whom I have discussed Rural System have assumed I was talking of soil and crops, about tractors and wildlife, about crop-eating birds and big game. They often asked about and assumed I was talking about a way to make money from hunting. Of course I've a career in natural resource management, but the task is to bring a concept of "natural resources" into full flower, to see land and waters restored, planned carefully, and then well managed for the long-term future. There is nothing to limit the income of the "farmer" to crops and livestock or to forests and fish. There is nothing to say "farmer" cannot just be called "land owner." There is nothing requiring straw hats and coveralls be worn or that all income be related to the soil. The proposed Rural System conglomerate is for the people of rural USA and others. The task is not just for holding or improving natural resources but maintaining or improving the quality of life for people and their communities that are dependent upon them. It is difficult to see the problem clearly enough to have confidence that it is real and demands attention, and that fear of failing does not produce apathy and anomie. The task now seems to be that of modern, sophisticated, comprehensive management of a human system. It has to be one with sufficient natural resources contributing to high quality of life for people employed in meaningful work and to supportive stable communities for such people.
I'll try again. What is the solution? What do we have to do? We have to take careful limited long-term control over land of owners who are willing to allow us to do so. Under fully legal contract, we'll assure that they and the Rural System conglomerate, all together, will make for them reasonable amounts of money year after year.
There is no need for a new religion, or new environmentalism, or new educational programs, or government subsidy, or a new political party, or corporate denial of their mode of operation, or an industrial takeover, or leaving the region (before it sinks), or denial of the bill of rights. Rural System is just a design for a new, legal, self-interested, profit-motivated capitalism of a new kind with a rural focus. It's going to emerge, somehow.
It's not waiting for a technological breakthrough. We're waiting for a dawning that the coal or tobacco region of Virginia (and others rural regions of the world) is going to be a very poor place for people if something is not done soon. "The production of food, fiber, and fuel ... as global populations continue to grow and interact, ensuring a safe and sustainable food supply for the 21st century is going to require the collective effort and expertise of biologists from a wide range of disciplines," said AIBS President Dr. May Berenbaum of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. She continued: "Particularly in a time of economic crisis, it is essential to recognize that agriculture is a linchpin of economic growth and stability for all nations of the world; applying sound science to guide the production of a safe and stable food supply is key to global peace and prosperity." (I am not alone in my assertions herein.)
Some say that the awareness of the problems gives the fathers and mothers of these difficult regions' children new responsibilities. Without their agreement and taking action, that awareness will only leave a layer of guilt over the region, a burden on taxpayers, and a region full of disgusting, fearsome socio-economic problems. They may not understand, may not act. There has to be an alternative ... mingled strategies. A viable region cannot be sustained for the next 50 years by deep coal, shifting factories, an urban work ethic, predominant welfare families, or ponderous unpredictable political processes. Regions in an oil-short nation will test knowledge of history, technology, and human will ... and the power of Rural System. I finally perceive the problem, and I perceive inadequate action to solve it, not even suppress it. How to solve it was a solution system that evolved.
A single county's conditions have been emphasized above and such conditions need to be faced, but they can be depressing, overpowering, and can place thought and action in a freezer, slowed to death. Problems of populations, poverty, pollution, water, human rights, and resource management are so large and interlinked that no one has been able to formulate a coordinated strategy for their solution. Perhaps that has been part of the problem. There's a challenging difference between the vague awareness of a problem and the energetic insights required to solve it.We have been taught to find and analyze the problem and then to try to solve it. The Rural Alternative is a personal effort to share how I reject, and ask you to join in rejecting, that pattern of thought and to try to create for the future an alternative system. That emerging system will assure effective regional controls that have eluded people in the past. It will be fair, and just, concentrating on equity. It will have open borders for those wanting in (seeing the benefits) and willing to pay the price of citizenship (seeing the costs). Equilibrium at a high quality of life will be part of the concept with "quality" defined by a large set of criteria (or first-order objectives (described in Chapter xxxx);
Within the State (Virginia as example only), greater reciprocal loyalty will be to world citizens, the customers and clients of collective work within the created system. Changing the State in a reasonable time when all world organizations, markets, and demands are rapidly changing seems unlikely. Circumvent becomes the slogan. The local solidarity builds on our understanding of what is important to most people, to working together, using the existing conditions well and in new ways, to creating forms and functions for the future, to tending the natural forces and resources that sustain the region and the people that are dependent upon all of its resources. "Regional development" has foundered from a dozen major causes which I shall not list. Incapacity to manage development has to be high in the list preventing long-term welfare of the people of regions such as the coalfield. The managed entrepreneurial system ahead seems to me to be able to provide and build this capacity.
