ecology

Joel Salatin On Fundamentalists And Mother-Earthers


“Growing up in a conservative Christian home on our beyond organic family farm in the 1960s, I lived in two different worlds. Our church friends lived in one world, but our family farm lived in another. My Dad and Mom, ultra conservative by any standard, routinely befriended hippies and our house often had dope-smoking mother-earthers hanging around talking about compost, dome homes, and Viet Nam war atrocities.

On Sunday, of course, I spent the day with straight-laced Bible fundamentalists who made jokes about hippies and those mother earthers. When Dad made Adelle Davis’ Tiger Milk, a concoction of brewer’s yeast, honey, raw milk from our Guernsey cows, and I can’t remember what else, our church buddies called it Panther Puke. I grew up on Bible memory programs and Mother Earth News magazine.

While our church friends made jokes about environmentalists, in our house The Whole Earth Catalogue stimulated many great discussions. Our family routinely patronized the health food store when it first came to town, a place our Christian friends thought cultish. How could a Christian patronize a place that smelled like incense, sold tofu, and had Zen literature stashed about? Our Christian friends built Tyson chicken houses and confinement dairies, used pharmaceuticals indiscriminately and poured on chemical fertilizer. Even their backyard gardens received liberal (a judicious use of the word liberal, to be sure) doses of insecticide just to be safe.

The whole notion that farming and food systems could contain a moral implication couldn’t make it past the laughter and jokes about environmentalist pinko commies. Yet our family plugged on, eschewing chemicals, building compost piles, planting trees, and attending environmental farming conferences. As our farm began attracting attention, most visitors were tree-hugging cosmic nirvana creation-worshippers. We used these visits to plant seeds of Biblically-based stewardship as Creator-worshippers. That sure made for some interesting conversations.

Over the years, I’ve seen an amazing transformation in our farm visitors. Today, probably half are conservative home-schooling Christians. I believe that the home-schooling movement spawned an entire awakening to alternative ideas. Families who left the conventional institutional educational setting, who disagreed with credentialed officialdom, found their new path soul satisfying. That satisfaction led them to ask the question: “Well, I wonder what else I’ve been missing out on?”

This quest for a narrow way within a broad way cultural context led families to chiropractors (what, those quacks?), nutrition, cottage-based businesses and home-based self-reliance. The home school idea literally sprouted kitchen sprout growing, raw milk consumption, gardens, and domestic flour mills for home-baked breads.

I believe the Christian community, which should have been the repository of “fearfully and wonderfully made,” squandered this high moral ground of environmental stewardship. Today, young people like Noah Sanders are beginning to chip away at the stereotype of the creation-exploitive (just one notch below rapist) religious right. When members of the religious right espouse creation stewardship, people listen to the Biblical redemption message who would never give it a thought otherwise.”

– Joel Salatin, from the introduction to Born-Again Dirt: Farming To The Glory Of God, by Noah Sanders.

 

Not much to be added to these robust sentiments. I’ll simply say that I love Salatin’s freehanded use of a diverse range of time capsule language. Still can’t believe that Christianity could get so far away from caring about the earth, but there are about a million things I can’t comprehend about the history of Christianity.

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Wendell Berry’s “Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front”


Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more
of everything ready-made. Be afraid
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know.

So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord.
Love the world. Work for nothing.
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it.
Denounce the government and embrace
the flag. Hope to live in that free
republic for which it stands.
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man
has not encountered he has not destroyed.

Ask the questions that have no answers.
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.
Say that the leaves are harvested
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.

Put your faith in the two inches of humus
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion – put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come.
Expect the end of the world. Laugh.
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts.
So long as women do not go cheap
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep
of a woman near to giving birth?

Go with your love to the fields.
Lie down in the shade. Rest your head
in her lap. Swear allegiance
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos
can predict the motions of your mind,
lose it. Leave it as a sign
to mark the false trail, the way
you didn’t go. Be like the fox
who makes more tracks than necessary,
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

– Wendell Berry
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Anyone who has clicked more than once on this blog knows that Wendell Berry is somewhat of an idol for me. He sentences are weighty and easy to cherish, whether prose, poetry, or essay. Indeed, I think it is his poetry even more than Keats’ or Elliot’s that has established the value of the art form in me.

This piece is so typically Berry, going infinitely deep with so few words. The aspect I reflect on here is how effortlessly he expresses highly subversive ideas in a completely legitimate human frame. He reflects on ideas of what makes us most human (planting, motherhood, caring for one another, heritage) and validates those as reasonable motivations to revolt against quick living, thoughtless consumption, and political imperialism.

I need to meditate on this daily.

