Saturday, December 13, 2014

"Womb days womb days, dear ol' tummy-tomb days..."

In his groundbreaking 1970 book "Expanded Cinema", Gene Youngblood is the first author to make the case for video as an art form.  Bucky Fuller wrote the introduction to the book.  Following are the opening paragraphs of that intro.
"At all times nowadays, there are approximately 66 million human beings around Earth who are living comfortably inside their mothers' wombs. The country called Nigeria embraces one-fourth of the human beings of the great continent of Africa. There are 66 million Nigerians. We can say that the number of people living in Wombland is about the same as one-fourth the population of Africa. This 66 million Womblanders tops the total population of either West Germany's 58 million, the United Kingdom's 55 million, Italy's 52 million, France's 50 million, or Mexico's 47 million. Only nine of the world's so-called countries (China, India, Soviet Union, United States, Indonesia, Pakistan, Japan, and Brazil) have individual populations greater than our luxuriously-living, under-nine-months old Womblanders.

Seemingly switching our subject, but only for a moment, we note that for the last two decades scientists probing with electrodes have learned a great deal about the human brain. The brain gives off measurable energy and discrete wave patterns disclosed by the oscillograph. Specific, repetitive dreams have been identified by these wave patterns. The neurological and physiological explorers do not find it extravagant to speculate that we may learn that what humanity has thus far spoken of mystifiedly as telepathy, science will have discovered, within decades, to be ultra-ultra high-frequency electro-magnetic wave propagations.

All good science fiction develops realistically that which scientific data suggests to be imminent. It is good science fiction to suppose that a superb telepathic communication system is inter-linking all those young citizens of worldaround Wombland. We intercept one of the conversations: "How are things over there with you?" Answer: "My mother is planning to call me either Joe or Mary. She doesn't know that my call frequency is already 7567-00-3821." Other: "My mother had better apply to those characters Watson, Crick, and Wilkerson for my call numbers!" And another of their 66 million Womblanders comes in with, "I'm getting very apprehensive about having to 'go outside.' We have been hearing from some of the kids who just got out— They say we are going to be cut off from the main supply. We are going to have to shovel fuel and pour liquids into our systems. We are going to have to make our own blood. We are going to have to start pumping some kind of gas into our lungs to purify our own blood. We are going to have to make ourselves into giants fifteen times our present size. Worst of all, we are going to have to learn to lie about everything. It's going to be a lot of work, very dangerous, and very discouraging." Answer: "Why don't we strike? We are in excellent posture for a 'sit-down.'" Other: "Wow! What an idea. We will have the whole population of worldaround Wombland refuse to go out at graduation day. Our cosmic population will enter more and more human women's wombs, each refusing to graduate at nine months. More and more Earthian women will get more and more burdened. Worldaround consternation— agony.  We will notify the outsiders that, until they stop lying to themselves and to each other and give up their stupid sovereignties and exclusive holier-than-thou ideologies, pollutions, and mayhem, we are going to refuse to come out. Only surgery fatal to both the mothers and ourselves could evacuate us."

Another: "Great! We had might as well do it. If we do come out we will be faced with the proliferation of Cold War's guerrillerized killing of babies for psycho-shock demoralization of worldaround innocent communities inadvertently involved in the abstruse ideological warfare waged by diametrically opposed, equally stubborn, would-be do-gooder, bureaucratic leaders and their partisans who control all of the world's means of production and killing, whose numbers (including all the politically preoccupied individuals around the Earth) represent less than one per cent of all humanity, to whose human minds and hearts the politicos and their guns give neither satisfaction nor hope. Like the women in Lysistrata who refused intercourse with their men until they stopped fighting, we Womblanders would win."

Saturday, December 06, 2014

The search for economic freedom

In her important new book "This Changes Everything", Naomi Klein argues that we will not be able to avoid the worst-case climate change scenario if we continue to work within the "current rules of capitalism".

She suggests that one critical step towards escaping the clutches of capitalism and create a more equitable society would be to establish a Guaranteed Minimum Income - a system that guarantees that all citizens or families have an income sufficient to live on, provided they meet certain conditions.

The concept of the National Dividend was invented by engineer C. H. Douglas between 1916 and 1920 and subsequently modified by poet Ezra Pound and Buckminster Fuller. The basic idea (although Douglas, Pound, and Fuller differ on the details) is that every citizen should be declared a shareholder in the nation, and should receive annual dividends on the Gross National Product for the year over and above their earnings, to help bridge the gap between purchasing power and prices.

