Are We Seeing the Early Signs of a Seed Availability Crisis?

Sharon December 11th, 2008

Back in March, right before I started the first food storage class, I wrote this post, analyzing the problems likely to face us if we suddenly needed to start growing our own food.  I argued that if we faced a Depression or major disruption of the food supply, we’d find it very difficult to ramp up seed production rapidly for home gardeners.  I wrote:

The home garden trade is a small subset of the seed trade, and the serious home gardening/small farming trade a vastly smaller subset even of that. The majority of home gardeners start comparatively few seeds – they purchase pre-started flats of vegetables instead of seeds. I’m consistently amazed to see things that are grown from seed incredibly easily – lettuce, for example, in flats, and being bought like wildfire. So the majority of home gardeners have little experience planting seeds at all – carrots, perhaps and peas, and that’s probably about it. Although slightly off my main topic, this is something worth noting – even most experienced gardeners may have almost no experience growing food from seeds.

Of gardeners who do start seeds, the vast majority – more than 90% of them – do not order from seed catalogs and companies that specialize in home garden seeds, they get their seeds from seed racks in garden centers, supermarkets, Walmarts and other places. And the majority of seed companies that sell through these seed racks are not deeply invested in producing high quality seed. According to Steve Solomon, founder of Territorial Seeds and author of _Gardening When It Counts_ the vast majority of seed sales involve simply the purchase of bulk seed, often from foreign distributors, and repackaging of that seed without variety trials, often without germination tests, and with little consideration of what is adapted to particular regions.

In many cases, the cheapest varieties of bulk seeds will have off-types, because hybridization often requires labor-intensive hand pollinating in the field, and high cost isn’t what such companies are after. Solomon also notes that many companies use extremely poor quality seed, even sweepings from the seed floor, in cheap packets to be sold in commercial garden centers. Those 10cent packages of seed you see in various places may not actually even have 10 cents worth of seed in them.

Only about 10% of the home garden seed trade is focused on high quality vegetable seed production, mostly by mail order. These are the seed catalogs whose seed will have the germination percentages they claim. These are the people who will replace your packet that does have poor germination, and who will ensure vigorous seed with varities tested for your region – but it is important to remember that they do serve a tiny percentage of the total seed sales in the US, and they are not necessarily prepared to serve a vast increase in need.

In an agricultural transition period, when people start running short of food, what they will want are seeds that are viable (that is, they are not too old and have been stored well, and thus, will grow), vigorous (that is, they grow well and don’t produce weak plants vulnerable to disease and pests), high yielding (that is, they produce a lot of whatever crop we are seeking), are adapted to their climate and to small scale food production (that is, they weren’t selected for commercial production, or primarily for shipping ability and they grow well where we’re growing food), available in fairly large quantities (most home gardeners buy a packet or two of each thing, but if you are feeding yourself from your garden, or making succession crops, or selling at market, you’ll find you need much more seed), and reasonably priced (that is, you can afford to buy it, or you can save seed and only buy it once).

Most of the home garden seed trade may produce seed that has some of these qualities, maybe even all of them. But only a small percentage is focused on ensuring that all these requirements are met. Assuming that, for example, we were to see food shortages in 2009, and a widespread agricultural transition beginning in 2010, how long would it take to ramp up an adequate seed supply that would serve small scale market gardeners and home food producers, and meet the above requirements?

Well, first of all, we could expect to see serious shortages in 2010. That year, seed suppliers would be unable to meet demand – they have been expecting less than 5% of the American population to plant any kind of garden, most of them flower gardens, and they simply don’t have enough spare production capacity to meet present needs. This is particularly likely if the biofuels boom is continuing, and there is no leeway in the demand for seed among commercial farmers that might be sold to home gardeners.

Imagining that 10-20% of the population begins to garden in 2010 and existing home gardeners expand their production, we can expect seed prices to skyrocket, availability to fall, and many people to have to rely on seed packets that don’t meet the above requirements – that is, seed packets that have been kept in heated supermarkets and thus have reduced viability, or those routinely placed outside where they get wet and are exposed to repeated freezing and thawing, or were of low quality to begin with. So not only will the seed trade come up short, but some of what will be sold will be seed that was never of a quality likely to feed those who depend on them.

