Michael Rosenblum: Where Did All the Farmers Go?

Sometimes you get a confluence of things you read that give you a new insight into the way things work.

I am reading Theodore Rex, Edmund Morris’ excellent biography of Teddy Roosevelt. Then, this morning, I read Mark Bittman’s piece about tomato farming in Iowa, “Not All Industrial Food is Evil.”

You might not think they have much to do with each other, let alone the ramifications of the Internet Revolution.

But I think they do.

While Bittman’s piece is all about how large, mechanized farming in America has created both good and plentiful food, in this case, tomatoes, one line in the piece really stuck with me:

I began by touring Bruce Rominger’s farm in Winters. With his brother Rick and as many as 40 employees, Rominger farms around 6,000 acres of tomatoes, wheat, sunflowers, safflower, onions, alfalfa, sheep, rice and more.

6,000 acres

That is really big.

For those of us who don’t work on farms, (which is pretty much everyone I know — more on this later), 6,000 acres is 9.37 square miles.

By way of comparison, Manhattan is 37 square miles.

So Bruce Rominger’s farm is about 1/3 the size of Manhattan.

To a New Yorker, that’s pretty big.

American farms were not always so huge. At the time that Teddy Roosevelt became President of the United States, the average American farm was about 128 acres. A lot smaller than Bruce Rominger’s farm. A lot. And, more interestingly, many more Americans were involved in the world of farming. In 1903, when Roosevelt became president (and only a bit more than 100 years ago), nearly half the country worked in the farming industry.

Today, a mere 2.3 percent of the population is involved in farming — and yet farms have become vastly more productive.

What made the difference?

In a word: technology.

The arrival of increasingly better and more sophisticated machinery made it possible for fewer people to do far more work.

When I was in college, I dropped out for a year and went to work, among other places, on a farm in Iowa.

At that time, the farm I worked on was about 1,000 acres and it was considered pretty big. But we were able to harvest acres and acres and acres of corn and soybeans by using a 12 head John Deere combine. And that was, depressingly, more than 30 years ago. Since then, the machinery has only gotten bigger, better and more efficient.

But what an upheaval the transformation from 50 percent of the population working in agriculture to 2.3 percent must have been.

What combines did to farming the Internet is now doing to a lot of other professions — making them faster, better, cheaper and far more efficient. Who does not like being able to go to Amazon and order just about anything and have it appear at your door the next day?

But the fallout from these new technologies is, as with the agricultural revolution, an enormous dislocation in jobs.

Classified ads used to employ thousands of people across the country, not to mention supporting hundreds of newspapers. But Craig Newmark and his 20 employees became the Bruce Rominger of classifieds. Those jobs are gone and they are not coming back. And so too for the thousands who worked in places like Tower Records or Blockbuster.

And we are still only at the very beginning of this thing.

Today, hardly anyone mourns the loss of ‘the family farm.’ And, as Bittman points out, tomatoes are available to everyone at extremely reasonable prices and of excellent quality.

Hardly anyone complains that if you want to watch a movie, you don’t have to go down to the theater, buy a ticket, stand in line, and then can only watch the one or two movies that are playing, when they are playing. You can just go on Netflix and watch whatever you want, when you want.

Or download Edmund Morris’ book.

Libya interior minister resigns

Libyan Interior Minister Mohammed Khalifa al-Sheikh resigns after only three months in the post, citing a lack of support from the prime minister.

RPT-Australia’s Nine seeks to raise up to $1.1 bln in IPO – report

SYDNEY, July 31 (Reuters) – Australia’s Nine Entertainment, owned by two U.S. hedge funds, is looking to raise up to A$1.2 billion ($1.1 billion) in an initial public offering before the end of the…

Partner of The Guardian’s NSA leaks reporter is detained for 9 hours at airport

David Miranda—partner of The Guardian’s lead NSA-leaks reporter Glenn Greenwald—was detained under local terrorism laws for nearly nine hours on Sunday at London’s Heathrow airport. Miranda was eventually released without any charges, but authorities confiscated property such as Miranda’s phone, laptop, camera, memory sticks, DVDs, and games consoles, according to The Guardian.

