[-empyre-] Guilds & Plant Companions & Regenerative Oikeios

Elaine Gan eganuc at gmail.com
Mon Oct 30 03:34:58 AEDT 2017

Thank you for these posts which toggle us between practice and theory,
history and futurity made in the everyday!

There are thousands if not millions of varieties of rice. "Rice" is a
highly adaptable grass that grows almost everywhere in the world.
Cultivation practices don't just fall into categories of wild or indigenous
or industrial. There's a spectacular continuum of
historically-evolutionarily contingent pratices under the broad and
relatively novel Holocene activity of "agriculture." To borrow Jason's
terms: that web of life (a continuum of practices) is made --and remade--
through ecological assemblages (like Joline's blueberry guilds) and
thresholds or complexes of resistances. And I'll add dynamics of
coordination. Sad to hear of Joline's blueberries that are now lonely,
having lost its significant others! Certainly, it's surviving because of
coordinations with some friends, mycorrhizal fungi for example. It's
important to cultivate those too.

In following rice, particular varieties have managed to survive more than
others because of their sociality, their capacity to make friends (whether
they want to or not!) So to talk about rice is not to talk only about the
rice plant. Rice is an assemblage. Recent work in ecology and evolutionary
biology are showing that socialities are perhaps the basic unit of life,
giving us radical terms like symbionts, instead of species, to work with.
Important to situate historically and geographically because there are many
different kinds, each invovled with energies and forces of different
intensities, rhythms, etc. So, these are not just figurations, but
materialities that need to be made visible so that they can be cultivated.

The political question arises: which materialities do we want? I want to
fight for the right to argue for and against --not have that decided for me
as it has been for hundreds of years since conquistadors decided it was
okay to kill people and take their lands.
Anthropocene-Capitalocene-Chthulucene discourse tells us that our capacity
to have real choices --the choice of which kinds of food systems, urban
ecologies, education, healthcare, etc-- is now severely limited. It's
limited not because of crazy despots but because worlds are dying.
Blueberries are lonely. Rice now has a whole lot of bad friends like
chemical fertilizers and DNA hackers. One of the big challenges to critical
inquiry and creative practice is how to open up these choices, how to
proliferate agencies and activisms from the fungi underground up to the
hole in the ozone layer.