Bucky Fuller was quick to point out that the very notions of humans "having to earn a living" and governments' fixation on having to create jobs run counter to evolution which is fast-tracking humans towards increased unemployment as we learn (of necessity) how to do "more and more using less and less."

“We should do away with the absolutely specious notion that everybody has to earn a living. It is a fact today that one in ten thousand of us can make a technological breakthrough capable of supporting all the rest. The youth of today are absolutely right in recognizing this nonsense of earning a living. We keep inventing jobs because of this false idea that everybody has to be employed at some kind of drudgery because, according to Malthusian Darwinian theory he must justify his right to exist. So we have inspectors of inspectors and people making instruments for inspectors to inspect inspectors. The true business of people should be to go back to school and think about whatever it was they were thinking about before somebody came along and told them they had to earn a living.”

An interesting approach to achieving some measure of economic freedom by sharing the wealth of the commons can be found in a proposal put forward by Peter Barnes in his book "Who Owns The Sky: Our Common Assets and the Future of Capitalism".

The Tree Media Group is in the process of crowd-funding a film "Total Freedom" that explains why the time has come for an Unconditional Basic Income for All.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

What he was trying to do

In 1959 Bucky Fuller was asked by the Marquis Publishing Company to state "in one unpunctuated sentence" exactly what he was trying to do in life. He responded with a 100-word sentence. That comes as no surprise to anyone familiar with Bucky - especially those who were fortunate enough to see and hear him in person.  Over the years, Bucky refined and rewrote his sentence.  His final 3,000-word version was published in 1976 in his book "And It Came To Pass Not To Stay".  Following is a 200 word iteration that appeared in an issue of Saturday Review in 1962 in response to a request by Norman Cousins. (GW)

What I Am Trying To Do
R. Buckminster Fuller (1962)

"Acutely aware of our beings’ limitations and acknowledging the infinite mystery of the a priori Universe into which we are born but nevertheless searching for a conscious means of hopefully competent participation by humanity in its own evolutionary trending while employing only the unique advantages inhering exclusively to those individuals who take and maintain the economic initiative in the face of the formidable physical capital and credit advantages of the massive corporations and political states and deliberately avoiding political ties and tactics while endeavoring by experiments and explorations to excite individuals’ awareness and realization of humanity’s higher potentials I seek through comprehensive anticipatory design science and its reductions to physical practices to reform the environment instead of trying to reform humans, being intent thereby to accomplish prototyped capabilities of doing more with less whereby in turn the wealth augmenting prospects of such design science regenerations will induce their spontaneous and economically successful industrial proliferation by world around services’ managements all of which chain reaction provoking events will both permit and induce humanity to realize full lasting economic and physical success plus enjoyment of all the Earth without one individual interfering with or being advantaged at the expense of another."

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Wake up call

Back in August of 2006 when I launched my blog "12 Degrees of Freedom", Facebook did not exist.  In fact, many of my current Facebook friends were originally followers of my blog.  "12 Degrees" went into "hibernation" three days before I was sworn in as Massachusetts commissioner of Agriculture (March 29, 2012).  I felt that as an appointed state official is was best to keep my personal opinions to myself.

As you can see, my giant panda friend Max, has awakened from his prolonged siesta.  This just happens to coincide with the election of a new governor here in Massachusetts.

Coincidence?  Who knows?

There's  been no official word yet, though I learned long ago that it's best to be anticipatory at times like this.  Should/when the word comes down that there will be a new commish on the block, I look forward to firing up "12 Degrees of Freedom" again, but with a slightly different format - more experience-based commentary and opinion. I'm feeling a bit rusty, but hopefully will be able to ease back into this.

Hopefully those who found it worthwhile during its first six years will continue to find it relevant.  I am absolutely convinced that the the wisdom, insights and strategies of Bucky Fuller and other selfless whole systems practical visionaries who are committed to building a world that works for everyone will finally capture the public's attention and be embraced.

I will continue to contribute whatever I can toward that goal at whatever table I'm invited to sit at or am able to gracefully crash.  To paraphrase Bucky: "We are all terrific bundles of experience".

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Time to hibernate

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Landless Liberation Movement

Many in the U.S. consider being arrested for a vocal protest or sit-in as an extreme - even heroic - bit of activism. In many other parts of the world, standing up and acting for what you believe is often a matter of life and death. (GW)

Brazilian activists' murders may be linked to land dispute

Police investigate whether shooting of three rural activists was linked to efforts to win land also contested by sugar mill owners

Associated Press in Sao Paulo
27 March 2012 03.31 EDT

Brazilian police are investigating whether the fatal shooting of three rural activists was linked to their effort to win rights to land also contested by owners of a sugar mill.

