Call of the Reed Warbler
A New Agriculture, a New Earth, Charles Massy, University of Queensland Press, 2017.
The Agrarian narrative that is prevalent in American rural literature, (Henry Thoreau, John Muir, Aldo Leopold, Rachel Carson, Louis Bromfield, Wendell Berry and Wes Jackson, Gary Snyder), and many others, is not matched in Australian rural literature. Australia has a paucity of stories about our farming history, from the pens of those with their hands in the dirt. We have been hanging out for this story for a long time. It tells where we came from, and gives an honest assessment of where we are now and where we might be going in the future in our relationship with Land. Of course we acknowledge Judith Wright, Eric Rolls, Geoffery Blainey, Mary E. White, Bill Gammage and lately Bruce Pascoe.
In Charles Massy we find an author with a big mind and a big story, a story for our time, a story that needs to be told. I find it extremely important that he has put down the history of the changing circumstances of thought in the human relationship to land in the centuries before European settlement in Australia.
Many reviews have looked on this book as one that will be a classic, I concur with that view.
One of the findings in Charles Massy’s PhD thesis was that in a majority of cases, the precursor for change was tension of some sort, either social, business or environmental. The scope of this book taken as a whole is breathtaking, Massy is revealing the truth of the processes of Industrial Agriculture. The farmers practicing this type of Industrial farming are in some sense, unwitting pawns in the game of those who supply the products that lead to less diversity in landscapes and farms.
The Massy narrative reveals the evidence of the results of Industrial Agriculture and unplanned grazing. World wide, soils are losing Organic Carbon as landscapes simplify; the opposite of the trend of evolution. This is the birthright of all unborn humans and also, all life.
These are big questions and too important to skirt around. We should be grateful we have someone such as Charles Massy among us, with the courage to inform us.
Research in the Industrial Farming model is currently all about small refinements to a flawed model. Things like satellite guidance and auto-steer, yield mapping, lower herbicide rates etc, are in my view, incremental changes, when what we need is a new model. Innovations such as pasture cropping, which has huge potential and is only in its infancy, is where there should be new research effort.
Any form of agriculture that causes significant simplification of the living community, and is reliant on products that harm the living world will be short lived in the history of the world.
This book is a clarion call for life.
There is ample honesty and stories of farmer’s journeys of searching for a way out of the labyrinth of dependency that is part of the lot of Industrial farming.
One has to admire the organizing capacity of large Industrial farmers, they achieve incredible things in a variable climate. The question though is that the only true profits made in farming are when the money shows a profit, at the same time as people’s well-being is improving and the natural capital base of the farm ecosystem is improving in diversity.
Charles Massy’s message of hope is for farmers to become more ecologically literate, to become independent thinkers, part of the living communities on farms. Considering the effects of our decisions on ourselves, our businesses and the living world.
When I was an Industrial farmer, it was my recognition that the natural capital on our farm was diminishing and that I, and the farming system were the problem, that made me look for more ethical ways to relate to Land. It is that story told through the lives of other farmers that is the heart of Call of the Reed Warbler.
In my experience, farmers mostly don’t read much, so for some the size of Call of the Reed Warbler may pose a problem. I have found it a pleasure to dip in and out, finding chapters that spark my interest. This is a book for more than farmers, it is a book for all.
You can buy a copy of the Call of the Reed Warbler at your favourite book seller or through the publisher, University of Queensland Press.
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