Yesterday afternoon, my Fedco Seed Catalog arrived – always my personal favorite.  And on page 6, what should I see but this, in founder CR Lawn’s description of their situation:

And now seed prices.  I’ve ben 30 years in this business and these are the highest increases to us I’ve ever seen.  The ethanol boom diverting land to corn production has ahd a tremendous impocat on farm commodity prices, including vegetable seeds.  Wholesale prices for pea and bean seed are up 30-50%, for corn and squash, 20% or more.  Even so, wholesalers could not find growers for all crops so several varieties are missing from our catalog.  Horrible growing weather this summer has exacerbated the shortage.

This follows on their best year ever, one in which demand for seed outgrew supply not only for Fedco, but for other seed companies – Pinetree Seeds, Johnny’s Selected Seeds, Baker Creek Heirlooms and Territorial Seeds all reported dramatic increases in demand, and ran out of some varieties early.  A farmer I know who raises seed as her main crop reported that she was fielding calls from companies she’s never dealt with before, trying to find stock.  I placed a late order to Fedco, only to find that nearly a quarter of my selections were already sold out.

It was inevitable that demand for land for ethanol should affect the seed trade – and because seeds are a lagging indicator – in the case of many biennial crops, one has to begin planning two year ahead – seed supplies are likely to remain affected for several years.  Moreover, the cost of inputs, including fertilizers remains high, and likely to affect seed production.  Farmers are among those most in danger of going out of business as credit lines get cut, and that includes seed growers.

Meanwhile economists are estimating month after month of a million US job losses.  My guess is that some of those millions of people are going to try and compensate for their lost income by growing some food.  We are likely to see more people trying to get ahold of seed – and already high prices, which will probably push some people out of the market.  My concern is that this is just one more sign of what I fear most in the Depression – the inability of food producers (including seed growers) to effectively connect with people who need food.  This was the crisis of the Depression – those who had food couldn’t afford to get it directly to those who needed it, and both were impoverished by the failure of that connection.  Given that we rely heavily on industrial middlemen in giant Agribusiness corporations, this seems even more likely.

What can and should you do?  Well, on a purely practical level, order early, and make space in your budget for higher seed costs if you can.  A lot of us put our seed catalogs aside until after the holidays – I won’t be doing that this year.  And consider donating extras to your local community garden – there will be more people who can’t afford seeds this year.

And make this the year you really commit to seriously learning how to save garden seeds – I  know it seem strange to most middle class Americans, but the world is full of people who can’t afford to buy seeds every year, and we may be joining them.  Moreover, seed savers have seed to share with their neighbors, and are a link in our community food security.  Join www.seedsavers.org, and commit to taking responsibility for one variety that may be lost – an economic crisis means that some of the people who have been doing this work may need to do other work, so we need to pick up the slack. 

Store your seed carefully, so that you make the best possible use of it.  Learn to start plants from seed – people on a budget can’t afford to waste money on transplants they can easily grow themselves. 

Support small seed companies like the ones mentioned above, particularly those that emphasize open-pollinated seeds, and do extensive variety trials and testing – we’re going to need them.  Do not allow them to be victims of the credit crisis.

If you farm, Fedco and likely others are seeking growers for seed varieties – this could be a win-win situation for people struggling to make money as farmers in this economy. 

Most of all, pay attention to the little seed.  Like many other tiny things, it is far more important than most people realize.

77 Responses to “Are We Seeing the Early Signs of a Seed Availability Crisis?”

  1. Anna Marie says:

    The past three years I’ve been growing all our veg from seed (I’m in the UK), and the one purchase that has been invaluable in this chilly climate is a heated propagator. I had no luck with starting Tomatoes, chilies, or aubergines (eggplants) in our wood-heated farmhouse without one. With that extra heat, I’ve had near 100% success…now if I can just prevent the mice from eating my newly planted pea seeds! I also ordered all my seeds early this year, as I read for the first time veg seeds have outsold flower seeds, and in gardening-obsessed Britain, that is a clear signal times are a changing.

    I’ve found good seeds at botanic gardens that have demonstration veg patches…usually very cheap, non hybrids, and excellent germination rates.

    Cheers,

    Anna

  2. Fern says:

    Dang, my first reply has gone into the bit bucket – I use the Ohio State University website glossary, it defines ‘heirloom’ as being a varity that goes back 100 years or more.

