, 70 tweets, 14 min read
My Authors
Read all threads
it's happening folks

time to talk about agrarianism in the United Federation of Planets send tweet
Ok so first off there are little nods to agrarianism- the idea that farming is the ideal lifestyle, and that there are "rural values" that are both different from those of urban areas and also inherently better- all over in Star Trek.
Who's the smartest person on Starfleet Academy campus?

Boothby the gardener.

Giving the Federation a gardener for its moral guidance is an aesthetic choice. It says "this might be sci-fi where we've eliminated survival labor, but somehow we're still down to earth."
Gardeners are great, but I had this job for a while and let me just say we are also subject to moral foibles.

I would live for a sci fi universe where space captains get their moral guidance from plumbers. "Tell us what to do when the shit hits the fan, pipe daddy" they say.
Ok I'm actually gonna digress on plumbing for a minute

Plumbing is arguably MORE key to life support than farming, esp on a starship. But in the Star Trek universe it's treated like a joke. This is a reflection on real life where farming's revered but sanitation is unspeakable.
Anyway back to agrarianism in Star Trek

Captain Kirk is from Iowa because that tells us he is down-to-earth. Like, a REAL man. It's v important to the theme of TOS that Kirk is the Most Authentic Guy Ever, & Iowa is a symbol of authenticity (see also: US presidential primaries).
Let's look at some pics from the reboot. Kirk was born in 2233, so this car chase takes place around 2240-2245.

While y'all were watching the FX I was checking out the cornfields and let me tell you, THE IMPLICATIONS ARE STAGGERING
1) Iowa is still dominated by corn monoculture in 2240. The scene where Kirk motorcycles to the Enterprise being built IN A CORNFIELD (0:25:00, iTunes won't let me screenshot) clearly shows straight rows w no intercrop, confirming corn monoculture still in place in 2250-2255.
2) Corn monoculture in the 2250s implies we haven't figured out any better way to do it, which is kind of a bummer. The current corn/soybeans regime feels eternal & inevitable, but it's only been around for about 100 years.

agprofessional.com/article/how-di…
3) Corn monoculture implies bulk markets for starch, fuel, alcohol, &/or livestock, in a Federation where these needs are theoretically met by replicator & advanced engines. Not only is corn a platform @SwiftOnSecurity, it's still a platform in the 2250s.

WHEN WILL THE LIES STOP
3) Small sample size (we only have a couple shots of 2250s Iowa farm country), but no soybeans are seen. Where did they go? Do we just ... not need to eat protein or rotate crops anymore?
4) Corn pollen is sterile above ~95°F. Small rises in average global temperature may keep midwest corn from setting a crop.

Corn in 2250s Iowa implies either climate change has been reversed (good if true), or the Federation pays farmers to grow Potemkin crops for the aesthetic.
5) Midwestern corn monoculture is aided by a private property-based land tenure system. (Corn monoculture can exist *without* private land ownership, but in the event of a different land tenure system, other cropping methods are more likely to emerge.)
This implies that while the Federation is a moneyless society, it is NOT a property-less society. Land ownership is a zero-sum game. The existence of people who own real estate, especially large plots when population is high, implies the existence of haves & have-nots.
In short, the agrarian realities of Federation-era Earth suggests cracks in its post-scarcity public façade. However, the agrarian politics of Iowa merely *suggest* cracks.

It's the Picard family vineyard where shit gets downright dystopian. STAY TUNED
*also does anybody have population estimates for Earth, either in the TOS/Kirk era or the Next Generation? I'm having no luck at all
ok time to talk about the Picard wine estate

*deep breath*
Slightly belated: just gonna put this out here for the folks in the replies suggesting "maybe folks keep farming in a post-scarcity economy because it's 'recreational'"

In "Family" (s4 e2), Captain Jean-Luc Picard goes home to recuperate after being turned into a Borg

and then you start to wonder why because that whole family situation is a shitshoooowwww
Setup: the way it's played is the older brother, Robert Picard, is the dutiful son who stayed home to tend the vines like their father. He's grumpy about how Jean-Luc "left" and won't stop bitching about it.
HOWEVER. If you know anything about land tenure and how it's passed on for multiple generations, this situation is even more messed up than it looks.
If you divide up a family plot among all the kids (or even all the sons), within a few generations you wind up with tiny useless postage stamps that nobody can live on. That's especially true after a few generations of post-scarcity population growth, e.g. TNG-era Earth.
France traditionally dealt with this through primogeniture: the oldest son inherits the entire estate intact. Younger sons get a stipend if the the family's very wealthy.

