Like so many other people, I have been wasting too much time on a Facebook game called Farmville. While I have not yet reached the point of awakening in the middle of the night to harvest my virtual crops (sleep is sacred in this house), there are some mornings where the well-being of my fake plants takes precedence over breakfast and tea.
So I was bothered when my Farmville friends and neighbors were mysteriously earning levels and money faster than I was. Disguised as a helpful neighbor, I began to spy on my friends’ farms. While chasing away foxes and crows, pulling weeds, and fertilizing crops, I snapped pictures with my telephoto lens in order to discover the secret of their success.
Farm animals penned together in tidy rows. The sweet smell of the virtual manure lagoons…
And what farm would be complete without the hum of a trusty tractor and harvester, which can be purchased for a mere 30,000 gold coins each. These minimize the arduous labor of clicking on each plot to plant, harvest, plow, and plant again. Of course, you will have to pay dearly for the fuel, as it must be bought with Farmville dollars, best acquired by donating real money to Zynga, the company that created Farmville. (An apt parallel to the real world, in which we are all paying more dearly than we realize for our fuel habits.)
Common techniques throughout, it seems:
And finally, new from the creators of Farmville…
A dairy building, so your cows never again have to see the light of day.
On Maximizing Profit
So what does Farmville have to teach us about industrial agriculture? A few things come to mind, but the main thing is this:
It is natural for individuals to maximize profit. In the world of Farmville, where pollution, overcrowding, soil degradation, and other ecological consequences do not exist, my neighbors found the most efficient way to maximize their profit, either in terms of Farmville gold coins or experience gained from planting crops. In the real world, where the costs are externalized (air and water pollution), or can be compensated for in some other way (fertilizers and pesticides), we see similar results.
Perhaps if we can find a way to internalize these costs, and take a step back from the global tragedy of the commons in which we find ourselves, the real world might look a little less like Farmville. Or Farmville might look a little less like the real world.