    I’d guess that allows heirloom apples into the mix, as apples don’t really breed true by seed.

    And I am wrong about the Rutgers tomato, it’s not a hybrid it’s a variety that some poor grad students spent 8 to 12 years creating … funded by Campbell’s company. During the depression.

  3. TexasBubbe says:

    I have to say, I found Bob’s first post very offensive, and his second even more so as the one thing he pointedly did NOT say was, “Sorry for having (unintentionally?) offended.”

  4. pat nixon says:

    Dear Sharon,

    Please do not let the Cretin Bob get you down- Nullus non carborundum[ Don't let the bastard grind you down.] I love your blog, and so does everyone I’ve shown this site to in my circle of friends.
    I read you daily- you are an excellent resource and writer.

    Yours, Pat

  5. Canadians may want to check out Salt Spring Seeds … I ordered from them last year (and again this year, *early*, as in, my seeds are already here!) and was extremely pleased. (They cannot ship across the border, so it’s Canadians Only, I’m afraid.)

    They are not a very large operation, so you’ll definitely want to order early. They are super good about substituting for varieties they haven’t got, and their customer service is excellent.

    Anyone who is active on the Homesteading Today discussion board might want to check out the Barter Board section … there are a couple of threads there with people offering seed for exchange – I have traded a bunch of calendula seeds for a variety of neat things, including okra (not exactly a staple food in Alberta) and some kefir grains (which are really neat!).

    Next thing I need is a book on seed saving techniques – I’m not sure how to harvest the seed from all the plants I have grown. Peas and beans I have down pat, but beets? carrots? lettuce?

    I let one of my lettuce plants bolt and I have some stuff that looks like it probably contains seeds. I’ll have to do some research. :)

  6. Lydia says:

    Sharon,

    Have you seen this book? Worth your while.

    Here is a link to the amazon page of this fantastic book on seeds.

    http://www.amazon.com/Garden-Seed-Inventory-Non-Hybrid-Vegetable/dp/1882424603

    For those of you who want to help save some of the varieties that are at risk of going by the wayside. This is essentially a research book, but do not let that scare you off, it is well organized and quite readable. Has become a bible for me. Whealy is the guy who started Seed Savers Exchange. This book lists all seed companies and all non-hybrid vegetable seeds available in the US and Canada.

    What amazed me the most and was like a brick between the eyes was how much commerce (the large Monsanto type) has affected diversity due to the desire to sell all types to all people and hence the march to mono culture in vegetables. Whealy states that 57% of all non-hybrid vegetable varieties offered by seed companies have been dropped since 1984!!! Due to his efforts and others this has since turned around but still greatly at risk.

    But I got to wondering if anyone had information about how many people each year since 1980 have stopped farming and gardening? Would the graph of that overlay in relation to the loss of seed variety? I do not know. Just a thought. Anyway this is an excellent book.

  7. gpurdum says:

    Several of the large mail-order nurseries that supply fruit trees are also selling out certain varieties much earlier than usual.

  8. Rosa says:

    Lydia, they have that book for sale through the Seed Savers Exchange, too.
    It looks awesome, but my order with them is already too large (lots of people on our Christmas list are getting gardening books.) I’ll have to request that our library get it.