More usually, younger sons get bupkus.
Under primogeniture, younger sons typically went into the military, priesthood, or (later once colonialism got underway) maritime trade. Those were the only institutions that had space for them. The core economic, political, & social power structure- land ownership- didn't.
Some young sons added a martlet (modified swift or martin) to their family crest. It had feathers instead of feet because they believed these birds never land. It represented how the crest's owner would spend their life wandering to satisfy a shitty land inheritance system.
The fact that Picard's extremely French family still has an estate at all in 2367 heavily implies they've been using primogeniture.
Jean-Luc Picard leaving home to join Starfleet fits the younger-son-in-a-primogeniture-family to a T. He left home to join an exploratory/military/semi-priesthood-y force complete with livery and never being able to start a family, much to his regret.
Which makes his older, estate-inheriting brother Robert's constant bitching about "whaaa you worked hard and left us" EVEN MORE HORRIFYING THAN IT LOOKS.
This also drags up all kinds of systemic questions about how post-scarcity Star Trek Earth *works.*

Private land ownership appears to be alive & well.

Per @joeinformatico: why do the Picards own a lil slice of France, but Sisko's dad only has a 2-story building in New Orleans?
This implies ongoing wealth inequality- of a potentially very serious degree- in Federation-era Earth.

Nobody ever mentions Robert Picard having a day job. He just twiddles around FEELING the vines (not the most responsible use of time for an estate owner) and day drinks.
He makes his wife do the cooking & won't let her get a replicator.

Perhaps most appalling, his vineyard's still using furrow irrigation. That's when you run water down a ditch between rows. Super simple, but super wasteful. Lots of water soaks down past roots or evaporates.
Hahaha and they pass off this caustic, day-drinking, controlling train wreck of a man as a "guardian of tradition"

agrarian values my ass, he's just a jerk. it happens
Anyway, irrigation-wise, 3 things to consider:

1) grapes tend to prefer dry regions (not much water available period)

2) Earth's population is 8 billion-ish by 2367

3) more efficient irrigation methods like microjet are already the norm in many/most wine regions in 2019.
Who the hell ARE the Picards!? They can command so much fresh water*, they're just squirting it around. Look at how many gotdang weeds are between their grape rows. That's what happens when you furrow irrigate, and they don't even care.

Conclusion: the Picards are water barons
*Even in Star Trek, you CANNOT just make more fresh water through desalination. That process leaves behind a concentrated brine. It sinks & kills the shit out of whatever's living on the ocean floor. Theoretically you could transport the brine away ... to kill someplace else.
So if one wants to just wave plentiful fresh water away w "desalination," that means there are giant toxic dumps of brine somewhere. It's not very punk rock. Not very Federation. tl;dr water is a limited resource & the Picards are using it to mud wrestle out their issues 🤔
The picture painted here is one where hereditary wealth is still the rule, & the consequences are pretty grim for most people involved. Land & water are subject to the wealthy's whims. Women in landed families have limited power. We don't even know how the villagers are doing.
Systemic questions abound. Who owns the Iowa corn estates? (assuming they're still grow corn by TNG … but given replicators need a feedstock, that's prob still corn.)

Where do corn farms get their operating funds? It may be post-money, but it's not post-resource allocation.
Given that 1) everyone seems to have basic needs met but 2) private land ownership is still alive & well, this implies the Star Trek economy is "fully automated luxury gay space communism" in the streets,

"UBI gone horribly wrong neofeudal patronage nightmare" in the sheets
This is all a very silly exercise. But it's good practice for looking critically at how a society portrays itself vs what's really going on, especially re: agriculture.

It's also a really good thought experiment for how "fundamental needs are met" =/= justice or sustainability.
*also this corn is weird, it's short but already tasseling

chalk it up to future superdwarf varieties idk
Really not entertaining any comments about how futuristic technology can make unlimited fresh water.
Y'all are really proposing they're 1) desalinating seawater at great expense and 2) TRANSPORTING THE BRINE OUT OF EARTH'S GRAVITY WELL INTO THE SUN

so a couple guys can mud-wrestle & irrigate so badly that the weeds are taking over?
At the end of the day, that's still kind of a giant red flag that the Federation has a SERIOUS problem with telling rich people "no"
getting some questions on "wait, if different kinds of property regimes encourage different kinds of farming/land management, what does that mean in a futuristic Star Trek context?"

so glad you asked

The clearest examples we have are the Americas before colonization. We have well-documented forms of land mgmt that supported large populations for centuries/millennia at a time.*

*if you think you wanna bicker about this, scroll to the end of the thread.
There are a legion of other ways of farming & managing land for food & resources besides industrial monoculture.

Agroforestry

Prairie + patchy farms

Fire-managed forest

Chinampas & other managed wetlands

One could go on. Western row crops are a very small subset of farming.
We got a lot of folks proposing that maybe Star Trek folks don't NEED to farm, they just do it for cultural preservation. The land is all publicly owned & some people are paid to steward it

My question is if that's the case, WHY IS THE THING WE'RE PRESERVING … FRICKIN ROW CROPS
If there's the technology & limitless resources to basically terraform Earth into a nice garden and farm just for funzies

why not do chinampas?

Why not bring back old-school Tenochtitlan? Since we're already terraforming for tradition's sake.
Iowa should be prairie and bison, not cornfields*.

*Indigenous land management involved a lot of cornfields, including BIG cornfields. (early Europ. observers in Shawnee territory/Ohio Valley mentioned "cornfields as far as the eye can see," so at least 6 square miles)
But that's still patches of corn within a larger, dominant prairie+herds situation. Which is not how it's being presented. It's very much an IOWA = CORN aesthetic rather than IOWA = WATCH OUT FOR BISON
As far as we can tell, the Amazon is dotted with ancient cities.

