Monday, February 18, 2008

The Octopus and the literary canon of agricultural law

The Octopus

Men — motes in the sunshine — perished, were shot down in the very noon of life, hearts were broken, little children started in life lamentably handicapped; young girls were brought to a life of shame; old women died in the heart of life for lack of food. In that little, isolated group of human insects, misery, death, and anguish spun like a wheel of fire.

But the Wheat Remained. Untouched, unassailable, undefiled, that mighty world-force, that nourisher of nations, wrapped in Nirvanic calm, indifferent to the human swarm, gigantic, resistless, moved onward in its appointed grooves. Through the welter of blood at the irrigation ditch, through the sham charity and shallow philanthropy of famine relief committees, the great harvest of Los Muertos rolled like a flood from the Sierras to the Himalayas to feed thousands of starving scarecrows on the barren plains of India.

Falseness dies; injustice and oppression in the end of everything fade and vanish away. Greed, cruelty, selfishness, and inhumanity are short-lived; the individual suffers, but the race goes on. Annixter dies, but in a far distant corner of the world a thousand lives are saved. The larger view always and through all shams, all wickednesses, discovers the Truth that will, in the end, prevail, and all things, surely, inevitably, resistlessly work together for good.
— Frank Norris, The Octopus (1901)

At Jurisdynamics, I've started a meme on lost literary classics. Here is the essential dirt on my nominee, Frank Norris, The Octopus (1901):
OctopusThe Octopus was based on the Mussel Slough Tragedy of 1880, a bloody conflict between ranchers and the Southern Pacific Railroad. Farmers in the San Joaquin Valley had leased land from the railroad at $2.50 to $5 per acre, in the hope of eventually purchasing the land outright. When the railroad offered the land for sale at prices adjusted for improvements (made, for the most part, by the farmers themselves), fighting broke out.
I now invite all of my cobloggers here at Agricultural Law to nominate their favorite entries for the literary canon of agricultural law.


Blogger Andrew, Bridget, Walker, and Josie said...

Would someone please look at the current farm bill in Congress. I just heard that it will divde subsadies in a way that the Midwest only gets subsidies for growing soybeans, corn, sugarbeets and wheat. What does this do to diversity in the Midwest. How will it affect the farmer trying to have a diversified crop to sell locally?

2/19/2008 9:42 PM  
Blogger Anthony Schutz said...

I propose Walden as something to be included in the literary canon.

Andrew, the farm bill has historically subsidized the production of items you list. So that is nothing new. Has this produced monocultures in the production areas of the United States? Yes. However, at least a portion of current subsidies are "decoupled" and, in theory, do not distort a producer's choice to plant (other than the prohibition on planting fruits and nuts that continues in the next farm bill). So in terms of producer diversification, there is some flexibility (and, relative to history, a great deal of flexibility). But diversification amongst these commodities is not the same as ecological diversity. And, from a local foods perspective, the more interesting issue may be whether the next farm bill provides such farmers with sufficient tools to manage the risks inherent in production. Of course, one can question whether that is a role the government should play at all.

2/23/2008 12:25 PM  
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