  9. CR Lawn says:

    I don’t usually read and respond to blogs but this is hard to pass up. First, thank you, Sharon and Bob and others for stimulating a good discussion. Getting quoted is always good (love the free advertising!). However, it is fair to say that I was quoted somewhat out of context, and I am bemused by people wondering: just what was on CR’s mind? If you read my whole piece on our website or in our catalog, you will find that it comes closer to Bob’s interpretation (minus the loaded words) than Sharon’s. It is more about hope than about alarm. It is a plea to think rather than panic, an encouragement to buy the seeds that you need, but as I said about Y2K, I think hoarding more than you need is antisocial behavior that could turn predictions of a more serious shortage into a self-fulfilling prophecy. And, besides, it’s bad economics. Seeds are alive, usually deteriorate over time, and you don’t want to know what a high percentage of purchased seeds end up dying before they are ever planted. My metaphor is of a storm, not an apocalypse. Though storms can be quite violent, they are usually of short duration and typically followed by a marvelous cleansing of the air and a spectacular sunny day or days. Like bear markets, storms are about a correction from an overheated, imbalanced situation. Though I am not an unabashed admirer of capitalism, markets do have some self-correcting features. Take a look at what has happened to commodity prices recently. Oil and gasoline way down, corn and wheat very far below their overheated peaks. Look what happens when we as consumers make choices and reduce our profligacy at the pump! The increase in seed prices was probably overdue and the new prices a reflection of what it takes to produce high quality seed. In response to an increased demand, prices will increase, but that will also make it more attractive for would-be seed growers to come on to the market and supply the increased needs. I think it is great that more people want to garden and more want to learn the seed arts. It is a way to correct an over-centralized seed system that has become too dependent on multinationals, and to take back more control over the most fundamental of resources–seed, the source of our food. I do not expect seed prices to continue to spiral upward, but I don’t expect them to roll back the way oil and gasoline have done, either. Yes, there are seed shortages this year but mostly shortages of the niche varieties or the hot new items in the catalogs that everybody wants. I advise people to order those hot varieties early so they won’t be disappointed. But if you are flexible, willing to take substitutes, and to grow those old standbys that are still in many seed catalogs, you will find plenty still in stock in March. For every contract that was short, we’ve had growers who grew more than their contracts and in most cases, where the seed was of high quality, we bought the extra and will carry it over to another year if need be. No one is going to go hungry this year because they can’t put together a decent selection from our catalog–even if they wait till April! And we self-correct by increasing our contracts and finding more growers if our sales grow up. Do not despair, and don’t worry about our skills in managing our prices or finances, either. We’ve had 30 consecutive years in the black, and carefully consider our economic health in every decision we make. –cr lawn

  10. Bob Comis says:

    I realize that in terms of the calendar, this discussion has pretty much run its course, but I have been without power for a few days, so I couldn’t respond to Sharon’s last comment, and I would like to.

    Sharon, I didn’t realize that “apocalypse” was a significant and substantial word for you. I have been using it rather casually to denote a major/massive upheaval — the Great Depression in this sense was apocalyptic as it impoverished a wealthy nation basically overnight and caused the death by starvation of probably millions. In the same sense, our middle class suddenly finding itself literally unable to afford seeds would be apocalyptic. So, since apocalypse is an important word, and it seems even a technical word, for you, just drop the word and retain my sense and meaning of a major/massive upheaval.

    In spite of your clarifications, I still think that I am reading in your words something very different than a “sudden rush” that is analogous to the sorts of “sudden rushes” we see all of the time with ordinary economic objects of desire, and that really is the crux of our disagreement, as it is exactly where I see the sort of brutal pornographic excess (again, incline your thinking toward the gratuity and banality of American film violence as opposed to sexual pornography) that I originally tried to point out. Contextually, there is a great cloud of doom informing the meaning of your posts, even those posts which are meant to be rather level-headed, according to your previous comment, like the seed post. I, of course, am fabricating this contextual cloud out of the bulk of your text, but I suspect this fabrication is not untypical — I think what is untypical within your community of readers is that I think the cloud is brutally excessive while the majority of your readers do not, so they either do not see the cloud’s inescapable intrusiveness, or they simply feel it is warranted (from some of the comments it would appear that they think that your particular cloud is not brutal enough).

    Contextually-speaking, therefore, an Astyk post about “sudden rushes” does not *automatically* or *reflexively* mean a sudden rush akin to a typical sudden rush on a Christmas DVD or any other ordinary economic object of desire. Within the broader Astyk text, such an equivalence needs to be made expicit because the automatic equivalence within the broader Astyk text is to the sort of doomsday scenario where the sudden rush is a panicked scramble ahead of an economic tsunami that threatens not only to impoverish the vast majority of us, but to starve us as well — even, note, if we do get a hold of seeds, if those seeds are the poor quality supermarket rack hyrbids swept off of the packing house floor and not the good quality open-pollinated garden seeds (!).

