Is small still beautiful or must we scale up to survive?

We tried for five years but in the end found that although able to live sustainably on a small 1000 sq. metre plot of ground, we couldn’t afford any extra nice-to-haves, developmental and leisure liquidity (see my dissertation towards an M.Phil degree with the Sustainability Institute of the University of Stellenbosch.

Is our only way forward to scale up our farming operation?

So is the solution to scale up our farming operation by increasing our herd from four to 40, stuffing our chickens into batteries and poisoning our plot with fertilisers, herbicides and insecticides or must we resign ourselves to poverty?

In other words, is humankind’s presence here on earth a contradiction (to enjoy the fruits of human ingenuity we must exploit and destroy our environment) or are we confronted by a paradox (to be fully human required humans to respect or show deference to our environment). If the former then what Marx termed the metabolic rift between humankind and the non-human world will be permanent and the nature of life on earth irrevocably changed for the worse; if the latter then, as Niels Bohr observes: ‘How wonderful that we have met with a paradox. Now we have some hope of making progress’.

In this context, perhaps Bohr’s use of the noun ‘progress’ reinforces the inherent paradox of our situation in that our ‘progress’ as a species has brought us to this apparent impasse. Quo vadis?

Let’s come back to our situation as a family committed to living sustainably and mention that, like us, many of our neighbours are trying to live sustainably and likewise struggling, which tells me that this question is key.

Our gut response is to create a niche that will heal the metabolic rift

This is why I (and my spouse) have embarked upon a second phase of research premised on the following gut-hypothesis: by creating niches that heal the metabolic rift humans can become fully human. It is to be noted that my sense of becoming ‘fully human’ incorporates a lifestyle that celebrates and enjoys what I listed above as nice-to-haves, for instance, being able to afford the internet and a cup of excellent coffee.

My (and our) game plan is already into its second phase aimed at finding out how best to live off the land, creatively. Keys to this plan are the following principles: respect or deference, thinking strategically and making full use of the resources available.

In the pipeline

This is the first in a series of posts that will plot our journey. Forthcoming posts will explore what I understand as a niche, and expand on the three principles that will guide my journey (respect or deference, thinking strategically, and making full use of the resources available).

We are keen to share and to learn so please feel free either to email me matt@nicheunity.com or leave a reply below. You can also follow  us on Twitter.

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