by John McClaughry
John Klar, the lawyer/farmer from Brookfield has just published his book “Small Farm Republic: Why Conservatives Must Embrace Local Agriculture, Reject Climate Alarmism, and Lead an Environmental Revival” (White River Jct. : Chelsea Green, 2023).
While the subtitle is clearly intended to speak to “conservatives”, including libertarians and various types of decentralists across the political spectrum, those concerned about Vermont’s future who don’t consider themselves “conservatives” should read it nonetheless, because the path it charts offers a meeting ground for all but what Klar describes as “carbon cult doomsday advocates.”
John Klar admits he was born in Connecticut but in his youth regularly stayed at his present farm in Brookfield, Vermont “where my [single parent] mother’s family had farmed for six generations until bulk tank and other unaffordable regulatory requirements drove them out.”
John was what one might call a trail hiking fanatic, all over the U.S but especially in the White Mountains. He earned a law degree and practiced tax law in the UK and in Connecticut. In 1988 he was suddenly stricken with Lyme disease and fibromyalgia, and became unable to continue his law practice.
He relocated with his “crazy horse person” RN wife Jackie to small, working dairy farms in Barton and Irasburg, and in 2019 removed to part of the maternal family homestead in Brookfield. That hands-on experience as a small farmer – dairy, pigs, produce, feed – sold John on the economic, cultural and political benefits of what he calls the “small farm republic”. He became, in his words, an “agripublican.”
From his perspective, America faces an environmental challenge far more immediate and dangerous than any single-minded attack on fossil fuels to reduce global carbon dioxide emissions in an effort to stop global temperatures from increasing by another degree or two C by the end of the century.
Says he, “Local and regenerative farming practices reverse the climate and soil crises, reverse water depletion, and turn around the economic and cultural decline of rural communities. They reduce harms to human health from chemicals, preservatives, early harvesting (which deprives produce of vital nutrients), antibiotics, hormones, pathogens, nutrition deficiency and so on; lessen inhumane treatment of animals during life and slaughter, and mitigate negative consequences of globalization, including related threats to national security.”
“They also reduce American dependency on immense industrial producers and processors, ports, distributors, and retailers for food while building public trust in Republicans to offer sincere and effective solutions to observable environmental harms.” He is a dedicated fan of cattle: “Ruminants comprise an integral link in sustainable agriculture and converting industrial meat production to rotational grass-based methodology is the best single tool to mitigate climate change.”
Klar doesn’t challenge the arguments for addressing climate issues, but he is scathingly critical of the Democrats’ solution of choice, the multi-trillion dollar Green New Deal. “The grotesque inadequacies, even counterproductive harms, proposed by the Green New Deal are apparent. Conservatives must lead the charge to fashion methods to counter the destructive profiteering that has dominated food production, and the deteriorating American environmental landscape, for over a hundred increasingly destructive years.”
In a paragraph that really ought to wake up liberals, Klar writes “the ‘Green Revolution’ was really about selling chemicals, agricultural machinery, and engineered seeds (and plunging farmers into destructive debt), [and] so is this climate-rescuing spin about peddling solar panels, EVs, and other technologies to which a handful of profiteers will make a quick bundle at the expense of true change.” That’s certainly grist for a Michael Moore follow-on exposé to “Planet of the Humans”.
Can America, heavily urbanized, possibly revert to adequately feed itself through millions of environmentally sensitive small farms? “Small Farm Republic” falls short of making a believable case for it. Nor does it explain how millions of people working in America’s vast food creation, processing and distribution system can find other ways to make a living. This former tax lawyer’s policy recommendations, aside from deregulating small farms, tend to resemble the subsidy-ridden, tax credit fueled Green New Deal turned upside down.
But that said, Klar’s writing is well informed, lucid, and passionate. If it opens the eyes of both conservatives and liberals to the problems inherent in mega-agriculture, his book will become a valuable and timely addition to the works of Wendell Berry and Joel Salatin, both inspirations and enthusiasts for the book.
The author, a Kirby resident, is founder and vice-president of the Ethan Allen Institute. To read all EAI news and commentary, go to www.ethanallen.org.