    So, I think, finally, I have just said in what is hopefully a palatable way what I was trying to say in my first comment. Unfortunately that first comment was in language that was regrettably offensive to many, and for that I am sorry. (Note that I still stand by the descriptive force — and aptness — of that language; I only regret that it was found offensive. Within a theoretical context, the use of those words and the making of that sort of analogy is not offensive or out of the ordinary — I should have been more thoughtful of my audience)

    In the end, I think I need to accept that I don’t “get it,” and because I don’t get it, I will always feel that I am being put upon by your posts. That, however, is something for me to work out by myself. The public part of my relationship to your writing is the above, which has implicitly attempted to ask the question, Could your words do more good if they were not delivered within the context of a looming national trauma? Again, isn’t there some way to think about and talk about this stuff without feeling the need to scramble to stay ahead of that trauma? Is the idea of this trauma *necessary,* or is it, as I have argued, excessively gratuitous and banal, that is, pornographic? My critical impulse is that that is an important question for your writing, but, I admit, like you, that I might be wrong.

    (To those of you that have sort of dismissively attacked me in your comments, I am sorry that I have written in a way that has made my words so easily dismissed and attacked. I have spent a considerable amount of time on these comments trying to make what I think is an important point, relevant not only to Sharon’s writing, but to the broader Shit Hits the Fan culture. This was an effort to engage in a discussion/debate, not to use offensive words and ideas, *especially* paternalistically, or worse, misogynistically.)

  11. [...] 15, 2008 by Kate I wanted to point out this compelling article that predicts a widespread seed shortage and is a rallying cry to gardeners to grow and propagate [...]

  12. Sharon says:

    Bob, I hope your time without power wasn’t too unpleasant. And I honestly don’t have a problem with you critiquing me for the level of doominess in my writing. In fact, if you read my predictions today, you certainly have a case to make – I do indeed forsee a national trauma, and probably one more severe than most people see – clearly more severe than you do.

    It seems to me that the interpretive problem that divides us is what the order of events are. To me, the sudden rush that takes out the Colbert Christmas special and the sudden rush that take out supplies of good vegetable seeds are mechanically the same, and because they are market responses to suddenly discovering a new object of desire, they are both reasonably likely – if enough people see that Colbert is really funny, they will want his DVD. If enough people see that they need to grow a garden, they will want seeds. The difference will be in the end result – since no one actually needs Colbert DVDs, a shortage thereof will not be a problem. Since one might actually need seeds to eat, a shortage there would be a problem.

    For you, the apocalypticism of the prediction preceeds the events – my concern with seeds comes, it seems, from seeking disasters, and the very act of forseeing a supply problem is caused by a viewpoint that sees disaster everywhere. And that is a danger. From my perspective, the danger exists, whether articulated or not – and it is rendered more serious by not forseeing it, by not exploring the possibilities. To your perspective, focusing on the danger is gratuitous, to mine, it is a necessity created by events.

    I don’t think we’re going to agree here – and I guess I’m brought up to wonder whether you consider your own motivations as carefully as you consider mine (note, I don’t doubt you may, I’m genuinely asking) – because the identification of something a gratuitous or pornographic implies that there’s an objective possible answer to this, that you are capable of assigning. That is, you’ve chosen to view this not merely as a difference of opinion about how to approach a subject we probably basically agree about (ie, we need more diverse seed sources), but as something someone (you, potentially) can put a label on and describe accurately – that is, an Astyk post is or may be gratuitous. But I don’t see you describing your own disinclination to view things through my lens in the same absolute terms – you do not, for example, choose to label your own perspective, much less apply pejorative terminology to it.

    To you, I guess I’d ask “if the trauma is coming, do we genuinely improve anything by erasing it from the discourse?” I certainly don’t object to people who disagree with me, but I don’t think I’ve been anything but upfront and quite public about where my analysis has led me. Clearly, you don’t share my vision of the future – and there’s nothing wrong with that, lots of people don’t. But granting me my sincerity, do you sincerely think that if I’m right, we’d be better off not to discuss it? Because I think the question changes depending on what the anticipated reality is – that is you can ask “Could I do more good if I denied the looming national trauma that is actually going to happen” but I think that’s a less powerful and useful question than one that assumes I’m wrong about the course of events, and primarily electing to use the narrative of trauma to get my point across. To some degree, of course, even if we do descend to a Depression (again, I think saying that a situation that my grandparents and most other people’s survived and lived a tolerably decent life through is apocalyptic is overstating things quite radically, but we’ve agreed to switch terms – still I object to the substance of the idea that the trauma is so terribly unbearable that it becomes radically unlikely), you could make a case my analysis would be stronger if I denied or did not focus on the material circumstances of things. But would you? It truly seems to me that our difference is a difference of opinion – and that you do not want to attribute them to simply a difference of opinion about how events will unfold, but to either a gratuitous personal preoccupation with misery or a mistaken decision about how to influence people – that is, you want to attribute this to everything but what I sincerely believe it to be – the conviction that we are facing harder times than you expect.

