How Micro-Farmers Could Potentially Transform Rural Areas

By Bruce Firestone | Uncategorized

Mar 28

[Excerpt from Quantum Entity | we are all ONE By Bruce M Firestone All rights reserved]

In this part of the trilogy (circa 2047), engineer and physicist Damien Graham Bell is onboard California-based performance artist Miss Nell’s private plane on their way to a mysterious place in Four Corners called Third Mesa. He tells her a story about how micro-famers could potentially transform rural areas by pooling lands and tools much as Russian dachniks did for many years after the Bolshevik revolution of 1919. Damien references attempts to get such things off the ground in his native Ontario. It is only a matter of time before regulatory regimes will change to allow this form of rural development in Damien’s opinion so that places like this ( could be used to their highest and best use.

“Hmm,” purrs a happier Nell, “Got any other stories?”

Damien has a million of them. “OK, one more, and then you have to sleep. And I need to get some sleep too.

“This is another Russian story,” Damien says.

“Do you only know Russian tales?”

“Give me a break, Nell. I’m into Russian fables just now.

“Actually,” Damien turns to look more closely at Nell’s face, now resting companionably on his shoulder. “Come to think of it, you do kinda remind me of Margarita from The Master and Margarita, by Mikhail Bulgakov, a beautiful novel banned in Soviet Russia for many years. You look a lot like I visualized her and as Bulgakov described his heroine. She was gutsy like you too.”

“How do you know I’m gutsy?” asks Nell, always interested in talking about herself.

Damien isn’t sure how he should answer her. He had Pet3r do a complete workup on Nell, and he read it furtively on his iPhone 40 whenever Nell was busy talking to someone else like her pilots or the big silent guy, Dekka. That’s how he knows a lot more about her than she does about him.

“You didn’t tell Ms. Weinstein about us, and she’s pretty scary, Nell,” is all he says.

“I need Dafne—it’s a tough old world, Damien.”

“Right! Anyway, Margarita is a witch—or rather, she is turned into one by the devil and his entourage, who are temporarily visiting Moscow. But she is a good one,” Damien hastens to add, knowing that Nell is sensitive to criticism like most stars are.

“I’ll tell you Margarita’s story another day. Now I am going to tell you about a group of people called Dachniks, who saved Mother Russia during the Communist interregnum.”

“‘Interregnum’, that’s a great word,” says Nell.

“The Russian dacha and the Dachnik Movement,” Damien begins, “have been around for more than a 100 years. The dacha is typically a one-room cottage perched on one hectare of land that’s large enough to grow fruits and vegetables on to support a single family via intense, mostly manual labour.”

“How big is a hectare?” Nell asks. She’s interested in real estate; she owns a bunch, so she wants to know.

“It’s a metric measure of area that’s about 2.47 acres, which is—”

“I know what an acre is, Damien.”

“OK, alright. So there were 35 million dachniks, which is another word for gardener. During 80 years of Communist rule, they produced more than half of that nation’s agricultural output. The productivity of their land was far higher than the industrial farms organized as massive collectives under Josef Stalin. The Dachnik Movement is a model of sustainable agriculture—localized, mostly organic, and built on an economic model of social norms rather than market norms.”

“What’s that mean?” Nell asks, now mostly just to encourage him to get on with it.

“Social norms in this context means that dachniks helped each other or traded with each other without money. Maybe they got the concept from the Bantu, a South African tribe. The word they use is ubuntu, which means ‘Today I share with you because tomorrow you share with me.’

“An archbishop—I think his name was Tutu—helped unify South Africa using this as a rallying point for all races living there. Wherever they got it from, it was a good thing for the Ruskies since, under Communist rule although there was no shortage of rubles, there was nothing to buy with them.”

“You mean they had money that no one trusted?” Nell is sharp when it comes to money. She always insists that she be part—the most important part—of the decision tree when it’s time to determine where to invest her money. She remembers what it was like to be poor and is surprisingly conservative in her outlook on spending and investment, except when it comes to spending money on herself.