The activists were shot on Saturday as they got out of a car near a landless workers' camp in the south-western Minas Gerais state.

A five-year-old girl, the granddaughter of two of those who were killed, survived the attack. No one has been arrested, a police spokesman said.

Watchdog groups said police were questioning land activists about the possibility the killings could have resulted from an internal conflict within their movement. The groups rejected that idea and accused landowners of paying gunmen to shoot the activists.

Carlos Calazans, head of the Minas Gerais branch of the federal department of land reform, known as Incra, said police were looking into the land dispute as a possible motive.

"It's definitely one of the theories for the motive behind this barbarous crime," he said. "I've no doubt these activists were summarily executed. But police have to follow all leads until they find the truth."

Calazans said the killed couple approached Incra last year seeking support in various land conflicts in the region, including the one with the mill owners. He said Incra tried to get the owners and activists to agree on the issue a few weeks ago, but the effort was unsuccessful.

Killings over land in Brazil are common, and people rarely face trial for the crimes.

The watchdog group Catholic Land Pastoral says more than 1,150 rural activists have been murdered in Brazil over the past 20 years. The killings are mostly carried out by gunmen hired by loggers, ranchers and farmers to silence protests over illegal logging and land rights, it says. Most of the killings happen in the Amazon region.

Fewer than 100 cases have gone to court since 1988, Catholic Land Pastoral says. About 80 of the hired gunmen have been convicted, while 15 of the men who hired them were found guilty, and only one is currently in prison.

According to Incra, those killed on Saturday were Clestina Leonor Sales Nunes, 48; Milton Santos Nunes da Silva, 52; and Valdir Dias Ferreira, 39.

The girl was apparently the only witness to the killings, which were carried out along a highway near the camp, about 25 miles (40km) south-east of Uberlandia. She told police a car cut off the one she was riding in with the victims, forcing it to stop. Either one or two gunmen then opened fire.

A statement on the Catholic Land Pastoral's website described the three victims as state leaders of the Landless Liberation Movement, one of several rural activist groups that invade land and set up camp, living on what they say is unproductive ground.

Brazil's agrarian reform laws allow the government to seize fallow farmland and distribute it to landless farmers. Nearly 50% of arable land belongs to 1% of the population, according to the government's statistics agency.

The latest killings come just before the month that landless worker movements typically step up invasions of what they say is unused land. The seizures are meant to mark the April 1996 killing of 19 landless activists in Para state.

Monday, March 26, 2012

"Being a farmer in California is worse than going to Las Vegas"

This story could very well be a preview of one of the scariest climate change scenarios that could unfold in the not-to-distant future. (GW)

California Farmers Feel Pain

Water Allowance Cut Amid Unusually Dry Winter, Choking Key Region's Rebound

By Jim Carlton
Wall Street Journal
March 25, 2012

FIVE POINTS, Calif.—Sharp cutbacks in water for farmers threaten to trigger renewed layoffs in a large swath of California, eating into the state's $40 billion-a-year agriculture industry and damping its nascent economic recovery.

Amid an unusually dry winter, managers of the federal Central Valley Project, which delivers mountain water for agriculture, late last month announced an initial reduction in farmers' water allowance for this year to 30% of the allotment in the driest southern reaches of the valley, down from 85% last year. Now farmers and local agriculture officials are taking in the economic impact they face.

"Being a farmer in California is worse than going to Las Vegas," said Mark Borba, as he inspected a barren field he may leave without crops this year because of the water reductions. Mr. Borba, co-owner of Borba Farms, which gets water from the district, expects to reduce his cotton crop by 38% to 1,480 acres from 2,400 last year.

The Central Valley, which is 450 miles long and about 50 miles wide, is home to most of California's agriculture industry. With much of the valley semi-arid, farms there for decades have depended on irrigated water from the Northern California mountains, but those supplies have long been subject to sharp fluctuations. Environmental regulations have made the water supplies from year to year even more unpredictable.

The mountain snowpack stood at 45% of normal as of last Wednesday, compared with 139% a year ago, according to official estimates. Reservoirs remain full enough from 2011 precipitation so that restrictions aren't expected to spread to the household water tap yet, officials said.

