Farming for the Long Haul
Resilience and the Lost Art of Agricultural Inventiveness
It’s all but certain that the next fifty years will bring enormous, not to say cataclysmic, disruptions to our present way of life. World oil reserves will be exhausted within that time frame, as will the lithium that powers today’s most sophisticated batteries, suggesting that transportation is equally imperiled. And there’s another, even more dire limitation that is looming: at current rates of erosion, the world’s topsoil will be gone in sixty years. Fresh water sources are in jeopardy, too. In short, the large-scale agricultural and food delivery system as we know it has at most a few decades before it exhausts itself and the planet with it.
Farming for the Long Haul is about building a viable small farm economy that can withstand the economic, political, and climatic shock waves that the twenty-first century portends. It draws on the innovative work of contemporary farmers, but more than that, it shares the experiences of farming societies around the world that have maintained resilient agricultural systems over centuries of often-turbulent change. Indigenous agriculturalists, peasants, and traditional farmers have all created broad strategies for survival through good times and bad, and many of them prospered. They also developed particular techniques for managing soil, water, and other resources sustainably. Some of these techniques have been taken up by organic agriculture and permaculture, but many more of them are virtually unknown, even among alternative farmers. This book lays out some of these strategies and presents techniques and tools that might prove most useful to farmers today and in the uncertain future.
Reviews and Praise
“A valuable historical and societal perspective on farming in the United States and internationally. Foley’s observations are insightful and at times startling….In some respects, this book paints a bleak picture of farming’s future. Climate change and the degradation of soil have hampered food productivity, the costs of farming are rising, and small farmers are being 'forced to occupy marginal lands.’ Foley believes nothing less than 'a profound reversal of course' will be necessary for farming to survive long- term. Still, the book is grounded in cautious optimism—based primarily on local farmers helping themselves. Food hubs controlled by farmers, urban farming, and grassroots organizations run by farmers are hopeful evidence. Foley concludes his excellent book with the belief that traditional agriculture 'is here to stay,' and that 'it will sustain humanity, provided we take its many lessons to heart.' One can only hope the prediction is accurate."
“Michael Foley’s passion and his lifetime of research and lived experience comes through in this primer of agricultural history and personal philosophy that is sure to prompt an important dialogue about the future of agriculture and the political economy. Agriculture is a shared expression of who we are, and I believe we need more people thinking deeply, questioning, and sharing their insights. This book provides many tools and references to ask informed questions and encourage a richer discussion about progress.”—Dorn Cox, farmer; founding member of Farm Hack
“Globally, humanity urgently needs to transform the way we make our livelihoods if we’re to thrive into the future. In Farming for the Long Haul, Michael Foley shows that food and farming are at the heart of this, and he gives us some fine tools for rethinking them. There’s a heft to his book that speaks of hard work—both in the study and on the land—but there’s also a lightness to the writing that makes it a pleasure to read. The world badly needs more farmer-scholars like Foley.”—Chris Smaje, Small Farm Future, Somerset, UK
“This book is a modern peasant’s manifesto! Small farmers today have a stark choice, Michael Foley tells us. We can either buy into the current agricultural and food system and fail utterly, or we can try to change the system entirely. This book outlines the history of agriculture, shows where we’ve gone wrong, and recounts the practices and values of the most resilient long-haul farmers throughout the world. Then Foley sets up a visionary solution aimed at helping small farmers both survive the dwindling stages of our current system and position themselves for the dramatic changes the future holds. Farming for the Long Haul extends, expands, and updates Wendell Berry’s The Unsettling of America, then puts forth a vision of a land of resilient small farms ready to survive the present and thrive into the future.”—Carol Deppe, author of The Resilient Gardener