To begin building, we need to share some concepts for the work so that we can easily work together and talk openly to each other. That's one of the reasons for this book.
Early Efforts Toward A Solution
The Superior Farm?
I was asked by a leader of an Eastern US mining firm, "What do I do with my 70,000 acres after the coal is gone?" I struggled with the rare question for several years with graduate students. It was almost the same question being asked by tobacco growers, cotton growers, and closing-mill owners around the country. Hidden within the question was: "What of my workers, their families, the schools, the supporting businesses?" Agencies pumped spurts of money into the region for its people while outside corporate forces extracted resources and wealth on a conveyor belt without an apparent glance at people around them or their needs ... or even what would grease the conveyors, keep their money-belts moving. The mining mentality was profound. It was one of getting and leaving. There seemed no concern for stability of a system, of maintenance, of sustaining work, even of the human workers that were needed for extracting the last of the coal and certainly not for those who might work the owned land for whatever else might be produced on it. Decrying and hand-wringing aside, the realities of capitalism were full-frontal. You do only what you can pay for; you rarely do more than what will produce a modest profit.
Around the world there are rural areas with their human problems. Mining areas are commonly affected. The coal is almost gone (12 years is one local estimate). The manufacturing plants have shut in some areas. Air quality standards add costs at borderline conditions. Lumber mills have shut in many small communities; most of the large and so-called virgin trees for wide clear lumber are gone. Native Americans continue to wrestle with life on some lands. Tobacco markets are down and allotments no longer available. Much land is too steep for crops or livestock and the soil, some ruined, is now in perilous condition. Laws and subsidies change costs and profits over night; prices in the stores do not reflect production costs. Markets for crops, meats, or dairy products are like TV splashes; on the farm we can't change plant and animal growth rates fast enough to respond to such rapid changes in demand on small land holdings. Imported products produced under conditions that are illegal in the states, are bought and some subsidized by taxpayers. There is limited access to ample, safe water and adequate sanitation. Wells run dry or water is becoming salty and some is contaminated by human waste. There are shifts required in life because of changing buying power and the high costs of life-sustaining medicine and the perceived needs for medical treatment (vs. problem prevention). There are wide-spread infectious diseases; unreliable precipitation patterns exacerbated by global warming; underdeveloped roads, storage facilities and irrigation systems; and ongoing personal conflicts, both large and small. Prize crops throughout the world (tea, coffee, tobacco, and bananas) change in price, use, or acceptability and the people that planted, grew, and harvested them are yanked to and fro by the changes. Outsourcing of work is a new dominant. The questions are the same. What do we do? Where do we go?
Some rural people answer while plunging into poverty; some climb into comfort and apathy. Most leave. What can be our future? A 2007 University of Virginia study by Qian Cai found aging trends in many rural Virginia communities will make it increasingly difficult to provide a competitive work force. In 11 Virginia counties at least one quarter of the current work force will reach retirement age by 2016. Young people from these rural counties leave for college or work. The "emerging work force" of Virginians age 18-24 is concentrated in urban areas. "While small and rural communities may offer certain dimensions of a high quality of life, the absence of employment opportunities presents significant disadvantages to these communities in attracting younger workers," said Cai.
For thoughtful people (since no one can believe the expected horrors and sense at the same time the opportunities of the near-future condition) the question is: Tired now, how do we get ready for the next big change? For example, what do we do before the coal runs out? Before fossil energy or phosphorus (as an essential fertilizer) is available only at very high price? When our band of coastal structures and cropland is 5 feet under glacial melt? What can we do?
