Hi I just wanna give @nytimes a shout-out for this article, "Tenant Farming (But Make It Fashion)."

NYT keeps setting up their writers to fail by assigning folks with little or no background in ag to write about it. In this case, a style columnist.

disclaimer for this thread: no shakes on the guy who wrote this. He did his job! He writes about architecture & design!

It is not his fault that the NYT editorial staff are COWARDS who think the most interesting and relevant thing about agriculture is the ~aesthetic.~
Tenant farming and sharecropping are still big business today. They come in a lot of guises! They're all shit!

But if you want a primer on how rich people manage to convince themselves that sharecropping is benevolent, NYT provides. Thanks guys!
So NYT has provided us a great example of the romance.

Time to talk reality!
I have a colleague in a farmland rental situation (eg "he's a tenant farmer"). That's bad enough.

The landlord keeps pushing to switch to a "joint venture" where the he "provides the land" in exchange for equity and a "percentage of the proceeds"

AKA straight-up sharecropping!
This colleague, btw, has an MS in horticulture and is running a super-tight, super-profitable banging market garden.

That's what it takes to make it as a sharecropper these days!

Isn't that fun, NYT?
The article makes a big to-do about what the landlords are providing the tenants.

A little house! With discounted rent!

"Little house on the property that farmers pay 'cheap rent' to live in" is a CLASSIC Jim Crow-era plantation trope.

idk how you miss it.
Meanwhile the tenant farmers have also added the following value to the property:

-A well

-Cold storage



-Clearing somewhere btwn 5-16 acres of brush

-Planting, upgrading soil quality, & general duties that NORMAL people would PAY a gardener for
This is easily $100-300K worth of value added to the property.

Had the landlords hired contractors, they would have paid $100K minimum.

But because this is tenant farming, the tenants are PAYING THEM $12K/yr to improve their land.

How can y'all not see what's going on here?
This is straight-up Jim Crow-style exploitation.

If you're doing work that upgrades the value of people's property, THEY should be paying YOU.

Full stop.
BTW, Jim Crow sharecropping wasn't "a Southern thing." It was a nationwide system.

Here's a tenant in 1936 Iowa, moving their portable shack to the next farm. Tenancy is a trap bc the work you do to improve land belongs to the landlord. Image
That's why tenant farmers started living in portable shacks. That was the only thing they could build for themselves that they could KEEP.

This shack is a precursor to the mobile home. Tenant farming is why they were invented!
Here's a chart from the 1920 census showing how many farmers in each state were tenants & sharecroppers.

20-40% of the farmers in the Midwest & Great Plains were tenants!

New York had a similar ratio! Image
In fact, serfdom was still legal in New York through 1845. It only ended because of a literal peasant uprising. In New York. It's called the Anti-Rent War! Look it up!

This is the stuff we miss when editors think agriculture is the domain of style columnists.
This is Jim Crow-style exploitation. Pure and simple.

And the NYT wrote it up as folksy, mutually-beneficial pastoralism.

Which is exactly how sharecropping lords got away with it DURING JIM CROW.
This isn't a cute little whoopsie. It's disinformation that already fucked this country over for a century.
So NYT, next time you want to write about agriculture please assign someone who gets ag.

That does NOT mean "a kid who grew up on a farm." Farm kids are some of agriculture's most unreliable narrators bc they think they know what's up but have zero insight into farm finances 🙃
.@sarah_k_mock is a journalist who gets ag. She can pull in critical insight for you & get to the bottom of what's happening, not just stenograph whatever party line she's told. (A major problem in ag journalism.)

She's a great example of someone who's qualified for the job.
Also, literally any writer of color probably would have caught on to what's happening here.

Ya know, just something to think about next time you're handing out farm writing assignments.
I gotta be fair though. Let's talk about what this article GAINED from being written by a design/style columnist instead of the usual suspect for articles on farm stuff, A Farm Kid. : )

Being a design writer, they're all about clear discussions of property improvements. This writer listed them all.

That's the whole reason I was able to estimate the value these tenants added to the landlords' property.

A farm kid wouldn't have made that mistake lmaoooooo
Farm culture is amazing at indoctrinating people into the IDEOLOGY and PRACTICES and never ever talking about the finances underpinning it basically until it's too late (e.g. often when someone dies).
So again, a lot of farm kids grow up thinking they know what's up in agriculture

while having very little real insight into finances

but boy do they know that talking about money is Just Not Done
And by the way, this is why the white sustainability community has a HUGE complex about "farming shouldn't be about money!"

They've absorbed the idea that it's bad to talk about money in farming but they have no idea why 🤣

This taboo is in place to hide wealth. Period.
As a design columnist, it's the writer's job to be open about costs so that readers can evaluate whether certain projects are an option for them (e.g. to sell home improvements).

He's the only reason we have as much insight as we do into how hard these tenants are getting screwed (:
This whole thing is a great example of how the ~sustainability movement~ fails to make real change on several levels.

It wants the trappings of earth-friendliness, without doing the painful work of dismantling the financial structures that wrecked the earth in the first place.
This is far from the first piece ever written about a "sustainable farm partnership"

that turns out to just be sharecropping in a shiny green wrapper.

It happens ALL THE TIME. This shit is THE NORM in "sustainable ag."
See also WWOOF, the fanciest dress-up game that shitty labor practices ever played.
The sustainability movement as we know it has zero interest in fixing the food system. It's just white-collar professionals fighting their way into the landed gentry.

Thanks NYT for illustrating this in a crystal-clear way- however inadvertently it might have been.

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