On Sat, Oct 28, 2017 at 2:26 PM, Jason W. Moore <jasonwsmoore at gmail.com>

> ----------empyre- soft-skinned space----------------------
> Dear Joline and friends,
> Thanks, Joline, for these insightful -- elegant and eloquent --
> reflections. (And my apologies for the radio silence: on the road a lot
> these days. :)
> Joline, I have several thoughts that emerged when I read. First, yes,
> capitalist agriculture in a model of "working the plants too hard" (what a
> beautiful quote!). Although "logic of capital" arguments have their limits,
> it's clear that we have a five century pattern of capitalist agriculture
> (as a model, that is, as a tendency that includes, in dialectical fashion,
> its counter-tendencies) premised on "labor time" falling, and "plant work"
> (and soils, and critters, and....) rising. Now, that's a statement that's
> easy to mis-read and to simplify. On the one hand, capitalist agriculture
> has depended on some of the the most brutal work regimes imaginable
> (coupled of course with some of the most arduous reproduction regimes).
> Slavery is of course a spectacular example. Here a bit of Marx is helpful:
> "labor time" is radically exclusionary, excluding as I often say these days
> not only the manifold forms of activity in the web of life as a whole, but
> also excluding most humanly productive work as well. (As in my continual
> emphasis on accumulation by appropriation, centering on the unpaid
> work/energy of 'women, nature, and colonies' [Mies].) So to come to grips
> with the contours and contradictions of extra-human natures in the modern
> world, it's crucial to see the project (read: fantasy) of capital, whose
> desire is to control, fragment, dominate -- and the processes of unruly
> natures, from superweeds to social revolutions and movements (e.g. food
> justice movements today).
> Often, academics are so quick to jump on one or another lacunae -- not
> enough multi-species accounts, not enough capital logic account, not
> enough... fill in the blank -- that we discourage a movement of synthesis:
> in my *Capitalism in the Web of Life*, multi-species acccounts appear
> only towards the end of the book, for two (probably more!) very good
> reasons. One is that "capital as project" had not -- to that point -- taken
> seriously the web of life, except as tap and sink, and really not very
> seriously even then. As an environmental historian, this pained me, but it
> had to be done. :) The unruliness of the web of life in the modern world
> has to be reckoned historically through long-run and large-scale patterns
> of this strange *place* that is modernity: a capitalist world-ecology of
> power, nature, and capital. The question of the web of life's unruliness
> appears toward the end of *Web of Life* not because it was an
> afterthought but because my interpretation led me squarely to precisely
> that which is obscured by dualist "limits to growth" approaches. This is
> the non-linear activation of what I've called negative-value: forms of
> nature that can no longer be *cheaply *disciplined and reconfigured
> through the long-run productivist model of nature that we've seen. This
> includes two themes we've encountered in these discussions this month:
> superweeds and (implicitly) colony collapse disorder. Of course we in the
> discussion know that "weed" is a real abstraction: there is a battle
> against weeds because weeds have been constructed (co-produced) as external
> to commodity agriculture. But of course the pulse of negative-value doesn't
> stop there: we are witnessing the activation of all sorts of contradictions
> unfixable through a productivist view of nature and what Weber calls the
> "Euopean rationality of world domination." Climate change is clearly
> another expression of the activation of negative-value; so too the new
> ontological politics of food justice/sovereignty, climate justice, and
> other movements that demand not redistribution but de-commodification and a
> reorganization of life that privileges diversity and justice in a
> multi-species sense.
> The point about university ag research is interesting. For while it's
> clear that there is a dominant trend of seeking to maintain/extend
> capitalist agriculture, there are also a growing number of agronomists
> (agro-ecologists and others) who realize the capitalist agriculture model
> is no longer workable, even on its own terms. (Witness the secular decline
> in agricultural productivity and ag-centered labor productivity growth
> rates since 1985-95: something that two decades of agro-biotech has not
> been able to counteract.) I think crucial to our intellectual agendas --
> and the politics which unevenly relate to those agendas -- is the argument
> that agriculture has to be reinvented from the ground up (and also from the
> top down, and inbetween at very point). There are, as even, layers within
> layers of geohistory inscribed in agriculture today: the neoliberal GMO
> moment; the mechanization of agriculture that began in the USA in the
> mid-19th century; the petro-farming/chemical/hybird maize moment post-1935;
> the slavery/coerced labor moment of the origins of capitalist agriculture
> post-1492; and then of course the whole arc of agriculture in the Holocene,
> an era of unusual climate stability than is now coming to an end. So
> agriculture today has become a crucible of politics not only for the
> reproduction of human life, but of the web of life as a whole -- including
> centrally the interlinked questions of biodiversity/extinction and climate
> change. How bad it will get will turn centrally on how effectively we can
> rework agriculture -- and how quickly we can do it.
> There are no pure models for such reworking -- the Cuban experience
> post-1991 offers some instructive lessons; manifold forms of indigenous and
> peasant cultivation across the world of course offer other insights.
> Clearly, neither an abstract localism nor an abstract globalism will
> suffice in moving forward. But I am hopeful.
> Warmly to all, Jason
> On Fri, Oct 27, 2017 at 7:41 PM, Norie Neumark <norie5 at mac.com> wrote:
>> ----------empyre- soft-skinned space----------------------
>> Thanks Joline for that amazing post — it was so moving to read about
>> lonely blueberry bushes, exhausted bees and farmers. And thinking about
>> where University research funds come from and go to is unnerving as ever.
>> I feel unravelled.
>> Norie Neumark
>> www.out-of-sync.com
>> workingworms.net
>> unlikely.net.au
>> On 28 Oct 2017, at 3:32 am, Joline Blais <jblais at maine.edu> wrote:
>> ----------empyre- soft-skinned space----------------------
>> Carla Hustak and Natasha Myers write about  how organisms "get *involved* one
>> another’s lives and worlds.” and how “ The effect is to tune in to the affective
>> ecologies <https://plantstudies.wordpress.com/involutionary-momentum/> that
>> bind plants and insects together in such intimate processes as sex and
>> digestion..”
>> I wonder Jason if you have  encountered these interplant relations in his
>> sugar cane research?   or Elaine if you have seen this in the rice
>> studies?
>> I have actually been looking for what might have been
>> pre-settler “blueberry guilds” , or sets of companion plants that like to
>> keep each other company, and interact in ways that generate more robust
>> outcomes, more biodiversity, more interactions, more information, more
