Posts Tagged ‘agriculture’

Michael Wells
by Michael Wells
Tue Mar 3rd 2009 at 10:08am UTC

Creative Agriculture

Tuesday, March 3rd, 2009

Richard writes about the need to make all work creative, but he’s generally talking about the manufacturing or service industries. However, America’s declining agricultural sector is making a comeback in many areas, largely because of the creative class on both the producing and consuming ends.

In many cities, close-in farms are switching to organic methods and raising a wider variety of crops to sell at farmer’s markets, co-ops, or natural food stores. Some large producers are profitably making this switch but much of the growth is small family farms, many run by immigrants. As consumers’ preferences move beyond just organic to buying local, the smaller close-in farms start to have an advantage. And even in recessionary times, growers selling at farmer’s markets can price competitively.

The creative class component on the consumer end is obvious, the demographics for both Whole Foods and farmer’s markets lean toward creatives. Both “exotic” (bok choy) and “heritage” (beefsteak tomatoes) produce are popular with creatives, although the heritage also has an attraction to the farmer’s market bargain shoppers who remember their parents’ gardens.

On the other side of the equation, producers are also increasingly creative in their approach. I got to thinking about this the other day when a friend had a piece on a NY Times blog about his brandy business, which was launched partly to market the pears from his family orchards.

In this story he mentions the growth of local cheeses, wines, and other products which have taken underperforming crops and made them profitable products. Another friend who used to have a Bonsai business outside Boston would come to Oregon to buy nursery stock. There are undoubtedly thousands of examples, each one showing creative thinking in this oldest of industries.

One often mentioned but little analyzed aspect of Obama’s budget is the cuts to agricultural subsidies for farms with annual sales of over $500,000. Like the tax breaks for the rich, these benefit only the top 5 percent of farms and have contributed to the growth of agribusiness and squeezing out of family farms. While the political future of this proposal is uncertain, it might cause “rent-seeking” corporations to leave farming and open the field for the little guys, who are agriculture’s creative entrepreneurs.

Richard Florida
by Richard Florida
Fri Jan 23rd 2009 at 8:33am UTC

Where Do Cities Come From?

Friday, January 23rd, 2009

Arnold Kling asks:

Today, we think of cities as places where people come to thrive. Wealth is higher in cities than in small towns and rural areas. Richard Florida tells us that the creative class is to be found in cities.

On the other hand, reading accounts of cities as of 1850 or earlier, they sound like death traps. People are less healthy in cities. Life spans are shorter. Poverty is Dickensian. I picture pre-modern cities the way I picture Russia today: people living off government assistance or criminal enterprise or sale of personal belongings; death at an early age; etc.

I wonder: who came to cities? Was it people without land? Were cities like an awful lottery that people would play when they had no other choice? A bunch of landless people gathered together to prey on one another, with the winners thriving (moving to the country as soon as they could afford it) and the losers enduring a Hobbesian existence, where life was nasty, brutish and short?

Did that make America in the eighteenth century seem like paradise, with its endless supply of land? Why were there cities in America? Was Jefferson’s preference for yeoman farmers a natural reflection of the relative state of urban vs. rural existence?

What would Jane Jacobs say?

In a series of famous passages, Jacobs argued that cities actually grew up alongside, and even before, advanced agriculture. It was cities Рlocations with dense, trading populations Рthat encouraged the transformation and modernization of agriculture. However difficult life might have been inside them, it was cities, according to Jacobs, that were the spur for modern economic growth and development.

Here’s a nice summary:

Jacobs contends that both animal husbandry and agriculture were most likely to have originated in the earliest urban settlements. Further, those settlements were the result of Paleolithic trade, and it was the intensification of trade in those early cities that paved the way for the development of agriculture and animal husbandry.

And another:

But don’t cities arise from and depend on agriculture? No: all economic progress originates in cities, Jacobs tells us; and cheekily adds that all agricultural progress originates in cities. Great advances, such as mechanical reapers and electricity, were invented and adopted in or near cities before being applied to agricultural regions farther out. Productivity improvements in agriculture always begin near the cities and spread out.

What we think of as purely rural activities often began in the cities. In premodern Europe, the quintessential cottage industry was weaving; but before cloth was woven in cottages the art was rediscovered and practiced in cities. Dark Ages peasants lived on gruel; the art of breadmaking was recovered first in cities (and based on city-grown bread; a medieval city had its own fields). In our own rural areas there are vast ranches where animals are fattened before slaughter; they are transplants from the city stockyards of Kansas City and Chicago.

Your thoughts?