The appeal of the small farm - along with organic gardening, buying locally grown produce, and otherwise lauding the agrarian ideal - is now an established part of American society, albeit a minor one. But, notwithstanding its growing appeal, it will remain a minor part for one very important (and obvious) reason: it isn’t economically rewarding.
Of course this could change if (perhaps when) the global economy fails to recover from its ongoing series of cardiac arrests. Places burdened with failed economies (at least with failed modern economies) have often been sustained by widespread agrarian livelihoods. Surprisingly, such places still exist today in: Africa, Indonesia, Cuba, etc. But they are poor - very poor.
The recent disaster in Haiti has rekindled interest in this dilemma (see Steven Stoll’s article in this month’s Harper’s Magazine: Toward a Second Haitian Revolution). Is it worthwhile pursuing an agrarian economy – even a small one - that reduces hunger and massive unemployment even if it means putting a cap on economic development?
The answer to this question is obviously, “yes”. In fact this is even true for developed countries that are used to (and demand) a higher standard of living. I don’t mean that we abandon the free market - far from it. I do mean that national security, if it is based at all on individual and family security, requires an agrarian independence of some sort.
This is fairly intuitive. Having your food supplied by somebody else always carries with it an element of risk. What is less appreciated is that the same logic that calls for an increase in the number of small farms also calls for the defense of those farms. And, however effective local police forces may be, farmers have never been comfortable relying on them completely. However unpopular it may be, the defense of small farms requires (has always required) guns.
This is not the kind of logic one gathers from big cities. Where crime is so apparent and poses a constant threat, it is only natural that there will be a call to get guns out of the hands of criminals. But let’s face it the call for an agrarian reform is all about repudiating urban logic.
Our motivations for moving to the country are manifold: they center on a simpler life, they provide a therapy of physical work, they exist in a cleaner environment, and they are more secure. These motivations are well understood by thousands - even millions - of us. But only a small fraction of these agrarian sympathizers will ever be able to actually move to a farm and make a living there. The technology that makes our food so cheap is not itself cheap. To make the purchase of combines, pumps and spray equipment requires a lot of land. Small farms just don’t make economic sense.
Billions of city-dwellers will always argue for big farms and fewer guns. For them, this is what makes security and cheap food possible. But in spite of this, there is still a very real increase in the number of small farms across America. In spite of the economic hurdle, people are returning to the land. Some of these people have jobs that allow them to work from home - from a farm house, that is. Others are wealthy enough to live where they want. Some live in small enough communities that they can commute to work and still farm when they get home. Some people just don’t mind being poor as long as they can control their own lives and provide security and freedom for their families - in a way that they choose. These people also have guns.
Sometimes the guns are used to scare off the deer and rabbits. Sometimes they are used to bring down a deer or a rabbit to eat. Sometimes guns have to be used for self-defense. The truth is that a return to the life of small farms - with all of its benefits - is a return to a life needing guns. Freedom - even national security - requires it.