    You are entitled to your opinion, and clearly this bothers you a great deal – for that I’m sincerely sorry. Time will tell about events – I would prefer that your analysis end up being the right one, quite sincerely. I wish I believed it were likely – in some senses, I think I’d prefer your analysis as well. I do feel that your posts here don’t really grant me a lot of good faith – they get into complex questions of motivation when a simple factual dispute is really at the root of things. And I still sincerely find that objectionable – and I think it undermines your critique. Obviously, I don’t like what you say, but I like to think that I take criticism seriously. But I find it hard to take seriously a critique that ultimately begins from a position of bad mutual faith, that says “my beliefs about what may happen and the way that shapes my opinions are legitimate, while Sharon’s are tainted with a pornographic fixation.”

    It is a pity, because I suspect that we do have a remarkable amount of common ground, and I find you an engaging person to argue with.

    Cheers,

    Sharon

  13. [...] too. It looks like we may also need that skill a little sooner than we had planned on. Take a look here at the post I told you about at the beginning. A short synopsis is that companies supplying seeds [...]

  14. Bob Comis says:

    Sharon,

    My time without power was actually rather pleasant. It has made me very much want to sever the cord, so to speak. My wife, however, has a very different feeling about the matter, and if I mention installing a new wood cook stove with a hot water reservoir, oil lamps, and a hand pump in the kitchen and a new well and hand pump in the barn one more time she might make me sleep in the barn with my new hand pump. There were large inconveniences having to do with water, light, and heat that made living without power for any length of time with our current set up rather onerous, but it did give me the opportunity to realize that with the proper set up, I think I would get along fine without power.

    Regarding the matter at hand, I must say that for the first time, I am having trouble following your argument. I do not see how I have been starting from a position of bad mutual faith or how I have been impugning your motivations. As far as I am concerned, I have not started from the position that my own beliefs about what may happen and my attendant opinions are legitimate and that yours are tainted with a pornographic fixation — although, I readily admit that I believe my beliefs and opinions are legitimate, but I do not think they are immune to criticism or unproblematic. My arguments about your text are derived from an analysis of your text (an analysis tainted and directed by my own beliefs and opinions, of course). According to that analysis, I believe that an *unintended* consequence of the results of your analysis has been this sort of (to me) negatively productive (it incites fear and direct actions in response to this fear [see more below on the motivation for action]) gratuitous and banal fixation on the idea of a national trauma, and that furthermore this trauma has become such a deep analytical artifact for you that it looms wherever you turn. In other words, I believe that mine has been substantive and not personal criticism. If you feel otherwise, and you obviously do, I have failed to adequately express myself and for that I apologize.

    As for my thoughts about your motivations about doing what you do, I have stated previously that I believe that you are sincerely motivated by a strong belief in the importance of seeing, thinking about, discussing, and acting in light of (the acting part is introduced here for the first time) the national trauma, and that this belief is based on some very serious and sustained analysis. I do not think you are acting in anything but the best interest of all of us.

    Having said that, I agree with you that we are going to have to agree to disagree on the question of the national trauma. You believe it is coming (is likely to come). I believe I do not know if it is coming (is likely to come). Your belief inclines you towards a certain mode of thinking and action. My belief inclines me towards a certain different mode of thinking and action.

    On the question of whether the national trauma will come, I am on the fence, so to speak — it may come, it may not come. Whether it will come is simply beyond my interpretive horizon, sort of like the question of the existence of God, and is therefore an uninteresting question for me. It either comes or it doesn’t come (God either exists or doesn’t exist) (I also do not rule out something in between or beyond the does or does not). I can analyze, interpret, and predict all that I want. The reality is that it either comes or it does not come, and it is chance, more than anything, that makes my analysis, interpretation, and prediction right or wrong. One could spend a lifetime learning to garden and care for goats, preserving food, stockpiling water and supplies, reducing one’s energy footprint to the head of a pin, and never have needed to do any of it in spite of every analytical sign pointing otherwise (the converse is true). Similarly, one could spend not one second in preparation for the trauma and find oneself cold, hungry, and shit out of luck when the trauma comes (the converse is true).

