The Failures of Farming and the Necessity of Wildtending

Kollibri terre Sonnenblume came through Saint Paul late last year and I will never forget his eye contact. It was steady and intimate. He was unafraid of what judgements lay on the other side. I tried my best to keep it, but rather sheepishly, turned away more times than I would have liked. It is dismaying when you find out how much distance you have created in your modern world, when even the child’s act of looking upon another while in conversation presents itself as a trying practice. Kollibri had the ease of someone close to himself—he was never retreating into his iPhone screen, but instead letting his thoughts flow from the inside-out. If all of this sounds elementary, I am happy for the reader, for they have found some connection that is uninterrupted.

I bring this up largely to tie it the larger theme of Kollibri’s book The Failures of Farming and the Necessity of Wildtending, both in its message and its tone. One glides through the cheerful prose with the ease of someone who has smoked the right amount of weed, even as Kollibri confronts the weed industry itself and its environmental impacts. The question the book begins with is a large one—and one much debated before. Are we happier, and better off now, then we ever have been? If we are, that is a little bit horrifying, and it should be no cause to celebrate our own dismal times, but to despair over the rest of time spent.

Fear not.  Kollibri makes a convincing argument against farming and agriculture (and for wildtending). Kollibri effectively debunks myths about what he calls gatherer-hunters (he explains the reason for the reversal of the name). He points to not only their technical knowledge of plants, but argues that the all-knowing Western subject simply cannot grasp the feeling of what it was like to live in that time—either mentally or materially. A remarkably humble Western scholar Kollibri must be! He also brings into question whether our lives now—which have above all just expanded the field of work and the distancing from nature—really make us happier.

Kollibri’s book is wide-ranging. He shows us how agriculture is unhealthy for us. He exposes the health effects of agriculture as well as the sevre environmental impacts. He interviews a Native Americans about Western world views. The format varies but the themes seems fixed. Kollibri successfully links the rise of the so-called modern world with the rise of the West and the rise of agriculture. Thanks to the many formats of his chapters, Kollibri can take the reader to places both specifically scientific and broadly historic. I won’t give away the details here. But much of the book’s strength lies in the way it addresses accepted and practiced everyday truths by pointing to an alternate history seldom explored by our history books.

Climate change appears as a well-intentioned accident. How could anyone have known that processes meant to improve our lives would actually end up killing us all? Kollibri opens up the possibility that all of these things are related.

The term intersectionality, while extremely useful, is often used in a superficial way. What struck me about this book was how well it used intersectionality in a material sense. This is an uncompromising book in regards to the patriarchy and U.S. history. There is a certain deep imagination here that uses history to point to the development of present conditions and assumptions.

The most unique and rewarding part of the book is the specific details about how the world actually works in a scientific sense. There is great detail and well-organized science in the book. Such material is not necessarily the internal biology one learns in school. Rather, Kollibri is most interested in real world application. Upon learning about the earth and the way it functions the reader is met with shame. How ignorant our modern world is. But the book is not there for that purpose. It is there to uncover the truth in both a historical and ecological sense.

The heart of the book is more radical than near any book one will ever read. The message is not a theoretical and ideological one. It states that clearly we must change our lifestyle in a fundamental way or else the planet will end. The difference with this book is that it shows you how. It interviews the Native people who are already doing what it takes. It outlines the practices of wildtending and confronts the specific dangers of the farming industry. It even provides lessons from Kollibri’s own urban farming business.

These details are accessible, intimate and fun. They only add to the real human component that Kollibri brings to this book. By engaging on this very personal level we can see an example within the text of the sorts of connections we must rebuild going forward. Such a personal connection also makes the urgency of the message even stronger. It is hard to turn away from a tragedy bearing messenger, but even more so when they are light-hearted.

Most books, even the most intellectually adventurous of them, leave the reader in the same physical space, and therefore in the same society outside of the personal relationships. This book lays the groundwork for a practical shift of the everyday. This book provides the framework to see the world not only in its material context, but its ecological one.

There really is no choice. Radically change or die. This book is a good first step. We will have to come to terms with the fact that modern agriculture simply ruins the planet and eventually, likely in the near future, none of us will be able to survive. There also is a history of agriculture traced here that exposes it as an inherently violent act upon the earth and upon human relations in general—particularly for our Native and women folks. This book not only questions the logic of the world, it questions the process. And the real violence, as well as the real change, actually comes from this process.

The reward is in the details. One will learn a lot from this book and maybe it will open up the reader to try new practices in their everyday life. If one really wants to understand how the world functions both historically and presently, this is a must-read. It is a conscious meditation on what our world has become and how we can change it. Additionally it provides clear-cut analysis of agriculture in a way that is both personal and transcending.

It’s a convincing book, delightfully romantic but never without proper criticism and context. Happiness now, more than ever, is an extension of work. You must work for it by obliterating everything you are and turning into everything the capitalist producers want you to become. A radical notion of being near where you are—physically, spiritually and emotionally is absent from most everyone under the influence of modern agriculture today. When Marx said work alienates he had a knowledge that it alienates precisely because our life was being ripped away from its natural purpose.

Still, when looking out at the world today, it is hard to imagine what Kollibri is talking about, which is why the reader should be grateful that he shows us. A better argument still was how free and calm Kollibri looked when I saw him. His eyes were full of life he had lived, not of one owned by someone else. As global capital has cemented, the progress has been owned by a few rich humans—with not much trickling down to the poor, let alone the environment itself. This book may be the closest we feel to the times of a past that truly knew the earth—unless it helps to inspire a much-needed global revolution away from agriculture and towards wildtending.

Nick Pemberton writes and works from Saint Paul, Minnesota. He loves to receive feedback at pemberton.nick@gmail.com