But cutbacks to farms could slow the state's overall recovery. While agriculture accounts for only a fraction of California's roughly $1.9 trillion economy, the sector employs hundreds of thousands of workers, whose spending ripples out to the broader economy.


The Central Valley —which became the epicenter of California's real-estate crash and still stands in contrast to the improving coastal cities—will take the biggest hit. The valley's farm belt was so badly damaged by recession and drought that its unemployment rate remained as high as 19.5% in January, compared with 10.9% for the state and 8.3% for the nation, according to Labor Department estimates.

Farmers, who have some of the weakest water rights in the state, say the system is inadequate, without the storage facilities to bank enough water in wet years. Some also blame federal restrictions like the one on pumping in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta to protect species such as the endangered smelt. Meanwhile, some environmentalists say farmers could conserve more and shouldn't be growing water-guzzlers like cotton.

During the last drought, in 2009, a cutback in water allocations to as low as under 10% of the allotment resulted in 285,000 acres going fallow and the loss of 9,800 agricultural jobs, for a $340 million loss in farm-related revenues, according to a study by the University of California at Davis.

Here in Fresno County, farmer Todd Allen said he was able to plant only 40 of his 600 irrigated acres with wheat that year, leaving the rest fallow. In 2011, there was enough water to plant all 600 acres with wheat, cotton and onions. But he said with the new cutbacks he will reduce his acreage to 450 this year, and perhaps to zero in 2013, which would force him to lay off his four employees.

Harris Farms plans to reduce its cotton crop to zero this year from 2,003 acres last year, said John Harris, chairman and chief executive of the 14,000-acre operation. That would translate into 68,696 fewer work hours this year, a loss of $755,480 in wages, according to estimates by Harris Farms. After receiving more water in 2011, payroll jumped 46% to $12.97 million from $8.87 million in 2010, the family-owned company said.

Businesses that depend on farms also are bracing themselves. At Kern Machinery in Bakersfield, general manager Clayton Camp said sales of tractors and other farm equipment could fall "20% to 25%" this year from 2011, when they had increased by single digits from 2010. Less water "will be a direct hit on our sales," Mr. Camp said.

In Firebaugh, Cathy Jones, a saleswoman at Westside Ford, said the dealership's revenues probably will drop this year after an increase in the sales rate to 25 vehicles a month from 16 in 2009. She said the sales rate had been 35 to 40 vehicles a month in 2008. She said the sales rate had been 35 to 40 vehicles a month in 2008. "Next year will be the rough year for us," Ms. Jones said.

Mr. Allen, the farmer, offered a starker assessment. "Without water," he said, "I'm worth nothing, basically."

Write to Jim Carlton at

Friday, March 23, 2012

Northeast enegy vulnerability

The most densely populated region in the U.S. is also the most vulnerable when it comes to energy. (GW)

Why Next Winter’s Heat Could Be Costly in New York

By David Bird
Wall Street Journal
March 23, 2012

State energy officials in New York aren’t planning to delay the July 1 switch to ultra-low sulfur diesel fuel for use as heating oil, but they are monitoring the fallout from refinery shutdowns that have triggered warnings of price spikes.

New York’s switch to ultra-low sulfur diesel, now used to power trucks and trains, would boost demand by 70,000 barrels a day, according to an estimate from the Energy Information Administration, with the demand spiking in the winter.

States throughout the Northeast are requiring the move from higher-sulfur heating oil in order to reduce pollution, and New York has the earliest implementation date.

Kate Muller, spokeswoman for the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, said the agency picked July 1 to allow a build up of heating oil supplies during the summer-time off-season for heating demand. ”NYSERDA will monitor fuel supplies prior to the heating season to determine [ultra-low sulfur diesel] availability,” she said in an email.

According to the state law requiring the switch to ultra-low sulfur diesel fuel, suspension of the requirement would need an executive order from the governor, Muller said.

Prices of ultra-low sulfur diesel fuel — already at record highs for this time of year — could spike higher if Sunoco goes ahead with plans to shut its 335,000-barrels-a-day Philadelphia refinery in July if no buyer is found, federal forecasters warned this week.

The plant made up 24% of the refining capacity on the densely populated East Coast as of August, the EIA said. Its closure, combined with other changes at plants elsewhere, would reduce refining capacity in the Northeast by 50%.

The EIA also warned that logistical problems caused by refinery closures will present difficulties in getting petroleum-product supplies to markets in western New York and could potentially push prices up sharply.

