Former Project: Daybreak Farm

Daybreak Farm is no longer in operation. But I think I’ll leave this post up, as it gets across some important ideas (I hope).

I get several things out of farming. I reconnect with land, living things, hard physical work, food, and our community. Many rich people (meaning, most Americans and those around the world who live at a similar level of wealth) know very little about land: what it is, how it works, where it fits into life. Their interactions with non-human living things come mostly via either their pets, whom they can shape to become projections of themselves, or rare visits to “wilderness” areas, where they can worship nature for a few days a year, then turn their back on it. If they have a yard, the goal is to make it look “perfect” (a human construct) with as little work and interaction as possible. Food…don’t get me going on that (but go read In Defense of Food if you want to know more).  Too many people know next to nothing about physical labor (to the point that they actually don’t like it!). And too many find “community” via social media and or shared shopping habits, which, um, isn’t really the same as knowing and spending time with people who are a) different than you, yet b) share some common stake in things with you, because you live in the same neighborhood or community. All of this is a matter of degree for just about all of us today, and in many ways we don’t have as much choice in the matter as we think (see the stuff on lock-in, that I’ll get around to writing about in the next few months I suspect).

(Okay, some might call me biased, projecting my preferences and views in this pontification. But all the issues identified above are interconnected, cross the political spectrum, and are identified by health specialists, psychologists, and  environmentalists as big problems. Wake up.)

But we do have some agency. I was in the fortunate position of being able to sell my sprawly house on its forested four acre plot in Bar Harbor, Maine, and light out for the territories, specifically, Washington, Maine, where  I found seven beautiful acres (all pasture; we’d like to add a woodlot soon) and are building Daybreak Farm.

But there’s another point to all this. Daybreak Farm is successfully pointing us toward the reconnections I describe above (we grow some fine food…and I know more people in Washington after one year here than I did in living fourteen years in Bar Harbor), but its also proving to be a surprising workshop in basic and advanced economics.

Sure, we knew we’d be starting a business, and that would involve some economics, duh. But I would maintain that no economist fully understands perfect competition until s/he does something like trying to sell produce in the fairly saturated farmers markets of Maine. At the same time, you don’t get a full appreciation of business clusters until you realize just how important organizations (like MOFGA ) and the your “competition” are (Bill and Reba at Hatchet Cove Farm have been amazing). You don’t understand oligopoly until you have a recognition like what you’re going to charge for kale is very dependent on what the other vendors are charging for kale. In other words, Daybreak is a living economics experience.

I was a little slow on the uptake regarding this. Sure, many of my colleagues at COA talk all about experiential learning, and I certainly know that the students gobble it up. And various practices in stuff like mindfulness meditation and yoga had taught me that experience is the most trusted teacher. But I was armed with many years of training and teaching and research experience in economics (famous/infamous for its math, its abstraction, its reductionism)…throw in lots of time studying rural Yucatan and rural Maine, isn’t that enough to “know” economics?

Well, it was pretty good, probably would’ve gotten me through just fine. But this is better. One of my intellectual heroes, Manfred Max-Neef (winner of the Kenneth Boulding Award, the highest honor in ecological economics) writes in The Foundations of Transdisciplinarity about the distinction between knowing and understanding. He describes how you can know about “love” by studying it (via psychology, anthropology, biology, etc.). But you really won’t understand love until you fall in love. ‘Nuf said.

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