Life and strife of modern organic farmers : cases from Sweden, Cambodia, and Bali

University essay from SLU/Dept. of Urban and Rural Development

Abstract: Organic farming forms an integral part of the current environmental discourse of “saving the planet” through more ecological forms of cultivation and lifestyle. Yet, beneath this common denominator, the global organic movement encompasses an impressive spectrum of experiences varying along such factors as geographical loca-tion, farm size, work organization, personal attributes, institutional framework, busi-ness style, normative ideals, and farming techniques. Additionally, present-day or-ganic farmers appear to privilege the spheres of individual entrepreneurship and day-to-day farm practice to those of group solidarity and political engagement, which might further question the idea of a unified, full-fledged social movement. Some of these farmers are affiliated with the WWOOF (World-Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms), a loose network connecting small-scale organic farms from both the Global North and South with volunteers of all ages and backgrounds. The latter normally spend from a few days to several months on a hosting farm of their choice, where they work for lodging, food, and learning. In the spring-summer of 2016, I have applied for and worked on three such farms, one located in Sweden and the other two in Southeast Asia – notably, in Cambodia and Bali – in order see how the environmental and social objectives of the organic movement are achieved in reality. Eventually, comparing these three ethnographic cases has enabled me to highlight some crucial differences in the way organic farmers interpret their work and identity, and in particular to distinguish among three types called, respectively, “wary”, “op-portunistic”, and “zealot” paradigm. Moreover, by drawing on the ideas of Alberto Melucci, I have isolated in each case thematic, organizational, and socio-demo-graphic traits that are reminiscent of the modus operandi of the so-called “new social movements” – including signs of certain involutionary patterns that are not unusual in this type of movements, such as “anachronism”, “narcissism”, “sectarianism”, and “essentialism”.

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