I wrote an e-book about a concept of a business to improve significantly land and natural resource management in late '07. I called the concept "rural system" and offered it freely on the Internet so that the ideas might be used. I thought a delay in getting it published would deny the imperative that I felt then and still do for active work to improve conditions within the rural areas of Mid-Eastern USA and expanding worldwide. The e-book's message was silent. I'm trying again in another format because the people close to home and very distant have a crisis. That crisis is poorly seen by them and all of us are dependent upon the rural areas of the USA and the world for food, water, and much more. Food and water seem to me motive enough. Work is needed now.
I've continued over many hours of writing, planning, and providing bases for my claims and ideas. I've made a little progress, have the pleasure of many supporters, have talked to a few investors, and have invested considerable family funds into getting Rural System, Inc. started. I have visited Senegal, Nigeria, China, and India and then Uganda (2013), and confirmed there the plight of people in rural areas. I continue work, seeking those who may understand, perhaps cooperators.
This is a book for people who have farmed, been to a farm, investing in, or appreciate that their very existence depends on continued production of products, services, and other benefits from rural areas of the world. The book is about the only alternative that I see for people who love these areas and want desperately to live on them. It's also, from one perspective, even more important for visitors and urban people, citizen-places for growing food, lumber and firewood, producing clean water, collecting solar radiation, housing wildlife, modifying strong winds, and pleasing at least a part of the people that experience the scenic beauty of American. It's also a book about a practical, immediately-useful union of economics, ecological, environmental, and esthetic topics for people. The fifth "e" word is offered as "enforcement," poorly symbolizing the
essential codes and social structures that enable our still-diverse societies, even with residual asocial individuals.
This is a book about things once called "farms," things so similar that few people discussed their meaning or questioned their differences. Some still exist and I applaud their existence and wish them continued success and persistence. I shall assist them if I can.
However, I believe there's a need to move into a new realm of thought and action. We need a different way of thinking about ourselves and our future. We must face the realities of the coming clash between a consuming population and a resource mix being inadequate, depleted, and spoiled. Unlikely to occur as described, the future of farms and farming is still about a new way to work together. There will be few farms of the well-recognized types. That radical change will not be easily made, but it is very clear to me that doing nothing or jokingly "being adaptable," pretty easy, will not solve the problems or reduce the sharpness of the pain that some of us now experience and that others will soon see. With conscience, people cannot be happy when surrounded by others who are grieving and in pain. We need a new way of seeing ourselves as the center of a vast, important activity with new structure, procedures, and attitude. The summary activity is Rural System, at least the concept. The barely visible alternative to the farm-of-yore will be a complex enterprise described in chapters herein and discussed at the fence-gate, the "RBU," or rural business unit.
After 50 years of diverse university teaching (ecology, wildlife management, systems theory, integrated pest management, environmental topics) I finally, at age 80 (2013), I see clearly the design and prospects for a working system that is essential for people now and tomorrow. I am eager to share it. I finally awoke from a deep sleep about rural areas and their people. I saw that my responsibility was to answer the questions of the many owners of small farms that are left and who have not moved to the cities. The large industrial farms of the mid-USA have the multiple global resources to operate. The question is: What do small farms and rural areas do when there is little more petroleum energy for operations, when the coal runs out, when the water is limited, the climate is adverse, when the kids have left home, field workers are scarce, and the public schools have closed, short of funds? What do you do on private land surrounded by non-tax-paying public lands, lands inappropriate for such a role? How can you live when you love the ancient family place but the market fails and your salary potentials are cut in half and the real-estate taxes increased? What do you do as a rancher when the meat prices plummet and medical bills arrive? What can you say to a mother at the door needing milk? What do you do with "family land," irresolute when you must move into "assisted living"?
There are simple statements that are available that sound like answers to these questions. One would be: "You can tally the land as a loss like a piece of depreciated equipment; get all that's left; survive "as best you can," or move out." Of course you can pray that something else "really good" happens but, with The Reformation's Martin Luther, I suggest praying as though God can do everything, and work as though He or She can do nothing. A small list of simple things to do is not a real answer for individuals, families, or corporations ... and certainly not for society. This book is not about a small list, a mobile "app" screen.