>> possibilities.   The question of pollinators always seems to come up. In
>> the case of blueberries, since all other crops have been eliminated from
>> the barrens to increase production there are no plants to feed the
>> pollinators before and after the blueberry flowering, so farmers need to
>> import bees at the rate of $100/ 1 hive /100 acres. These traveling bees,
>> get trucked the coast from Florida to Maine following the flowering of
>> fruit. Many farmers spend tens of thousand of dollars to make the
>> interspecies sex thing happen here—and that strikes me as odd, and must be
>> recent.  What did they do before bee trucks came on the scene?
>> One of the rakers we interviewed provided one clue:  the 2
>> person “walk behind harvester” is a lawnmower scale harvester that
>> replaced hand raking in some small farms that didn’t need the huge
>> industrial tractor harvesters. (designed by UMaine research, never
>> patented, and then stolen or taken by one of the local families that turned
>> their holdings into one of the multinational corporations out there
>> now—(more below on how Univ of Maine research actually led to the
>> corporatization and other undermining results for the small family farms
>> that funded its research)
>> Anyway, the “raker” regularly stumbles upon ground hornet's nest,  which
>> are then destroyed by the mechanical harvest.  They are not destroyed by
>> the hand raking that still happens on organic farms in the area  and those
>> organic farms have much more biodiverse fields—with weeds intermingling
>> with berries.
>> I also discovered that in the older pilgrimage times, stands of white
>> pine had been left in the barrens—so grew there naturally; and that they
>> were left to create camping area for the rakers—they protected against
>> harsh winds, hot sun, rain and sometimes bear.   These stands were later
>> clearcut to increase the blueberry yields.  So while the blueberry plants
>> themselves represent millions of clones—so are diverse, they have been
>> robbed of most of their companion insects/plants in the
>> commercialized fields.
>> So I think without the constant company of native pollinators,
>> white pine, companion weeds, and ground hornets (who eat damaged fruit, and
>> prey on other damaging pests), and without the songs of the rakers
>> during harvest evenings, and their day songs as they harvest, I think the
>> blueberry are very lonely now.  And that we are eating lonely plants, that
>> we are lonely plants (and diseased and distressed animals) , if
>> the Passamaquoddy are right about the way food inhabits the eater.  Is slow
>> food = happy food?  What does happy food look like? taste like?
>> In one of Jason’s recent post, he mentioned  “the endless increase in the
>> biological productivity of life and the endless decrease in the human work
>> necessary to achieve such increases.” This also resonates deeply with what
>> I currently know about the story of wild blueberry in Downeast Maine.   I
>> hear 50+ year blueberry farmer and University researcher Dell Emerson
>> whisper to me “ you can’t believe how hard we push these plants.”  He
>> watches to see if I really heard what he said.  Or if this is just another
>> “road kill” moment in our industrial ag relationship with our food.  Do I
>> just look the other way because I can’t reconcile that violence with my
>> need to eat? Or do I hear his plea for something to intervene? He and his
>> bees are really exhausted…how did a labor of love get to this point?
>> Local farmers funded the UMaine research that quadruped the crop, but
>> that very productivity also meant they need to broaden and globalize their
>> markets.   And in this larger network, they encountered the logic of
>> capital and its methods.
>> So here’s my next question:  to what extent do university research
>> projects —even seemingly benign ones like increasing the blueberry
>> harvest—lead to unraveling ecosystems and corporate plunder?  Do
>> universities prepare their local environments for colonization in similar
>> was that Jesuit priests did in this part of the new world?  UMaine also has
>> deep ties to the paper and pulp industries in Maine and thus the largest
>> toxic waste dump in the state, within earshot of where the state educates
>> its youth (some of whom have come into my office with cancer stories—not
>> their parents, but themselves…) Our own program has research funds donated
>> by one of the paper plants with ties to this region.
>> So we have ecosystem guilds that are unraveling, and other
>> techo/industry/education/capital guilds that are replacing them, and
>> within which we ourselves operate.
>> So like the blueberry, my local companions are endangered, and the
>> pressure on my own productivity is intense enough to completely turn off
>> kids from the next generation.  The regeneration of this current system is
>> I think at risk.   Both the blueberry and I are inhabiting unsustainable
>> guilds within unravelling ecosystems.
>> I think sugar’s history is far more complex, from plantation to diabetes,
>> it just keeps generating capital…
>> And rice also seems to be a very lonely and highly pressured plant.
>> Unless, of course, you consider Fukuoka's One Straw Rice
>> <https://youtu.be/XSKSxLHMv9k> revolution, Jon Jandai’s Life is Easy
>> <https://youtu.be/21j_OCNLuYg> return to traditional earth-based
>> livelihood,. Or unless you turn to other oikeios models like those
>> generated by the permaculture and ecovillage movements that are quite
>> robust in Maine and the Northeast.
>> I’m curious about any plant/animal/human guild that may have nourished
>> any of our readers?  What do these look like? Which ones regenerate life
>> and biodiversity and cultural richness and social justice?  There’s a whole
>> art form and art practice that is happening in this space of regenerative
>> design I think, but it won’t be tied to capital or found within four white
>> walls—because it doesn’t turn a profit.  It will look like Tambaran where
>> the men who make music and temples (what we see when we look at their art
>> forms), where these men say "we make spirits and children" by listening to
>> the earth, sining its songs, then growing food where we hear the songs, and
>> feeding our children with that food.
>> Joline
>> _______________________________________________
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>> _______________________________________________
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> --
> Jason W. Moore, Associate Professor
> Department of Sociology, Binghamton University
> Recent books, *Capitalism in the Web of Life *
> http://www.versobooks.com/books/1924-capitalism-in-the-web-of-life
> *Anthropocene or Capitalocene? Nature, History, and the Crisis of
> Capitalism*
> https://secure.pmpress.org/index.php?l=product_detail&p=779
> Many of my essays are posted on my website:http://jasonwmoore.com
> Recent short essays can be found here: http://jasonwmoore.wordpress.com/
> For more on the world-ecology conversation, join us on academia.edu:
> https://www.academia.edu/Documents/in/World-Ecology
> And also on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/worldecology/
> _______________________________________________
> empyre forum
> empyre at lists.artdesign.unsw.edu.au
> http://empyre.library.cornell.edu
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