acres-usa-manBen Franklin, a favorite founder around this office as he was a writer, a publisher and a printer, is often quoted as saying “neither a borrower nor a lender be.”

He did speak this wisdom, but didn’t coin the phrase. He was quoting Shakespeare who wrote these words as fatherly advice dispensed in Hamlet. The full quote is, “Neither a borrower nor a lender be, for loan oft loses both itself and friend, and borrowing dulls the edge of husbandry.”

We were digging around the quote bin because the thought came to us of another major divide — between the goals and actions of modern eco-agriculture and what has become conventional farming. Eco-farming seeks to remain debt-free, giving back to the soil what it consumes, or more, and not foisting hazardous wastes onto others.

Even with increased attention on more sophisticated systems of fertility management, the tendency within conventional agriculture is quite different. Particularly in the industrial-scale behemoths, of which no family-scale operators could ever hold the reins, downstream consequences are simply not their concern. Until they are made their concern.

There is increasing attention being paid to true cost accounting, not only in agriculture but in extractive industries.

How much would that barrel of oil cost if the producers received an invoice for the U.S. Navy protecting their tankers? True cost accounting is a method of better aligning externalized costs of production with end-product values.

The Book of Psalms tells us the wicked borrows and does not pay back. The time to pay back might be coming sooner rather than later for some. The Des Moines Water Works plans to sue upstream counties, which maintain drainage districts it believes are carrying nitrate pollution into the river supplying the city’s drinking water. The tangible cost to filter out nitrates is about $1 million a year.

Something we never noticed in the quote that launched this rambling are the words “borrowing dulls the edge of husbandry.” Could it be that eco-farmers who seek to repay nature rather than borrow are not as dulled?

The more people look at the entire picture — human health, environment, climate, social justice, economic health — the better eco-farming appears. And the trend to consider all costs is only going to continue and increase in coming years. That’s the view from the country.

This essay first appeared in the October 2015 issue of Acres U.S.A.