What do you do? Maybe someone else will buy the land? (What would they do with it, for if we knew that, we'd stay and develop it for the same uses!?) The government is not buying land now and that's not part of the free-market or the American capitalists' message. I have to be confident in the ideas of this book (even if it sounds arrogant) because if I am not, the answer will float away in the vapors of ten "devil's advocates," a hundred committee meetings, a thousand "well, but ..." 's, and ten-thousand bright graduates saying or thinking: "My opinion is as good as yours."
I've already been to the committee meetings and have seen the dead camels, elephants, and giraffes, the failed "horses" that they designed. Calls for accountability and excessive litigation have left some committee members quivering or drop-out-dozing. No one dares decide; no one is responsible. I've seen time pass and the warnings ignored about the declining coalfields, steel mills, superior construction wood, ocean fisheries, floods, glaciers ... and family farms (e.g., northern Africa, Western Africa, Eastern Africa, northern India ... and Eastern Tennessee and Western Virginia cobbled together with nearby lands as Central Appalachia ... and South Central Virginia and North Central North Carolina, also cobbled together as "Southside.").
Industrial agriculture, claimed by some to be the rural future, will not grow tall enough from deep within its recent past failures of massive soil erosion and water and land degradation, pollution by chemicals and animal-factory wastes, depleted aquifers, spread of plant and animal pests and animal diseases, cruelty to animals, and exploitation of laborers. It quakes, as does the national food supply system, before the threat of acts of biological terrorism, increasing oil and fuel costs, inferior quality of produce, and irresponsible controls of pests, diseases, and blemishes; yet-undiscovered undesirable engendered genetic changes. There is coming a departure from conventional ideas about the future of "worth-while coal" from mined-out Central Appalachia; Virginia's and North Carolina's lost textile, furniture, and tobacco areas; the forest communities of the Pacific Northwest; and the desert lands of the Southwest. That departure to an alternative does not mean that people must physically leave the land. It requires leaving the mental clamp of history and proven practice. It does not require a new plant crop, a mulching scheme, or green marketing, but something much more grand, a radical departure from the present, grasping an alternative.
I do not seek "sustainability." The present must not be sustained!. There must a change to an alternative resulting from sets of inter-related, cascading forces that unite to provide a major new alternative for the people of the world. Today they know only "the farm" and I repeat my wish that the now-successful, legal, healthful, self-sustaining one succeed. The others need a major alternative. It is new; the old will not work, be sufficient, or blend adequately, unseen, with the new.
I've spent 50 years wrestling with bright undergrad and graduate students and their rich imaginations as they spent time reading and studying. I was observing their reported successes. My past, my loyalties, and my knowledge trapped me. I was dedicated to improved natural resource management for people. I was called one of the "environmentalists," but I've clearly seen some of these limits, errors (Lomborg 1998), and destructive behavior. I saw my specialty as being "wildlife management" but that quickly blurred as I realized that everything else in the world, everyone else, was in control of "our animal populations." Neither I nor my government agencies were managing them. I was far too small and removed for that. I was much too narrow, too isolated, a "small dose." Wounded, I've escaped over the professional barricades... and have fallen into a deep hole...with the limited-function "aged." Now (20013) only about 16% of the total jobs in the nation are in rural areas. Now rural unemployment is about that same percentage. Plans made to prevent crises are now dusty and their dust flames up in the badly-managed knowledge-silo, the fire of the present crisis. I've studied and worked out the best balances of objectives, risks, values, and constraints for a changing group of people for their lives over the next period of 150 years ... tree-age time. The solutions here just have to be implemented! People suffer. "The past" won't work. Time's up!
If I could "go around again," I'd try to use the design and concepts presented here. I wish I had had all of those, years ago. They are the best that I can manage now. Perhaps they are stepping stones, at least warnings for slippery and dark spots. I do not know what else to do. I continue writing, as if blowing on sparks in tinder to start the campfire while trying to decide whether to continue or to stop and look for firewood. Rare either/or decisions! I growl and face more both/and types of decisions. The needs grow and change. New needs germinate as we harvest. I hope, desperately, that someone, perhaps with some group, will dream along with me and begin to use the ideas here ... soon. I continue to watch where the sparks and brands fall. When one catches, that will be seen as the start of the rural alternative ...toward a bright future for society, all of it, rural-aware, dependent, and rural enlivened.
Robert H. Giles, Jr.