Pre-figurative Farming

by Hamish Evans

This post explores the political nature of ecological farming, and how the transformation of the food system can take a prefigurative approach – bringing the future into the present.


One approach to the current ecological and food systems crisis is to oppose the industrial factory farms, to make them the enemy, to victimise beef farmers and the monoculture mass producers. This oppositional, reactionary approach is akin to a protest, and can play a role in the transformation of our food systems. But it is limited, and not sufficient. And it often targets the wrong people - farmers who have been forced into a systemic toxicity, rather than the governments that enable this, or the growth-centric economic system and its key corporate actors. However, there is a deeper critique embedded in the strategy of this approach. Even if the oppositional activism and protest actions were to target the right players and disrupt them sufficiently to force change, it would not magically create the conditions for a thriving ecological agriculture that sustains and nourishes flourishing communities of people and biodiversity. What is required is a propositional and prefigurative farming activism. Here I mean activism in the broadest sense. Community gardening, organic farming, guerrilla gardening, tree planting and ecological land trusts are examples, as well as the more traditional forms of political street level protest (e.g. direct action against Monsanto/Bayer headquarters).


Prefigurative activism means aligning the means and the ends of our activities. If we demand localised, ecological and biodiverse farming communities, then we must begin to create and experiment with these models, and hence bring them into the now, into a concrete (rather than abstract or theoretical) utopia. Prefiguration emerges from social movement studies, often associated with land worker movements like La Via Campesina, and also political prefiguration such as Occupy – where the decentralised, inclusive politics of a harmonious tomorrow was bought into the now through democratic occupations of town squares and banking high streets.


Very little, if any, research or academia has applied prefiguration explicitly to the new models that are needed in response to the ecological crisis of today. Prefigurative farming is one branch of this, whereby a movement of small-scale growers are creating and modelling the future reality in the present through active experimentation of models completely different to the dominant paradigm. However, these models are, to varying extents, operating within the shell of the old paradigm – for example a small organic farm struggling against the river current of capitalism and still selling fresh organic produce at competitive rates.


This is a gritty and determined prefiguration that creates a model so abundant and beautiful that it renders the dominant model obsolete. What if these local farming communities and ecologies were replicated in a million global villages, and they reached a tipping point whereby the norm was to shop at the local farmers market rather than the supermarket. We may be forced into this, when the global food system breaks and supermarkets run out of food (they only stock enough for 3 days!), or we can consciously choose this path in a planned transition from scarcity and emptiness to abundance and belonging.


At this critical juncture, at the tipping point when ecological farming is building a better model, it has potential to displace global capitalist food production systems (which do not serve personal, community or planetary health). This paradigm shift is one which happens in the now, through prefigurative farming, and gritty propositional solution-activism, combined with the necessary political and economic protest that opposes the existing paradigm in an oppositional way.


The intersection of opposition and proposition are where the fruits of transformation can ripen, and the harvest belongs to the people, the future beings and the regenerating ecologies that this prefigurative movement is driven by.


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