The Northeast can’t add much more volume. Potential for tanker shipments from the Gulf Coast to the New York Harbor region are limited, due to a law allowing only vessels that are U.S.-built and U.S.-crewed to ply the coast. Just 1% of global tankers meet that requirement, and costs to charter such ships are two to three times more than foreign-flag vessels.

New York state’s switch to ultra-low sulfur diesel for heating oil, beginning in July, is leading a change that will take place in the coming years throughout the region. Other states such as New Jersey, Massachusetts and Vermont are making the switch beginning in 2014.

Heating oil use in New York has averaged around 70,000 barrels a day, but seasonal winter spikes lift demand to as much as 170,000 barrels a day. The EIA said last month the number of homes in the Northeast using heating oil is expected to drop 3% this winter, amid a switch to natural-gas fired heating.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Water stall

When China announced that it was entering the offshore wind energy arena and set some ambitious goals, it was assumed by many that they would simply do whatever it took to meet them. The assumption underlying that assumption being, the "Chinese government" can do whatever it wants to do - wherever and whenever it pleases. Apparently, that's not exactly how things get done there. (GW)

Longyuan's 200MW China offshore project stuck in limbo

March 17, 2012

Longyuan, China’s largest wind developer, is still waiting for government approval for a 200MW offshore project awarded in 2010, says the company’s chief engineer.

The company won a tender for the project at Dafeng, Jiangsu province in the first round of offshore concessions issued by China’s National Energy Administration.

However the wind farm has been severely delayed by objections to the proposed location raised by the State Ocean Administration (SOA).

Discussions with the SOA are still ongoing, Yang Xiaosheng, Longyuan’s chief engineer tells a conference in Beijing.

“We changed to a new place, and then to another place, and now a year has lapsed and it seems we have to find another new place,” he says.

None of the four offshore concession projects have started installation though two are expected to start soon, adds Yang.

The delays have raised concerns that China will not meet its goal of installing 5GW of offshore wind power by 2015.

China has only installed just over 200MW of offshore wind power to date. This includes the 102MW Shanghai Donghai bridge project completed in 2010 and Longyuan’s 99MW inter-tidal demonstration project at Rudong, Jiangsu province, connected early this year.

Yi Yuechun, deputy chief engineer at China Water Resources and Hydropower Planning and Design Institute, says the country has 43GW of offshore wind resources that could be exploited. So far, 16.5GW, or 38 projects, are in early stage development.
“If we don’t make it clear soon where the other 3GW will come from, it will be hard to reach the target for 2015,” he says.

Analysts at Bloomberg New Energy Finance expect China to significantly increase offshore installations from next year, when it will install around 400MW, before reaching cumulative capacity of just over 4GW by 2015.

However this depends on additional national concession projects being awarded this year, says Demi Zhu, BNEF analyst.

The National Energy Administration (NEA) was scheduled to hand out another 1.5GW - 2GW of tenders last year but the process has been delayed. It is scheduled to be released in the first half of this year.

Yang also cautioned against rushing development of China’s offshore market, urging the government to control the pace of new installations.

“There’s still a long way to go to reach maturity. We need to build large offshore construction bases to create economies of scale. Otherwise projects will be too small and the costs too high and there will be disorderly development,” he says.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Udderly challenging

Ahh.. remember the good old days when the price of milk was determined, in part, by the distance you were from Eau Claire, Wisconsin? Some thought that was a pretty complicated pricing system. Now milk is sold in the global marketplace and it's truly a miracle that small dairy farmers still exist. (GW)

Even Dairy Farming Has a 1 Percent

New York Times
March 6, 2012

Last month, after immersing myself in Brooklyn’s artisanal-food scene, I felt the need that many in my home borough have these days: to get out on a farm and smell the manure. So I drove an hour and a half southwest of New York City to spend the day with three generations of dairy farmers.

Bob Fulper, 85, was born on what is now Fulper Farms in West Amwell Township, N.J. So was his son, Robert, 54, who currently runs the place with the help of his brother, Fred, who is 51. Robert’s daughter, Breanna, 24, recently graduated from Cornell with a degree in dairy management. Breanna would like to lead the family business into the next generation, but she realizes it might not be financially possible. The modern dairy farm, it turns out, represents many of the volatile and confusing trends that have roiled the U.S. economy over the last decade.

