Can Someone Tell Me "Why Not"?
0 comment Sunday, July 13, 2014 |
As part of another project I'm researching women who inspire - and one of the women who I greatly admire is Eleanor Roosevelt. The woman was so ahead of her time it wasn't true. She had a hard go of it: she wasn't physically attractive, her husband was not only disabled but unfaithful, she was in a time when women had very little power or influence. And yet many of her ideas were revolutionary and have become such a part of US history and the rights movement that people seem to forget who came up with it in the first place.
One of the movements she created during the 30's dustbowl days was the Resettlement Administration - a concept of resettling the redundant into rural areas and getting them to reskill to be self-sufficient. The government funded the programmes for a little while and then once they got their feet, the idea was they would take off and support themselves. That's right - it's not just all about "hippy movements"; this was a way for people who had only worked on railroads or in manufacturing factories to try and get in touch with land and produce food when doing so was proving very difficult.
It was a brilliant idea, but there were problems, not the least of which being that it sounded "commie" (facepalm). Also that training of people who had never worked on land in their lives wasn't very forthcoming - more to the point, other farmers didn't want the competition and therefore drove the idea back into the ground. In short, it failed due to greed and too much administration and not enough interworking. People were moved who had zero experience living such a life and apparently it was thought they'd be able to do the job solely by instinct alone. Granted, I think "failed" is perhaps too strong a term - as Arthurvale (Eleanor Roosevelt's pet project) is still going today. I think Arthurvale an exception because she was actively involved in the process and would often visit and tend the ground, listen to people's issues and complaints, and find answers. She was there, not just filing paperwork or pouring money into it, but doing hands-on teaching to people who may never have plucked a chicken in their lives. It did pay off, and while the project was considered "closed" Arthurvale exists.
But here's the problem we have right now - with the pushing of Big Society (which is at its heart a rather 'commie' idea, let's be honest here), the redundancies which are biting into every sector now and not merely the mostly-forgotten lower-working-class, wide tracts of farming land open for use and wrapped in red tape so turning it into a bunch of weekend-homes no one can afford isn't a major possibility, even MORE land reserved for rich folk to park their pleasure horses that they only ride when it isn't raining, the insistence on finding jobs for people on the dole when there are no jobs to be had, and communities of people who have every intention of contributing to the UK economy having to fight tooth and nail for the right to do so (it took YEARS for Lammas), no one has even considered the possibility of doing just this particular concept and turning it into a fully government-backed reality.
What are the requirements? Well quite honestly, they're minimal - the land is there! It might need to be settled up with the banks but this can be done, surely (if we can scrounge up the cash to send off some missiles, then there must be some dosh to buy a farm). Alternative building concepts can be used, of which there are plenty and which would cost a fraction of the amount that trad-homes cost (yes, gods, planning permission - could we just agree that if an expert on straw-bale homes who is fully accredited and actually knows what they're doing can just build the damn houses without all the permissions faff? Just once? Kthnx!). There are certainly plenty of people willing and not all of them are yoghurt-weavers, but people like myself who have no chance in hell of getting a "real job" due to disability, but has plenty of experience living on a farm and therefore a fair bit to teach. If people have nothing financially to give, fine, provided they can prove their capability on working together, which is supposedly what the whole Big Society thing is all about in the first place.
The benefits are huge of course - agricultural land being worked again and the UK becoming a self-sufficient purveyor of its own food (and you can't tell me there's no demand for that when the "local food movement" is gaining momentum). People who may originally thought of gardening, animal husbandry, working on equipment, building by hand, etc as merely "hobbies" as they needed to work their nine-to-five in the City to stay alive could instead do something they loved. Farmers could be paid not just to keep their land idle and fallow, but to act as farm mentors to communities and show them the tricks of the trade which aren't in the agricultural books; they could even hand on their own farms to communities which they would teach themselves if they had no children willing to take on the job (and most don't - it doesn't pay enough). As a disabled person, I could finally have a "real job" that people might accept as being work as I have done this sort of thing before - I know how to spin, make soap, make bread, cook on a wood stove, brew beer and wine, make butter...on and on, but what prevents me from doing it now is almost all communities are looking for healthy 30-somethings with jobs outside of the farm as the land-prices are too high to just jump in and get started. The "multiculturalism" hit that Cameron plays up would finally be kicked as people from different backgrounds would join together provided they had a willingness to do so - and as a multiracial purple-haired chick living in New Forest for a few years I can tell you that the community accepted us readily when they realised we weren't the druggies or satanists they may have previously thought we were (having a really cute baby and paying our tab at the pub helped!)
In my mind, it works - and granted, I'm well aware that I'm not an economist, a big-plantation style farmer, or a sociologist. But then neither were the people on these communities. I know that it is A Change - and a rather big one, and one thing I know for a fact is how much British people hate change. I'm aware there will be arguments that the land isn't free and still needs to be paid for (yes, when a farm goes into administration the only people owed are the banks, and sorry but a government subsidy should be able to deal with that). Or that what we need is land for more housing - yes, true, but building weekend homes in the middle of nowhere is not a solution for that. Then there's the "commie" thing again: well that's just reactionary language to get people to knee-jerk at something you don't want to have to do. It gets quoted a lot both here and in the US and it's ridiculous. If anything, what we're talking is more like a feudal system with the government being the "lords" and that sort of system has been on this soil for thousands of years.
The fact is the current economic model which came into being over the past 200 years is unravelling, and fast. There are people who want to work - disabled, redundant, what have you - and yet can't as there's no jobs. There are long-abandoned farms which due to planning-permission bureaucracy are never going to be anything else but farms and therefore will stay abandoned and dormant for years. We keep running short of food in this country because we import a lot of it and the crops are failing in Europe and round the world due to major changes in climate.
If the British people pride themselves so much on being an island and staying insular, then it seems to me they need to start thinking about how to encourage that, and not keep importing every single thing they want or need. We need to make advancements in figuring out how to be more self-sufficient. The means are here and the willingness as well (good gods, do a search for homesteads/intentional communities and you'll see how many people there are who are willing to get involved, but are held back due to massive land prices).
I know there are a bunch of textbook reasons why this isn't an easy or immediately-financially-viable thing to do. I know that land-greed is a major issue in the UK and if the government can just start handing land over to needy folk (as the Powers will try to interpret to their own ends) then there will be an uprising of corporate bods who were hoping to turn that stretch of farmland into another rapid-devaluation suburbia. I know that locals get weirded out by the idea of communities as they're plagued by the idea of "dirty travellers" and "druggie hippies" as the only people who are interested in that sort of lifestyle. I know that the apple industry collapsed because supermarkets wanted either red or green apples, not apples that looked like both, and eggs are brown here because the marketing team thought they looked more "rustic" and they sell better than white eggs. I get that, I do. But at the same time the way things are going, the economy as we know it is collapsing, and since the government keeps asking for "alternatives" I don't know why they can't just take a chance on a pilot community and see what happens.
So I guess...I have to wonder and ask "Why not? After all, what is there to lose?"

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