Monday, April 20, 2009

Return to Feudal Society

Someone once said that if you didn't learn from the past you were doomed to repeat it. Right now with the current state of our food systems, it looks like we are repeating a time in history that was known for the abuse of the poor and a lack of science and learning, the dark ages. Manorialism was the economical and social system practiced in medieval Europe. It was a system where their was one head of a manor that protected many peasants. These peasants either worked the lord's land for him or worked land they owned and gave the Lord compensation. The three major groups of peasants are Villeins, slaves and Freemen. A villein was a person that worked the Lord's land and was given a small amount of land to use to feed themselves. A Freeman was a farmer that paid rent to the Lord. A medieval slave had no land and was given little from the Lord.

Currently their are many similarities between the medieval peasant and the modern day farmer. An Iowa corn farmer, as seen in the movie King Corn, is the modern equivalent to a medieval Freeman. The corn farmer owns his owns his own land and works on it with little direct interference from the larger agribusiness companies until the corn has to reach the elevator. An agribusiness will then buy the corn at a price best for them and not the farmer, this being similar to the freeman paying his lord. The difference here is that the corn farmer is really getting nothing in return besides an increase in debt, while the Freeman basically pays for protection and security.

More and more potato farmers are being pushed off their farms either from debt, lack of expansion and just all around bad times. Larger agribusiness companies are buying up that land and getting the people who were forced off of it to manage the farms. Idaho potato farmers have become the new Villeins, with no land of their own but a salary to compensate. Unlike the Villeins, potato farmer's children can get out of the cycle, even though it is still hard.

Finally, the Santa Rosa "Company Girls", from Tangled Routes by Deborah Barndt, are a good comparison to the slaves of feudal Europe. These girls are hired from towns around the tomato packing plants and move from harvest to harvest to pack. They are paid higher than other that work in the fields but this doesn't mean that they have more freedom. The reason that I though that the company girls were closer to slaves than any other modern farm worker is that some of the girls just work for the money, but others have to work to support their larger families, and working as a company girl is one of few options to make enough money. The company basically gives the company girls everything they need, but they have to work longer hours and don't get paid if they don't go to work for whatever reason.

In the modern age we live in we don't think much about owning land. We do worry about buying a house or getting an apartment but it isn't the same. In Feudal times Land was power, and same can be said today, but it isn't as obvious. As humans we need food to live, food is on land, and land is being bought up by large agribusiness. They set the prices and those who live the cities and suburbs are at their mercy. This is basically a loss of freedom that has gone unnoticed. In conclusion, in a Manorialistic society the people with all the power were the ones on the top, the Kings, Lords, and Knights, but that can be said for our time as well, because the ones with all the power are the heads of agribusiness and the US Government.

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