The coal (or similar resource or its manufactured specialty crops, textiles, furniture, and iron), by analogy, has already run out in many areas. People have exploited the resources (fish, oil, gas, trees, water, and soil fertility) and the land is left behind. Some people never got ahead so didn't notice that they were behind. The rural population totals still increase for babies are born, but they are far behind urban population growth. About 20% of the children of the US are in rural areas ... 14 million of them are in need of education, protection, relief from hours in school buses, and their accidents prevented. On May 23, 2007, was the first time in human history when more people in the world lived in cities than in the country. Populations of rural children bother me and my family-inspired senses of fairness, being "kind," and pledges of "justice for all." The land and the small communities that remain are in trouble; the people that see their struggle are in pain. Averting the gaze from little children who suffer can cause pain. Everyone suffers.
It would seem that government (based on lessons from my youth-year "civics" classes and many after that) should be able to help. Large scale problems are theirs to address was the lesson on many days. Now that premise is in doubt. Members of local boards are stressed. People who are on the move in troubled areas rarely produce many votes for regional legislators. Loyalty to "place" shrinks when each family moves out. Agency staffs are now (and still likely to be) reduced in size that is already inadequate to address the complexities of most sites. Resource agency staffs are unable to even visit the thousands of private and public farm sites throughout a region of the state needing specific, prolonged, thoughtful attention. People in trouble have no resources to help themselves. They cannot afford consultants' advice or to invest in taking what advice they get. They are in trouble! They need help from outside. Agency interest or delivery of services, influenced by leadership, funds, and political pressure, seems to become more fickle each day. The university professor expected to "do science," now lives with no funds to develop a research program in an era of unplanned and uncertain financial support. Young professors are now far removed from the farm and practical connections from them become less likely in their teaching or studies. There has to be a better way than begging or waiting for nearly-random gifts to solve pieces of the rural problem set, even those solutions that never quite fit together in the picture-puzzle of a beautiful solution.
There seem to be no acceptable answers for inquiring people who know and love a rural place, have family roots, and have advanced age in a discriminating, youth-loving society. There is no clear place to which to move to gain the advances displayed nightly on TV. Everything seems "full-up," pricey, too new, and very uncertain. "What to do?" is the question repeated in despair. Not profane, they ask, "What in hell are we to do?!"
I had to try to find answers. One was probably inadequate. My coal-field studies broadened but I kept my emphasis (wrongly) on designing a super-farm, a cybernetic wonder for the mined-out strip-mined and deep-mined lands. Only the encompassing precepts of general systems theory were likely to work. They were forming up under the name Rural System. Superior farms exist. I must not compete or delay. Solutions but not be destructive. The more I studied, the more clear the potential of a computer aided farm became. It failed because enough expertise could not be collected cost effectively for one affordable landscape. Destroyed land would have to be restored; access improved for low use rates, risks would remain, taxes seemed likely yo increase, water shortage was a high risk, and marketing, year-around of diverse "organic" products, was seen as costly, even with developing social-media procedures. Optimism reigned, but was dashed-- even if successful on several hundred acres, the problem was over looked --- it must be right for the region, several thousand of such modern "farms" for the region as soon as possible.
A Cattle System
Then Greg Kroll, one of my students, studying the relations between wild turkey insect foraging areas and cattle foraging areas on restored mined lands, discovered that the only way to make profits from cattle on the strip-mined areas of the region was to have a large herd of cattle with veterinarian, fencing crew, imported protein, feedlots, etc. It required a large system ... but it could be done ... and could be done if practiced carefully on dispersed tracts of managed land, not necessarily under one ownership (as in Western-state ranching). I quickly moved away from early ideas of Rural System being several superior, computer-driven farms on a single large ownership.
