How Green Is Your Tractor?

Many of the ideas of the Green movement seem to fit well with Krishna consciousness. The so-called Green Movement (not to be confused with the Green Revolution, which aims to industrialize farms around the world) officially began in Germany in 1983. It quickly spread through Europe and to America. Greens stand for nonviolence, democracy, social responsibility, and ecology (in particular, they want to point you toward a way of life sustainable within your local bioregion). Greens also stress decentralizing—that is, making your politics and economy local. Finally, Greens seek a spiritual orientation to bring human culture into harmony with the earth.

In The Green Alternative: Creating an Ecological Future, Brian Tokar describes “the problem of how we feed ourselves” as “arguably the most vital component of a Green ecological strategy.” In a section called “Greening Agriculture—A Place to Begin,” I found this:

A huge proportion of our food is now produced at huge, heavily mechanized industrial “farms” under the control of a handful of giant agribusiness firms. Their produce is cheap to grow and cheap to buy, but it is increasingly deficient in basic nutrients. It is often trucked thousands of miles to consumers, both urban and rural. Meanwhile the increasing use of chemical fertilizers, herbicides and insecticides sacrifices the basic fertility of our soils and spreads poison through our lands and through the food chain.

But I was surprised that Tokar, in his critique of centralized farming, was silent about its basic tool of destruction: the petroleum-powered tractor.

The tractor’s role in modern society was foreshadowed in the late Middle Ages, when farmers started replacing draft oxen with European war horses. The horse let farmers work much larger plots of land. Bigger farms, held in fewer hands, could make more money and grow cheaper food. Displaced peasants provided cheap labor for factories. Cheap labor fed with cheap food set the stage for the industrial revolution. And the tractor has pushed things much further.

Srila Prabhupada told us that the tractor helped tear apart the Indian village system. Similarly, agricultural inventor Jean Nolle warns third-world villagers that most of them will lose their land to agribusiness if they let their communities get hooked on the tractor.

The tractor, it seems to me, could serve as an emblem of nearly everything the Greens stand against. I thought, If only Brian Tokar could talk to my friends in North Carolina Balabhadra Dasa and his wife, Chaya Devi Dasi. (They’re Krishna conscious ox-power farmers.) He’d learn a lot about what the tractor does to ruin the environment and spoil human life. So, Brian Tokar, please meet Balabhadra and Chaya and let them give you some insights into the role of the modern tractor.