“Exactly. They had rubles but there was nothing to buy in Russian stores. You had to have hard currency, mainly the old U.S. dollar, to actually buy anything worthwhile.”

“So how did ordinary Russian people get by?” Nell asks.

“They used queuing to ration everything. Russians would see people lining up outside a store in, say, St. Petersburg, and they would just join the lineup without knowing what there might be to buy, but working on the assumption that there must be something. It’s kinda like the red paper clip guy in the early days of the Internet. He kept trading stuff until he turned that one red paper clip into a house. It didn’t take many trades to do it either. I think it was fewer than 15 or 16, and it took about a year.”

“What was his house like?” Nell asks. Like most women, she has an instinctive interest in people’s nesting places.

“Gee, Nell. This story is like 50 years old. I don’t know. I suspect it was a pretty cheap house. The guy was a Canadian, and the house was somewhere in the Prairies—I think Saskatchewan.

“Anywho,” Damien goes on, “Russians did a lot of trading and dachniks relied on a gift economy—trading without money.

“In a gift economy, many people will happily work harder than if they are paid. Lawyers asked to work legal aid cases won’t do any for a discounted wage of, say, ND$30 per hour. They find that insulting since most corporate types these days are charging ND$950 per hour and up, but they willingly line up to work on a pure volunteer, pro bono basis.

“So dachniks needing extra labour for a short period, a tool like an old Allen scythe to help with haying, advice on a weed or pest infestation, and whatever else can expect to get help for nothing—or, at least, without monetary exchange. Of course, their neighbours anticipate they’ll get the same consideration in return one day.

“In addition to being more self-reliant, enjoying the company provided by a community of like-minded people and eating food of known provenance, dachniks also benefit from Japanese-style forest bathing, or Shinrin-yoku, which I told you about in my last story about Anastasia.”

“You didn’t use the term ‘Shinrin-yoku’,” Nell points out. At least she’s listening. In fact, Nell loves stories—her mom adored reading stories to her beautiful and happy child, and even long after Nell became a prolific reader on her own, they still sat together for hours with Mom reading to her as if she was performing for an audio book—both recording and acting out stuff. Mom is a frustrated actor, Nell thinks, ground down by poverty and lack of opportunity and education.

“Right, imagine the Shinrin-yoku effect,” Damien adds for emphasis, “on dachniks who spend an average of 17 hours each week during the season working their gardens.

“My grandfather knew a group of Russian immigrants who came to Ontario after the fall of the Communists at the end of the last century. They wanted to introduce the Dachnik Movement to Canada. Pops tried to help them—holy smokes, he had an interesting time trying to explain the concept to OMAFRA (Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Food and Rural Affairs).

“The dachniks planned to buy 140 hectares or so of derelict farmland within an hour of where they lived and worked so that they could access their tiny plots on weekdays during crucial growing and harvesting seasons. In Ontario, no problem—there is plenty of some of the world’s least expensive farmland within an hour of most cities and towns. Plus the area is famously home to thousands of lakes, streams, and rivers. Water is everywhere and available in all seasons from surface water bodies, huge underground reservoirs (via wells), and the heavens as well.


“The problem wasn’t availability of land or water; it was regulatory. OMAFRA defines agriculture and farming as exclusively industrial—only massive industrial and chemical-based farming operations are, in fact, recognized as ‘farmers.’”

“Who’s the governor of Ontario, Damien? Any chance it’s a guy named Stalin or someone channelling him?” Nell asks.

“We don’t have governors. We have premiers,” Damien answers.

“Well, didn’t they used to call the top Communist, ‘Premier’?” Nell responds.

“Strong point, Nell. Never thought of that. So, our premier, channelling Josef Stalin,” Damien says to a now smiling Nell, “gives those big industrial farmers access to subsidized diesel, cheaper inputs (seeds and fertilizer), free labs for soil analysis, no-cost advice on pest infestations and diseases, marketing boards, as well as other forms of market and price support including income subsidies. And they get significantly lower property taxes as well. But OMAFRA refers to the Dachnik Movement as a bunch of ‘gardeners,’ a pejorative term to OMAFRA.