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Keep Reading

What Mary Berry Expects From Her Father

Masanobu Fukuoka On The Philosophy Behind Our Science

For Courage Of Quiet Mothers by M. Landers

Michael Pollan Didn’t Start This


“Americans today are having a national conversation about food and agriculture that it would have been impossible to imagine even a few short years ago. To many Americans it must sound like a brand-new conversation, with its racing talk about high price for cheap food, or the links between soil and health, or the impossibility of a society eating well and being in good health unless it also farms well. But to read the essays in this sparkling anthology, many of them dating back to the 1970s and 1980s, is to realize just how little of what we are saying and hearing today Wendell Berry hasn’t already said, bracingly, before.

And in that “we” I most definitely, and somewhat abashedly, include myself. I challenge you to find an idea or insight in my own recent writings on food and farming that isn’t prefigured (to put it charitably) in Berry’s essays on agriculture. There might be one or two in there somewhere, but I must say that reading and rereading these essays has been a deeply humbling experience.

It has also been a powerful reminder that the national conversation now unfolding around the subject of food and farming really began back in the 1970s, with the work of Berry and a small handful of his contemporaries, including Francis Moore Lappé, Barry Commoner, and Joan Gussow. All four of these writers are supreme dot connectors, deeply skeptical of reductive science, and far ahead not only in their grasp of the science of ecology but in their ability to actually think ecologically: to draw lines of connection between hamburgers and the price of oil, or between the vibrancy of life in the soil and the health of the plants and animals and people eating from that soil.”

– Michael Pollan, excerpt from his Introduction to Wendell Berry’s farm essay collection Bring It To The Table

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I truly respect men like Michael Pollan and Joel Salatin, but, as Pollan himself lets us know here, they are late to the game when it comes to the crisic farming, economic, and ecological situations today. They were simply born too late, and their interest in the issue is necessarily similar to mine in that it is basically reactionary.

If I were born in the 1940s, would I so easily see the growing problems of the changing system that Berry and Lappé saw the 1960s? I would love to say yes, of course I could spot the obvious flaws, but since almost no one else did, I can’t be confident that I would have been so cautious. We have to look to the men who saw the problems not because of their results but by their roots in poor thinking and short-sighted planning. The Berrys and Fukuokas were thinking differently when the problems were still originating; their thoughts and opinions carry the weight of an utterly alternative outlook from the start.

Do we need younger men to take on this alternative mindset? I certainly hope so; I am eager to be one. Ideally everyone would catch on to a different big picture from the current pipe dreams being dealt out. The problem itself has lasted so long at this point that it would be difficult for those who saw it coming to outlive it. Generations must pick up the torch to make change, but we have to always go back to what went wrong and who witnessed it happening.

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Related Reading

An Agricultural Insight From Tolkien And Lewis

A Japanese Scientist Questions The Reasonability Of Agricutural Science

Wendell Berry On The Difference Btween A Path And A Road

Author Quotes: Wendell Berry On Paths And Roads


“The difference between a path and a road is not only the obvious one. A path is little more than a habit that comes with knowledge of a place. It is a sort of ritual of familiarity. As a form, it is a form of contact with a known landscape. It is not destructive. It is the perfect adaptation, through experience and familiarity, of movement to place; it obeys the natural contours; such obstacles as it meets it goes around. A road, on the other hand, even the most primitive road, embodies a resistance against the landscape. Its reason is not simply the necessity for movement, but haste. Its wish is to avoid contact with the landscape; it seeks so far as possible to go over the country, rather than through it; its aspiration, as we see clearly in the example of our modern freeways, is to be a bridge; its tendency is to translate place into space in order to traverse it with the least effort. It is destructive, seeking to remove or destroy all obstacles in its way. The primitive road advanced by the destruction of the forest; modern roads advance by the destruction of topography.

That first road from the site of New Castle to the mouth of the Kentucky River–lost now by obsolescence or metamorphosis–is now being crossed and to some extent replaced by its modern decendant known as I-71, and I have no wish to disturb the question of whether or not this road was needed. I only want to observe that it bears no relation whatever to the country it passes through. It is a pure abstraction, built to serve the two abstractions that are the poles of our national life: commerce and expensive pleasure. It was built, not according to the lay of the land, but according to a blueprint. Such homes and farmland and woodlands as happened to be in its way are now buried under it. A part of a hill near here that would have caused it to turn aside was simply cut down and disposed of as thoughtlessly as the pioneer road builders would have disposed of a tree. It’s form is the form of speed, dissatisfaction, and anxiety. It represents the ultimate in engineering sophistication, but the crudest possible valuation of life in this world. It is as adequate a symbol of our relation to our country now as that first road was of our relation to it in 1797.”

– Wendell Berry, excerpt from A Native Hill
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Berry’s words are potent, but they carry an extra weight for those have grown up on I-71 and can visualize its toll on the land. It’s true that the principle remains the same anywhere, but part of his point lies in relating to the land itself, and I can picture the very landscapes he has in mind.

A Native Hill is a wonderful and expansive essay covering Berry’s own flight from and eventual enlightened return to the Kentucky hillside his forefathers had long farmed.