And, the Amazon rainforest is not entirely natural. A lot of the trees in it show marks of domestication. Trees are so long lived that 500 years after those cities are gone, the forest still has their fingerprints.
The Amazon we know today is the bones of an ancient orchard.

theatlantic.com/science/archiv…
Vineyards schmineyards- if we're talking a sci fi future where we carefully preserve Earth's land-based heritage, why not support Amazonian peoples doing THAT.
The Klamath River Valley- deep northern CA & southern OR- used to be a rich food garden full of acorns, salmon, berries, and bulbs, tended by carefully managed fires. The Karuk, Yurok, Hoopa, & other local tribes were among the wealthiest people on Earth.

Now it's a food desert.
The US declared it "public land," turned it into a timber plantation, and made it a CRIME for Native people to use fire.

Then we dammed the Klamath 4 times in the 1960s (for a measly total of 150 MW) and wrecked the 3rd-largest salmon run on the entire west coast.
Sugar, salty, starch, greasy colonial food had already been available in the Valley for 100+ years by that time thanks to gold prospectors & associated trade.

But it was the end of the salmon runs that did the local people in. There was nothing left to eat BUT colonial food.
Local tribes' diabetes rates began to spike in the '70s. The Karuk were able to demonstrate that colonial land management has made them sick, costing California up to $20M a year just in health care alone.

pages.uoregon.edu/norgaard/pdf/E…
This led to, among other things, a court victory where the US federal gov't finally acknowledged that destroying a thriving food system for 150 piddly MW of hydro power makes no sense.

The dams are to be dismantled in 2020.

klamathriver.org/klamath-dam-re…
Imagine if mainstream sci fi showed us THOSE kinds of futures.

Not a future where Native people are canonically leaving Earth because even though folks who wanna colonize things have ALL OF SPACE now, they still won't leave Earth alone.
Also re the questions about "What if Earth's land is all publicly owned by then & let out to farm families ~for cultural preservation~?"

We already do that exact thing & it's such a hot mess LOL
The main form of that is the BLM grazing lease program.

It's basically the same deal as the Klamath timber plantation. Seize land from Indigenous people who ran it well, call it "public" land, and lease it out for private profit.

law.cornell.edu/cfr/text/43/41…
This BLM grazing program is one of the main reasons cattle pasture is the US's single largest land bloc. It's millions of acres of public land "leased" to private ranchers in sweetheart deals way, WAY below market value for grazing land.
The public benefit in this questionable. That's especially if you compare it with the public good in Indigenous land management, which is really really good at 2 things: growing food & preventing wildfires.
Oh & remember these dipshits? The Cliven Bundy posse?

The reason they're mad at the federal gov't: they think paying ANY MONEY AT ALL to use BLM land is too much.

They figure, using public land at a steep discount isn't enough. These special bois think they deserve it for free.
Cliven Bundy: your tax dollars at work



Anyway, that's why "public land ownership and paying people to farm for ~cultural reasons~" is not futuristic utopia Star Trek thing to do.

We already do it and it's a hot mess lmao
*"but sometimes droughts caused population collapses & most American megafauna went extinct"

wow wait till you hear what minor climate variations did to medieval Europe Europe. also, good luck hunting Ice Age megafauna in Germany nowadays. oh wait. it's all extinct
it's just funny to me how "most American megafauna is extinct" is used as an excuse to view Indigenous Americans as inferior

meanwhile "woolly rhinos, aurochs, lions, & mammoths all disappeared from Europe millennia ago" never comes up when we're judging European cultures
anyway we're pretty far afield from Star Trek now

but yeah, when it comes to visualizing long-term land stewardship, colonial culture has a long way to go & that definitely shows in how we're crafting sci fi visions of the future

the end
ps. if you want to check out Indigenous restoration of the Klamath foodshed in real time, go follow @akihsara : )
Missing some Tweet in this thread? You can try to force a refresh.

Enjoying this thread?

Keep Current with Dr Sarah Taber

Profile picture

Stay in touch and get notified when new unrolls are available from this author!

Read all threads

This Thread may be Removed Anytime!

Twitter may remove this content at anytime, convert it as a PDF, save and print for later use!

Try unrolling a thread yourself!

how to unroll video

1) Follow Thread Reader App on Twitter so you can easily mention us!

2) Go to a Twitter thread (series of Tweets by the same owner) and mention us with a keyword "unroll" @threadreaderapp unroll

You can practice here first or read more on our help page!

Follow Us on Twitter!

Did Thread Reader help you today?

Support us! We are indie developers!


This site is made by just three indie developers on a laptop doing marketing, support and development! Read more about the story.

Become a Premium Member ($3.00/month or $30.00/year) and get exclusive features!

Become Premium

Too expensive? Make a small donation by buying us coffee ($5) or help with server cost ($10)

Donate via Paypal Become our Patreon

Thank you for your support!