"The farm" was not the best system for analysis. The system of concern was a specific enterprise or major activity such as vineyards, forestry, cattle, etc. These were to become the units (small businesses, each called "a group") of a large enterprise or conglomerate, one that was "vertically integrated." I selected units that could augment others and provide employment during slow or "down" times. In selecting units and designing the system, I used throughout, a rule that the work, whatever I considered, had to have the potentials of being supportive of or contributing to pooled profits. Rural System was taking shape as a regional corporate conglomerate, each a single collection of businesses or working groups on many ownerships. The farm or the ownership while haveing a few recognizable "farm activities" was becoming the year-around, supported, complex activities of groups on an ownwership, soon called "enterprise environments" a term quickly replaced by "Double-EEs." Economies and other positive relations were seen in "clusters" or nearby ownerships, the clusters becoming elements of the conglomerate.
The Football Analogy
Like the morning sun streaming through a cabin window, a working analogy appeared to me between American football and the natural resource system. I had been watching the leather football on the playing field. It was the name of the game and was of centralizing importance. Like my error in thinking about the farm, I had been thinking about a product or commodity. I needed to use the analogy of football, but not of it as the ball but as the enterprise. The football enterprise is very large and diverse. It includes uniforms, the stadium, food, drink, clothing, advertising, grounds, publications, fan clubs ... and more. The ball is important, but, compared to the greater football enterprise, it is almost irrelevant. By analogy, each cow or tree or wild animal of the forest is essential, but in the context of a total regional viable rural economic land use system, each entity is almost irrelevant. Perhaps people in forestry or wildlife management and closely-related activities have had their "eye of the ball" too long. Perhaps just attracting visitors (as in ecotourism) or producing more game animals has not served well and now it is time to concentrate on a total rural and natural resource enterprise (or more specifically the enterprise-profits, those from everything - travel in beautiful productive land, catering, lodging, equipment, products, organizations, guides, etc., etc.)
By analogy with football, when it comes to the regional problems, we have talked about "ball handling" too long. We have talked about trees, about fish, and complained about environmental regulations. We've been "brought up" to ask for government help. We can ask for help, but that has not been and may not be forthcoming. We have lost our muscle as quiescent beggars and there has been little change after 50 years of spending the relatively little money that has been provided. We who are concerned about rural problems are in the grip of all of the limitations of the single "cottage industry." We have rarely pondered the potentials of a diverse integrated regional enterprise. We have been independent landowners and proud of it! We can be independent ... and lose something we hold in common, the vital county. We need some group work. The team, as in football, is essential for success, and that can be measured in the clear objective of profitability (now obscure or lost for most public resource agencies). I finally saw the flaw in my early ideas. By analogy, a vigorous organ (the super-farm) could not, should not, be placed and restored within a troubled, unhealthy body. Rural System was shaping up as a total, large, comprehensive, diverse, interactive bunch of profit-oriented private enterprises for an entire region. Well assembled; it might be a real system.
Reflections after a Seminar
I walked down a path of my "hobby farm" and stopped to reflect on why I was not doing what the lecturer had just told me do. I was a serious attentive front-row person in his audience, fully decicated to a better outdoors. I knew the subject matter; it had just been reviewed for me. I had no doubts about the conclusions drawn from research. Why was in not doing it; why was I walking and not fixing up after the lectures? I did not feel that I needed more clases, more extension, more out-reach, more costly pamphlets.
It was a damp gray day and alone, I reluctantly listed for myself: no extra money, unlikely family approval, no easy access to equipment, no adresses for equipment, no known reputable helpers, slight chance of neighbors or visitors understanding or seeing my results, and only rare grandchildren visits so I could tell all of the stories I knew, experiences with my dad, and sights and sounds to last a life time.
Enough sadness for the day! These are the same reasons why so much rural knowledge is never used. The answer cannot be "more media and more teaching." I had to address my insights from that gray day. Handle the reasons for inaction! It was Rural System.
Reich, R.B. 2008. Supercapitalism: the transformation of business, democracy, and everyday life. Vintage Books, New York, NY. 272p.
After a brief Chapter 3 story, I'll describe "the bottomline."
Robert H. Giles, Jr.