Becoming Amish

            Imagine: High above a downtown parking lot, we build an overhead urban garden with green house and solar panels to generate electricity. Not only will we have electric power for our restaurant next door (and a saleable surplus ), but we will be able to grow much of the produce consumed there, starting earlier and having produce later into the season (maybe even year round). The work involved with the solar panel installation will educate apprentice technicians in green energy; folks in need of jobs and a marketable practice. The green house/urban farm will employ those within the city who can’t find work or lack a work history to land that first “real” job. Below, in the open parking lot space will be the weekly farmers’ market where the surplus from above along with that of other local producers will be made available to the folks who dwell in town. All this in a small town where property rental is one of the largest industries, but employs the least number of inhabitants.  40% of the residencies are non-owner occupant and the downtown business district is in need of “revitalization”- landlords sitting on outdated “investments” badly in need of upgrading (or demolition), currently vacant, and overpriced. Downtowns of this description are repeated throughout the American mid west. Pretty incredible solution, huh?

            “Well, we’ve got to do something!” “People have a great need and the political process is at a stalemate.” So the “creative alternative” is to forge ahead through non-profits, church groups and “gov’t grants” to form real concrete avenues of hope. Amazingly enough, the rationale for such endeavors parallels the survivalist strategies that motivate many to form compounds, stock pile guns and food, and close the gates on the outside world. How so, you say?

            In a lecture at Denison University (archives 3-4-2010 Well, Who Ya Makin’ Art For?) Professor Rajani K. Kanth likened recession to money going on strike. OK, OK, so those in the know say the recession is over, only in this case the names have been changed to protect the guilty. Repeatedly it has been reported that American businesses and worldwide corporations are sitting on a mountain of cash, but won’t invest until the economic environment stabilizes and the atmosphere clears. Jamie Dimon loses 5-7 billion at Chase and everyone says it is no big deal for them. Kanth was right. Money wants more before it will go back to work and earn a higher rate of return. Barclays tries to make more with Libor manipulation. Another way to get more if you are sitting on a big pile of money is to tell those already in your employ to work for less. If they refuse, they are out of work. Who do you think will last longer? The historic marker in downtown Nelsonville Ohio confirms that approach, the recent events at the Lonmin PLC mine in South Africa make it current once again. A variation of this strategy is filing for bankruptcy in order to escape the liability of some environmental catastrophe, or contractual labor pay/pension obligations (Union Carbide springs to mind, but American Airlines is the current manifestation).

            Today one finds many entrepreneurial/social endeavors in urban farming. Is this just a variation on a form of finding a way to hold out while money is on strike? Or is it just more hard scrabble farming where what you produce is never enough and the “real” jobs and money are always somewhere else? Analogous to the survivalists, is this not, once again, the formation of a “sub” class of humans building a sub culture of its own outside (but within) the mainstream? Something akin to becoming Amish?

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