The paper reports Miranda was returning from a trip to Berlin with US filmmaker Laura Poitras when officers stopped him at 8:30am. Miranda was then informed that he’d be questioned under a British anti-terrorism law, known as Schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act 2000. The law gives authorities the power to stop, search, question, and detain individuals at airports, ports, and borders, and individuals approached under this legislation are committing a crime if they refuse to comply.

Nine hours is the maximum time an individual can be held under the law before officials must release or formally arrest a detainee. According to The Guardian, more than 97 percent of Schedule 7 examinations last under an hour and only one in 2,000 people are held beyond six hours.

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How to break out of your own little corner of the Internet: Rewire, reviewed

My favorite moment in Ethan Zuckerman’s new book, Rewire: Digital Cosmopolitans in the Age of Connection, comes towards the end, where he describes the way that the legendary rock band Journey discovered its new lead singer in 2007. The new singer is Arnel Pineda, a Filipino, and a product of his homeland’s love of karaoke bars.

The long and complicated relationship between the United States and the Philippines ensures that American pop culture enjoys widespread exposure in Manila, and that most Filipinos speak English. In addition, a style of singing called plakado—the Tagalog word for “platter” or “record”—has been popular there since it was developed in the 1960s. Filipino singers reproduce recordings as faithfully as possible, and the highest form of praise for a live vocalist is that he sounded plakado, exactly as it did on the recording. Plakado reached even greater stylistic heights as electronic karaoke machines that scored vocalists on their precision became commonplace in Southeast Asia. All of that served to make the clubs and bars of Manila, in essence, a system engineered to produce vocalists who sounded exactly like Paul McCartney or Steve Perry.

. . .

In a world where the Filipino lead singer of an American rock band wows crowds in Chile, it’s the connected who shall inherit.

Pineda just might be the ultimate “bridge figure,” a term that Zuckerman uses to describe someone who can help explain one cultural background to someone from another culture. This could be a business executive who grew up in India but was raised in the United Kingdom. Or it could be an American student who has decided to settle in the Bolivian highlands.

In short, Zuckerman takes us on a journey that explores how even in our hyper-modern, over-connected, crazy-fast world, we need to take extra steps to make sure we’re exploring people, places, and stories around us that we otherwise wouldn’t know about.

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Man Orders Safe, Discovers 280 Pounds Of Weed Inside

SIDNEY, Ohio — Authorities in Ohio say a man who ordered a gun safe online opened it up only to discover 280 pounds of marijuana inside.

Shelby County Sheriff John Lenhart in western Ohio says the safe was made in Nogales, Mexico, and that it was sent by truck to Ohio.

He says the marijuana has a street value of $420,000.

Federal authorities who are investigating say the truck driver who brought the shipment into the United States is now missing.

The Ohio sheriff says that truck was carrying a full shipment of safes, but none of the others contained any drugs.

He says the safe with the marijuana was delivered to Ohio in June, but authorities have kept quiet about it while they looked into how the safe got into the U.S.

Almost orbital, solar-powered drone offered as “atmospheric satellite”

WASHINGTON—At the AUVSI Unmanned Systems conference, New Mexico-based startup Titan Aerospace unveiled the company’s prototypes for “atmospheric satellites”—autonomous unmanned aircraft powered purely by solar energy and capable of staying aloft at high altitude for up to five years. The first commercially manufactured long-endurance solar drone, the Solara 50, is under construction now and is expected to fly next year. A bigger drone, the Solara 60, will soon follow.

While solar-powered flight has been a reality since the early 1980s, Titan is the first company to work on commercially manufacturing solar-powered drones. And unlike some of the prototypes that have been flown by the established players in the aerospace and unmanned systems field, the Solara drones are based on well-worn technologies and simplicity in design.

If successful, Titan could change the economics of businesses that have previously depended on low-orbit satellites and allow for a persistent coverage closer to what satellites in geostationary orbit provide.

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