The Price and Value of Chaos

“…and chaos among kings.  If they had to grow their own corn, mill their own flour and bake their own bread they might have no time left for all the squabbling and killing.”

This morning’s quote is courtesy of Hugh Beringar, Sheriff of Shrewsbury, comrade through thick and thin to one blessed Brother Cadfael.   (An Excellent Mystery, Eleventh Chronicle of Brother Cadfael, by Ellis Peters.)

I’ve often pondered on the Excellent Mystery regarding the production of food.   As mentioned earlier, I really marvel at how quickly those who raise/grow/tend/harvest food fall down the social scale as complex society evolves.

I’ve also pondered upon how many wars would be started if those who initiated them were also stationed at the front lines.

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The Dark Ages were filled with skirmishes and full-scale battles across the European theatre, all in a tug-of-war regarding land, resources and power.

Those who always lost (no matter which army emerged victorious) were the peasant farmers.

Why some nobles and lords could not figure out their abundance was directly tied, short and long-term, to how successful the crops and herds of their serfs were is another Excellent Mystery.

Hope came for peasants following the 1340’s wave of Black Death.  Recent conflict (i.e. trampling by war horses and burning of crop fields) combined with a standard of living guaranteeing malnutrition (hence, little immune resistance) among those expected to provide the daily bread resulted in a vastly reduced work force, compliments the Grim Reaper.

Naturally, a  ‘name your own price’ heyday for those still alive and able to work ensued.   In wake of disaster, Lords and Ladies really got the simple truth; they could earn their own keep or pay premiums to hire those who already knew how feed the masses.

Feudal Monarchs depended upon the loyalty (and knights) of the nobility.   To keep crown and throne, comfortable lifestyles for supporters must be maintained.

Hence, laws making it illegal for any who labored for a noble to take to the road in search of better wages, work hours or living conditions were quickly enacted.

Consequences for those who hired laborers courageous (or desperate) enough to search for better offerings, were oft-times stiffer than those levied against the laborer who dared to better himself.  Remember, labor is in short supply – we can’t have work-able peasants rotting in jail.

But for the most part, historians pinpoint the Black Death as the beginning of the End of Serfdom.

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I’ve had occasion these past few years to speak with farmers, ranchers and dairymen who aren’t switched over to ‘certified organic’ systems yet.

The number one reason often given: “Do you know how much it costs to get certified?”

No, I don’t – I’ve been told it can run as high as $10,000, but a search of local governmental websites indicates to me the truth is hidden until you’re actually ready to purchase.  Or at least identified by email, phone number and home address as a likely target (I mean, customer.)

(This search reminded me of trying to find actual costs for advertising in yellow page publications… Lots of graphs, pictures and stats to indicate you are a fool if you don’t, but no $ information given – just a phone number to link you with someone very good at selling.)

I did discover rebates available in 2008-2009 for up to 75% of organic certification costs.   However, the maximum to request rebate on was $750.

Organic farming is becoming big business – but not necessarily for those who actually farm.   Permit, certification, inspection and regulatory agencies, me thinks, are the real profiteers here.  And I suspect, if a booming enterprise is not contributing to the local coffers enough, campaigns to shut them down ensue. (one example, which really shows how far I let my prejudices against regulation lead me.)

My guess is one massive pandemic will straighten things out.

I’d prefer we fix it ourselves, instead of waiting for Mother Nature to restore balance.

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