This website had scarcely been up a fortnight before I received some cogent criticisms, and even the odd brickbat. One farmer, who I hope one day will write for us, said he doesn’t see the point of it. There are plenty of chat groups out there where farmers can exchange serious, practical, down-to-earth ideas, and what else do we need? Others said: this looks nothing like a website. It’s just a textbook on line. Too many words. Or then again: the website is just a giant blog. And finally (or at least so far), some have said, It’s far too complicated!
Well, let me respond:
1: What’s the point?
In a nutshell, the world is in a horrible mess and indeed there is no shortage of good ideas out there that could, if acted upon, surely put things to rights. Some of the essentials are indeed being thrashed out in various Google groups, by farmers and others. But there is little or no coherence. Notably, many people are developing the theory and practice of agroecology but we often find those same people trying to plug their solutions into the theory and practice of the neoliberal global market. This is supposed to be “realistic” but it means in practice that sooner or later, and probably sooner, they hit a brick wall. The market is driven by the need to maximize wealth, and that isn’t what agroecology is for. If we really do want agroecology – and the world certainly needs it – then we just have to acknowledge that the neoliberal market and the theory behind it are not fit for purpose, and ask what kind of economy would serve our needs, and how to achieve it; and we need to ask that question in the same place as we are discussing agroecology, or the two lines of thought may never meet, and in the end nothing changes.
The point of the College is to get to the bottom of things that really matter and, at least equally importantly, to forge a coherent philosophy that can underpin the much-needed Agrarian Renaissance. This is essential; and I don’t know many other places where it’s happening.
2: Too many words
What’s needed on websites, some have said, are shorties. Soundbites. Nobody has time for drawn-out stuff.
Maybe. But the whole world now is run on soundbites. Nothing matters more than politics – not the infights and peccadillos of politicians, but the ideas. But what political party these past 20 years has spelled out what it really thinks it’s up to, and why? In Britain, I don’t recall a substantial public speech about political principle from any of the main parties since the late John Smith. The resultant confusion, and the sheer triviality of much of what now passes as political argument, was reflected in the Brexit debate. The confusion matters. It makes a nonsense of democracy. But we won’t allay the confusion with soundbites. Sooner or later we have to engage. That needs words.
So is this website just a textbook on line? Yes and no. Textbooks are indispensable but once they are done and dusted, with hard covers on, that’s it, until the publisher decides that it’s cost-effective to bring out a new edition. Meanwhile the world, and the ideas, roll on. A textbook on line (if such it is) can be constantly updated. Thus in some ways it is more like a journal – except that journals are driven by the calendar, and the threads of argument can get lost. A website, wordy or not, can combine the virtues of both: it can keep abreast of the ideas, and keep them in order at the same time.
3: The website is just a giant blog
For the time being, that’s true. This website isn’t Wikipedia, welcoming all comers. It is the public face of the College for Real Farming and Food Culture, and the College has an agenda. I am laying out the agenda, just to start the ball rolling. So far it’s in skeletal form (Rome wasn’t built in a day) but I hope that others will put the flesh on the bones, and the skeleton will be reduced, as skeletons should be, to scaffold. With time it may be necessary to restructure the skeleton: a paradigm shift. So be it. But this is where we’ve got to so far.
4: The website is too complicated and no-one can see how it works.
Indeed it does look complicated. But I have been thinking for some years how to bring the ideas that are needed to create the Agrarian Renaissance together under one roof; and the present structure – illustrated in the diagram – is as simple as I can get it. As Einstein said, “Ideas should be as simple as possible but no simpler.”
The diagram shows eleven areas of concern, interlinked. The agenda as laid out in the website doesn’t reflect the diagram slavishly (I tried that and it didn’t quite work) but it is firmly based on the diagram. (The diagram is properly described in the blurb to section I.2, “Digging Deep”).
In practice, as you can see, the agenda has seven parts. To access any of the parts, just click on the title. A short blurb then introduces the matter in hand.
When you click on a title it comes up in bold and underneath there appears a list of sections, each dealing with a different subject. I never want to have more than seven parts, but we could have an indefinite number of sections within each (although not too many). Each section, in the fullness of time, might contain scores of articles by dozens of authors – but we will update them and weed them out as they become obsolete. However big each section becomes, it should always be orderly. Again, to access any one section, just click on the title on the contents page.
Each section also begins with a blurb. A longer essay will usually follow to lay out the main themes (when we can get round to it). After that each section becomes a forum. Collective wisdom, arrived at by informed democracy, is the key.
At judicious intervals we will publish a “What’s new?” column, pointing out additions and deletions since the previous update.
The College and this website are an experiment. They are intended to change the world, for the better, forever, and although that’s a long shot, who knows where it may lead? For me personally in my pensioned state the website is more fun than day-time television, and carries with it the faint but flickering hope that it might, conceivably, do some good.
One last thing: I don’t want to go round with the begging bowl (although some of the world’s finest people have been mendicants of one kind or another) but it would be nice to attract some funds. The more we have the more we could do — build the website quicker, perhaps make it do more things, organize more seminars etc with like-minded institutions (the College in pop-up form). With a few millions we could fulfil the dream: a bricks and mortar (or timber and hempcrete) college with an experimental/model farm that engages the world at large; and from there a global network, solid foundations for the Agrarian Renaissance. So if anyone has any ideas re funding (or a few spare coppers or indeed millions) please do let us know.
Colin Tudge, 17 May 2016