Photo Credit: Skylar Jean, Unsplash

Past Sustainability to Something More

Kent Langley
Kent Langley

Reflections on a Rural Upbringing and Emergence


Charles Massy, in his book, “Call of the Reed Warbler,” said that “It takes an Emergent mind to be comfortable with change, with creativity and reorganization being the general state.” Reading this as part of my studies of Regenerative Agriculture and other emergent systems, I have developed a great respect for the farmers who have tended the land.  There’s even more respect for those who have decided and taken the risk to do so in a regenerative way.

Growing Up

I grew up in a rural part of Kentucky in a community where farming was a way of life for many. There might have been around 2000 people and none were visible from the porch. I did not farm. I was always surrounded by farms and influenced by them. I fished and caught snapping turtles with my grandfather. Snapping turtles look like dinosaurs must have looked. They really can take off a finger! The big ones could take a hand.

Photo Credit: Cyclical Core, Deviant Art

Another time I climbed the wrong fence on a large farm and found myself face to face with a bull who did not appreciate my entry into his turf. My one and ONLY attempt at the art of evading a bull like a bullfighter! You will not find me at the running of the bulls in Spain! I know better.

I was once chased all around a pond for my fish by a hungry, giant, sow (A female pig)! We had spent the morning catching the fish only to lose them to a hungry and very belligerent old sow. That scared the sh*t out of me. A big hungry pig is no joke. The bull was easy compared to the pig. My grandfather Kenneth was amused by the whole thing and told the story with lots of laughs that night.

When I was about fourteen and with my friend Brian on his grandfather’s farm. We were driving an old shaft shifter farm truck through the fields with abandon. We ran it directly into a giant sinkhole! Whoops! Under the farms were often limestone caverns or underground streams. We were fine, but his grandfather never gave us the keys to the truck again.

Photo Credit: Joshua Michael, Unsplash 

One time, an old farmer who let me use his ponds to fish showed me a barrel he had full of arrowheads. It was a large 55-gallon wooden barrel full to the brim of native American Indian arrowheads. He told me that they’d just pop up to the surface when he would plow his fields. He must have been collecting them all his life. His farm must have been quite the hunting ground at some point in the past. He let me take 2–3, and it made me very happy. I wish I still had them. That same day his wife handed me an egg sandwich from the eggs they had just collected. I didn’t really like egg sandwiches at the time, but I took it, smiled, said thank you, and ate it anyway.

That farmer and his wife, and many like him, were intelligent and kind. They ran a tricky business for a long time and provided for his family and their progeny. He plowed that land every year. It turns out, this isn’t such a good idea. Each year, millions of tons of CO2 is released into the atmosphere due to the disturbance of the soil when tilled. This is also called tillage.  It also turns out this may not be necessary with the growing emergence of no till farming.

A Changing Mindset

Massy calls what regenerative farmers do “Natural Intelligence Agriculture.” They have been the brave ones who said no to an existing plowing system and chemicals that were killing the soil and destroying their bodies through cancer and other sicknesses. They have been exploring no till, keyline, rotational grazing systems, and cover cropping. These are the new farmers. The regenerative farmers. The regenerative farmers meticulously and valiantly stepped back and took in a broad view, a holistic view to raising animals and growing food for human consumption. There was nothing like this where I grew up and precious little of it still today.

Photo Credit: Peter Kleinau, Unsplash 

One of Massy’s assertions is that this is the mind, or mindset, exhibited by the regenerative farmers, and it is called the “Emergent mind.” He tells us that “Some problems simply do not yield to reductionist techniques, particularly those that are dependent on emergent phenomena.”

When you think and work within an emergent paradigm. You design and curate emergent systems. You create systems of resilience and healthy growth. To do the opposite limits growth, reduces possibilities and is not sustainable. This is important because much of what we see globally promoted as sustainable is neither emergent nor regenerative. Farming is one example. We are seeing the slow emergence of systems that can be better for the earth and all the people living on it. Systems that can be at least part of the solution to climate change effects we hope.

Aiming at the Future

Bill Mollison, credited as the father of Permaculture, in his online Udemy lecture says, “Sustainability is an energy audit.” Mollison teaches us that a system, over its lifetime, that harnesses and produces sufficient energy to maintain and even duplicate itself than it took to create it is sustainable and regenerative. That’s also, quite possibly, a definition of life.

In his course and thinking on Permaculture, Matt Powers made an interesting change to the three ethics of Permaculture. Originally, as laid down by Bill Mollison and David Holmgren, were Earth Care, People Care, Fair Share. Matt’s change, which I really like, was to change Fair Share to Future Care. So, the three ethics would be Earth Care, People Care, Future Care.


Expanding on the authors, farmers, and scientists mentioned I’d say that reading Allan Savory, Charles Massy, Bill Mollison, David Holmgren, Dr. Elaine Ingham, Matt Powers, and many of others have changed how I see and approach the world. It has given me a great newfound respect for all the farmers, permaculturists, regenerative agriculture practitioners, and others that I have met.

I’m experimenting on my own tiny little suburban lot with bokashi, food forestry, natural everything, better water and energy management, and more. I’m learning and trying to do what I can do. There is so much I don’t know and each day I learn more I think there’s ten times more to learn! So, it’s a journey.

The topic of emergence and regeneration is a rich vein of exploration and goes well beyond agriculture to nearly any system. When you broadly about the topic, it’s clear that everything is emergent from the first moments of the universe to now. I’ve found myself applying these principles to my business ventures and technology architectures in recent years. If you want to design a scalable and resilient system of any kind, the application of regenerative practices do prove useful and wise.

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Kent's MTP is to empower people with technology. He is the Co-Founder of OpenExO, a serial entrepreneur with successful exits, and a student of many things.