This, despite the fact that dairy farming has become shockingly more productive. When Bob was a kid, during the Depression, he and his 10 siblings milked the family’s 15 cows by hand and produced 350 pounds’ worth of milk per day. By the time Robert was a teenager, in the 1970s, the farm had grown to 90 cows — all of which were milked automatically through vacuum technology — and sold around 4,000 pounds of milk per day. Now the Fulpers own 135 cows, which produce more than 8,000 pounds of milk.

So the farm should be more lucrative, right? Robert showed me exactly how much money he and his brother made last year, an unusually profitable one for the dairy industry. He asked me not to reveal the number, but let’s put it this way: Robert and Fred start work at 4:30 a.m., finish at 7 p.m. and trade Sundays off. If you divide their 2011 profit by their weekly hours, they earn considerably less than minimum wage. Unlike in their father’s day, they have little money left over to invest in new equipment. One of their computers runs on MS-DOS.

How could Robert and Fred — who produce so much more milk than their dad — end up making less money? There are a number of reasons, some obvious, others less so. Milk went from a local industry to a national one, and then it became international. The technological advances that made the Fulpers more productive also helped every other dairy farm too, which led to ever more intense competition. But perhaps most of all, in the last decade, dairy products and cow feed became globally traded commodities. Consequently, modern farmers have effectively been forced to become fast-paced financial derivatives traders.

This has prompted a significant and drastic change. For most of the 20th century, dairy farming was a pretty stable business. Cows provide milk throughout the year, so farmers didn’t worry too much about big seasonal swings. Also, at base, dairy-farming economics are simple: when the cost of corn and soybeans (which feed the cows) are low and milk prices are high, dairy farmers can make a comfortable living. And for decades, the U.S. government enforced stable prices for feed and for milk, which meant steady, predictable income, shaken only by disease or bad weather. “You could project your income within 5 to 10 percent without trying too hard,” says Alan Zepp, a dairy-farm risk manager in Pennsylvania.

But by the early aughts, to accommodate global trade rules and diminishing political support for agricultural subsidies, the government allowed milk prices to follow market demand. People in other parts of the world — notably China and India — also became richer and began demanding more meat and dairy products. Animal feed, especially corn and soybeans, became globally traded commodities with all the impossible-to-predict price swings of oil or copper. Today Robert can predict his profit or loss next month with all the certainty that you or I can predict the stock market or gas prices. During my visit, Robert said that his success this year will be determined by, among other things, China’s unpredictable economic growth, the price of gas (influenced, of course, by events in Iran and Syria) and the weather in New Zealand (a major milk exporter), where a drought can send prices skyrocketing.

There are ways to manage, and even profit from, these new risks. The markets offer a stunning range of complex agricultural financial products. Dairy farmers (or, for that matter, anybody) can buy and sell milk and animal-feed futures, which allow them to lock in favorable prices, hedge against bad news in the future and so forth. There’s also a new product that combines feed and milk futures into one financial package, allowing farmers to guarantee a minimum margin no matter what happens to commodity markets down the road.

The Fulpers, like most people, are too busy with their day jobs to truly monitor the markets. But dairy farming has its own 1 percent: that tiny sliver of massive farms, with thousands of cows, that make the biggest profits and are better equipped to pay agriculture-futures experts to help them manage risk. They continue to invest and grow. Unable to keep up with the changes, many smaller farms have gone out of business in the past decade.

Robert Fulper says that he and his brother have done a good job keeping their farm alive and healthy during this chaotic time, just as their father transformed the tiny, Depression-era farm into a solid, modern business. Now “the next generation is going to have to figure some things out,” Robert says, looking at his daughter, Breanna. The good news is that she’s already trying. While at Cornell, Breanna used her family farm as a case study and developed a business plan to profit from their proximity to New York City and northeastern New Jersey. She began a summer camp in which kids spend a week caring for cows, learning about agriculture and running around a huge open space for $425 per week. Now the camp is almost as profitable as a year of milking cows. “That summer-camp program put me through Cornell,” Breanna says with a laugh. She’s also negotiating with a cheesemaker to turn their milk into high-value Fulper-branded cheese.

Bob, her grandfather, told me a number of hysterical, unprintable farm jokes during my visit, but he turned pensive when it came to his farm’s future. When times were bleak, he said, it used to be possible to work your way out of the problem. “You just stay in the cowshed longer, work harder,” he says. Now, he realizes, “if you don’t use your head, your hands aren’t gonna help you.” And even then, you might not make it.

Adam Davidson is the co-founder of NPR's Planet Money, a podcast, blog, and radio series heard on “Morning Edition,” “All Things Considered” and “This American Life.”