Author Quotes: Masanobu Fukuoka and The Philosophy Behind The Science


“Before researchers become researchers they should become philosophers. They should consider what the human goal is, what it is that humanity should create. . .

Modern research divides nature into tiny pieces and conducts tests that conform neither with natural law nor with practical experiences. The results are arranged for the convenience of research, not according to the needs of the farmer. To think that these conclusions can be put to use with invariable success in the farmer’s field is a big mistake.
Recently Professor Tsuno of Ehime University wrote a lengthy book on the relationship of plant metabolism to rice harvests. This professor often comes to my field, digs down a few feet to check the soil, brings students along to measure the angle of sunlight and shade and whatnot, and takes plant specimens back to the lab for analysis. I often ask him, ‘When you come back, are you going to try non-cultivation direct seeding?’ He laughingly answers, ‘No, I’ll leave the application to you. I’m going to stick to research!’
So that is how it is. You study the function of the plant’s metabolism and its ability to absorb nutrients from the soil, write a book, and get a doctorate in agricultural science. But do not ask if your theory of assimilation is going to be relevant to the yield.”

– Masanobu Fukuoka, from the essay “Limits of the Scientific Method” in “The One-Straw Revolution.” Translated from the original Japanese.
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I have spoken briefly about Fukuoka here before, but the man really deserves a greater deal of credit for the things he revealed in his lifetime. A trained scientist and researcher himself, his contributions came not in any scientific field but through over half a century of rehabilitating fields and orchards that had been utterly sapped.

Fukuoka realized, simply, that when we live outside of the order and systems of nature, which replenishes its own resources, we are building a false reality. Based on this premise, he quit his scientific research and went to discern how to cultivate the land while altering nature as little as possible. He learned to do less alteration than any other form of farming while producing comparable or increased harvests. The only requirement was to spend a few years getting to know the land, weather, and the nature of the plants being propagated.

I usually read his work with my mouth hanging open. The man worked hard in his fields and orchards for around 70 years, devoting his old age to researching solutions to fight desertification. In his lifetime he perfected completely natural farming of all kinds of grains, vegetables, and citrus. Yet somehow, his work goes unnoticed by those who don’t seek it out.

Author Quotes: Wendell Berry and Our Violent Heritage


“When I lived in other places I looked on their evils with the curious eye of a traveler; I was not responsible for them; it cost me nothing to be a critic, for I had not been there long, and I did not feel that I would stay. But here, now that I am both native and citizen, there is no immunity to what is wrong. It is impossible to escape the sense that I am involved in history. What I am has been to a considerable extent determined by what my forebears were, by how they chose to treat this place while they lived in it; the lives of most of them diminished it, and limited its possibilities, and narrowed its future. And every day I am confronted by the question of what inheritance I will leave. What do I have that I am using up? For it has been our history that each generation in this place has been less welcomed to it than the last. There has been less here for them. At each arrival there has been less fertility in the soil, and a larger inheritance of destructive precedent and shameful history.

I am forever being crept up on and newly startled by the revelation that my people established themselves here by killing or driving out the original possessors, by the awareness that people were once bought and sold here by my people, by the sense of violence they have done to their own kind and to each other and to the earth, by their persistent failure to serve either the place or their own community in it. I am forced, against all my hopes and inclinations, to regard the history of my people here as the progress of the doom of what I value most in the world: the life and health of the earth, the peacefulness of human communities and households.

And so here, in the place I love more than any other and where I have chosen among all other places to live my life, I am more painfully divided within myself than I could be in any other place.”

– Wendell Berry, Excerpt from the essay “A Native Hill”
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I rediscovered this essay a few days ago and it was a welcome comfort to read the same sentiments I have been wrestling with spoken of with the characteristically gentle articulation that Wendell Berry brings to all his writings.

I am a great lover of nature and physical spaces. While I have long been considering the tragedies we commit against nature agriculturally and ecologically, I have been realizing in a shocking new way that every physical place is stained with the blood of the innocent. Perhaps “realizing” isn’t the correct word. I’ve known it long, but it is beginning to violently discourage me.

My heart has been heavy with the immensity of human suffering in every corner of this beautiful planet. Not just human suffering, but oppression at the hands of other men. Human history is a series of violent oppressions, revolutions, exterminations, and slaveries. Men fight each other as tribes until they are stolen away to become generations of slaves in a foreign land, a land itself obtained by the routing and eradication of the native children by those who arrived there themselves under force of oppression. It’s almost too much to bear, and at this point the gravity of it makes me despair regardless of the beauty of the greatest landscapes.

Berry goes on to sight further historic references and propose that it is our disconnection from identifying with a multi-generational history and a detachment to our physical land that leads us to consume without question and thus builds over generations a willingness toward violence.

I can see the correlation.

Read A Native Hill here.