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Anarchists’ Unlikely Tool for Fighting Climate Change: Farming

from the daily beast

This story is part of Covering Climate Now, a global collaboration of more than 220 news outlets to strengthen coverage of the climate story.

In the waning months of 2011, Tim Holland was deeply involved in Occupy Denver, the local arm of the international Occupy movement. The 41-year-old anarchist and hip-hop artist, who goes by the stage name Sole, had been living in the Mile High City since 2009. When Occupiers first set up an encampment at Lincoln Park, Holland organized street protests, public assemblies, fundraisers, reading groups, and more. Protesters interrupted city council meetings and repeatedly attempted to take over government buildings before the movement was quashed when their second encampment in Civic Center Park went up in a haze of flames. Following Occupy Denver’s suppression by law enforcement, gentrification in the city seemed to shift into hyperdrive, forcing Holland to rethink living there.

“I wanted to pull myself out of the rat race and reimagine what a new form of my political interventions and practices could be,” he said.

Holland had visited intentional communities in France, where radicals were successfully supporting themselves through farming. The idea of anarchists in North America doing the same captured his imagination. He left Denver in 2018, relocating with his wife and young child to an old farmhouse on the outskirts of Brunswick, Maine.

“Earlier in the year that I moved, I learned about the Ogallala Aquifer, which feeds all of the farmland of the breadbasket—and Colorado as well,” Holland said. “It’s going to be depleted in 20 years from now.” Wanting to reorient his life and politics around “food autonomy”—or self-sustaining food production—Holland saw the depletion of the Ogallala Aquifer as not only a strike against staying in Denver but grim proof of what awaited much of American society, which depends on conventional food production to survive.

The dire threat that climate change poses to conventional food production in the United States has been anticipated for years. In a 2012 report, the U.S. Department of Agriculture predicted that post-2050 most crop and livestock production would suffer from a combination of rising temperatures, variable precipitation, and more frequent extreme weather events, such as droughts or floods. The USDA anticipates that, even in the short-term, these effects will exacerbate hunger among the poorest and most vulnerable.

For anarchists like Holland, the anonymously written text Desert was a wake-up call. The 80-page zine, published both online and in print in 2011, argues that the inevitability of climate change will lead to widespread desertification, which governments are incapable of preventing. As extreme as that may sound, Holland felt that he could see the writing on the wall, even from the relative privilege of Denver.

If Desert’s diagnosis rang true, so too did its prognosis. The text’s author suggests that while the consequences of climate change are unavoidable, anarchists may yet prevail against both capitalism and the state. Positing that desertification will cause both markets and governments to retract, Desert argues that in their absence, anarchists could thrive—if only they could first survive.

“In this metaphor of the desert, where does life emerge?” Holland wondered. “If we end up unable to create some mass movement to overthrow the government, what does it look like to build a material force capable of sustaining itself, capable of struggle, capable of being the grounds that make government obsolete?”

In Brunswick, Holland is beginning the search for answers. These days, Holland commits much of his time to gardening, but doesn’t see it as a step away from his anarchist politics. Rather, he sees it as a step forward.

On an acre and a half of land, his budding interest in gardening blossomed into greater study and practice of permaculture, a form of agriculture that emphasizes the creation of sustainable ecosystems with minimal need for external resources, such as fertilizer. With only the occasional help from family and friends, he has cleared half the land of brush, planted 100 fruit, nut, and berry trees and shrubs in addition to a variety of greens and root vegetables. Holland has managed to eek out some staples like lettuce and tomatoes, but has had greater success with perennials like hablitzia, Turkish rocket, and asparagus chives. He’s also learned to forage for berries and wild greens, such as raspberries and sorrell. Many of the plants will take years to mature, especially the fruit trees, but his efforts are already providing daily salads and he expects to harvest hundreds of pounds of carrots, potatoes, and pumpkins.

Although Holland has been unable to provide all of his family’s food, he says that’s not necessarily the goal. (“If I had been living off the land, 100 percent I would have died this year,” he joked.) Belief in the anarchist ideal of mutual aid, which encourages sharing and cooperation to build collective strength, led Holland to think beyond his family. To that end, he has been forming a network across his new home state.