    This disinterested agnosticism in the face of these questions whose answers fall outside of my (our) interpretive horizon, then, is my motivation, and it is the ground upon which I root my labeling of your text (note that this is very much *not* objective). The thing about the trauma is that if it has not come, it is, and will always be, yet to come. It can loom infinitely. The national trauma, in this sense only, is perfectly analagous to God. Within this framework, your (broad) text strikes me as an analytical overshot. It is a gnostic text; it makes definite, certain claims about something that cannot be known. Note that I recognize two things about the above: 1) you do acknowledge that you might be wrong, and you do acknowledge that it might not come, and 2) regardless of whether I am right, you seem to think it is an important enough possibility to make the Pascalian wager.

    For me, however, acting as if the trauma is coming is just as bad as acting as if it is not coming. The trauma is not (to me) an appropriate ground for our actions, in the same way that (to me) God is not an appropriate ground for our actions. Rather than make the Pascalian wager and act as if the trauma is coming or as if God exists, I think we should live in the world in a way that renders the trauma (God) — the question of the trauma (God) — inconsequential, or, more grandiosely, undermines the conditions of possibility of the idea of the trauma (God). We should not live in the world in the ways that you advocate because the trauma might yet come, in the same way that we should not live a good life because God might exist. We should live a low energy, resource minimal, community-oriented life because it is a good way to live, not because we have an idea of the trauma, just as we should live a good life because it is a good way to live, not because we fear the consequences of our actions in a world where God exists. If we do so, then whether the trauma comes or God exists is of no consequence.

    In contrast to my motivation for living in the world in the ways you advocate, your motivation for living in the world this way is (as I read it as an analytical object of your text) to stay ahead of (or to survive) the trauma. As I read you, the trauma is a necessary motivating force in reorganizing (“adapting”) our way of life. It is the root upon which grows the Astykian future. The trauma gives birth to and feeds that future; it is the air that that future breathes, and it is in this sense that I find the idea of the trauma gratuitous and banal — the trauma! the trauma! You would have us act out of fear and anxiety, in spite of the fact that you also seem to view the trauma as a source for hope and rekindling human experience.

    Our major difference then is the difference between a negative and a positive life. The negative life is one of prevention, defense, and adaptation. The positive life is one of production, affirmation, and freedom from anxiety and fear of things that may be infinitely yet to come.

  15. Bob Comis says:

    By the way, I should point out just to show that I do not think I am not guilty of what I have accused you of that the fetishized object about which I should, could, would, have been, and will continue to be subject to the same critique of gratuitousness and banality is capitalism. I see *all* (nearly, anyway) of the world’s problems as a product of the irredeemable monstrosity of capitalism. I see it everywhere and in everything. Even here, however, I see a difference between your position and mine. Capitalism and its effects are here now, they are not potentially infinitely yet to come, although if capitalism has its way they will come infinitely.

  16. [...] I read on Sharon’s blog that some seeds are already sold out and that only augmented my paralysis. But yesterday I saw that both risa of Stony Run Farm and [...]

  17. [...] http://sharonastyk.com/2008/12/11/are-we-seeing-the-early-signs-of-a-seed-availability-crisis/ Category: Uncategorized You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site. Leave a Reply [...]

  18. Scott says:

    Thank you for this post, I thoroughly enjoyed it and feel it is an appropriate look at the issue of personal food production issues from a more concerned mind than my own. I “prepare for the worst and hope for the best” because it is the way that I was raised and I don’t prescribe much to the thought that the end as we know it is imminent. I do, however, see that even in the best possible scenario we are in for a bumpy ride with a minimum 2-3 year recovery period.

  19. [...] The rest is here:  Casaubon’s Book » Blog Archive » Are We Seeing the Early Signs of … [...]

  20. That is really nice….

    Sometimes it is just hard letting go of a certain part of your life….

  21. i blog pron says:

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  22. This is most definitely one of the best posts I have found on this subject. I would like to know if you have you considered the other side of the argument of natural health? Personally, I think a decent case could be made either way, but please let me know if you have found more sites or articles on the Internet to verify what you are saying.

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  24. I usually enjoy your posts but unfortunately this time you perhaps have been too hasty when writing because the article it seems rushed.

  25. Robb says:

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