“So these ‘gardeners’ can’t get access to any of OMAFRA’s services or other forms of support. It puts dachniks behind the eight ball. They also pay way higher property taxes. Now if you allow your competition to start at the 80-metre mark in a 100-metre race while you start at 0, you cannot beat them. The problem was further compounded by the fact that Dachniks and their representatives just could not explain to the local mayor in a way she could understand that they planned on sharing their 140 hectares amongst 100 families, each with their own little cabin or dacha.

“Pops weighed in too. He told some local bureaucrats, ‘What’s wrong with having your own one-room cabin on your own one hectare of land where you can take shelter in inclement weather? What’s wrong if a tired dachnik, after a long day at the office and a few hours of manual labour in his garden plus an hour or two of friendly company around a campfire with fellow gardeners, drinking a bit of vodka and playing their balalaikas, decides to sleep there overnight?’

“Apart from the fact that they are gardeners and not industrialized farmers, the power structure rejects the concept because it is just too strange and too foreign for their bureaucratic pinhead-sized minds. Plus they are gonna break practically every one of their zoning codes, (called local ordinances here in the States), Nell. Those codes prohibit the breakup of larger parcels into small plots—it’s all about retaining the existing political and economic power structure and a land ownership pattern that favours industrial combines.

“It was impossible, impossible, Pops found, to get such a thing approved in Ontario and, he suspected, pretty much everywhere else in North America. But it was the dachniks that saved Haiti.”

Nell knows a bit about Haiti; she has a home in the Western Caribbean. “I think I heard about them. Hundreds of thousands fled to the countryside or something.”

“Right. They were led by a Russian ex-pat, Yana Domracheva. She emigrated there from Ontario after a big earthquake. Who knows why? Maybe she was moved by the suffering of the people there—Haiti is the poorest country in the western hemisphere. Disaster and privation are something a Russian would understand in a pretty fundamental way. She found it a lot easier to start a movement there, where the institutional framework, the dead hand of government and industry, had been cleared away, in this case, by natural disaster.”

“They practically emptied out Port-au-Prince or something,” Nell says.

“Well not really, but a lot of people did go,” Damien continues. “It pretty much saved their nation. Anyway, Pops felt that if they had gotten these micro farms approved in Canada, they could have traded for significant amounts of money—there would be a lot of demand for them and not just from people in the Dachnik Movement.

“They’d be worth a lot more than just their economic value too. Their social value—everything from hanging out with congenial friends to improved health from Shinrin-yoku—would factor into the value that each plot would trade for.

“Pops thought that bringing hundreds and, perhaps, thousands of would-be dachniks out of cities into nearby rural areas and small towns would immediately have a positive impact on these smaller communities in terms of direct and indirect economic spin-offs. Property values would increase, and jobs would be created, not to mention that young people would have the opportunity (possibly) to stay there. At least, it would give rural communities a chance to hold on to their most valuable resource—their kids.

“At the end of the day, Pops told me that the only way to actually build such a community in Ontario and places with a regulatory framework much like Ontario’s (which is pretty much everywhere these days since the British system of land ownership and development is nearly universal) would be to do it using Nemawashi, the Japanese art of gaining consensus by stealth.”

“Preparation is everything, Damien,” says perfectionist and now very sleepy performance artist, Miss Nell.

“Right, I buy that. So anyway, if you are really determined to get something like this off the ground, you might actually have to do it under water, out of view, and a little bit at a time.

“But if somehow you were able to successfully establish a farm made up of a 100-family community of micro farmers, then, Pops felt sure, the next minister of agriculture and food (whoever he or she was), and maybe even the premier, would one day visit it and proclaim it as the future of farming in Ontario. Politicians love to run to the front of an already formed parade as long as it has been proven safe to do so.”

By the end of this long story, Nell is fast asleep and, moments later, so is Damien.

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About the Author

Bruce is an entrepreneur/real estate broker/developer/coach/urban guru/keynote speaker/Sens founder/novelist/columnist/peerless husband/dad.