farming

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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“American Meat” In Review


Recently, my wife and I watched a little documentary entitled “American Meat.” I call it little because it doesn’t look like much at first, but this lower budget documentary offers more than first meets the eye. I just happened upon it and the cover (complete with Joel Salatin cover) made me interested to view it. I was surprisingly refreshed both by the content and the way they chose to approach it.

Documentaries often carry an air of theatricality. Perhaps that is really what makes this film stand apart, seemingly low budget in a good way. The goal in writing a documentary is usually to either reveal something in a shocking, journalistic manner or to bring a comforting, self-discovery. Any documentary about social woes and systematic problems is generally going to lean heavily on creating intense moods and starkly contrasting victims and monsters. Not so here. The film was an honest look at the farmers. Farmers across the spectrum. Farmers who have committed themselves wholeheartedly to industrial farming, farmers who are still relying on industrial farming but would love a better option they could rely on, farmers who have established alternative and highly functional farming methods (mainly Joel Salatin here), and younger people who are turning to farming and learning and innovating new methods.

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The thing that was so incredibly pleasant about this film was how positive it stayed. The question all along was simply “is this a good way and, if not, is there a feasible alternative method?” There is zero emphasis on the way the system has gotten so bad, or who is responsible for the flaws. There is only emphasis on understanding those who find themselves at the forefront of the problems, and gentle encouragement to believe that proactivity can create a real turn around. This film is utterly without pretense and completely bolsters your belief in humanity and the ability for relationships to breed community and the ability for community to produce national change. If you have watched Food Inc. and similar documentaries and find you have any interest in the food and farming situations current in the United States, I cannot recommend any documentary above this one.

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On a separate and similar note, I would encourage anyone seriously interested in getting hands on experience on a farm or getting back into the farming business to check out the Salatin family’s newest project, EagerFarmer. EagerFarmer could easily be the catalyst for the change American Meat proposes. It is basically a classified ad service for those looking to learn to farm, find gainful farm employment, find farm help, or get farmers on their unused land. I’ve been eagerly browsing and dreaming, and I encourage both in you.

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Further Reading

 

Michael Pollan Didn’t Start This

Tolkien and Lewis On Living Off The Land

Wendell Berry On Paths And Roads

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

Mary Berry and What She Expects From Her Father


“It is hard to imagine now that until coming back to live permanently in Henry County in 1964 we had lived in Europe, California and New York City, with stays in Kentucky between those moves. We moved to Lanes Landing, where my parents live now, when I was 7 and my brother, Den, was 3. . .

Daddy was encouraged to seek his fame and fortune elsewhere; in fact, he was told that coming home would ruin his career. I don’t have to imagine, however, the great happiness that was his when he knew that he could come home because I experienced that. When I was away at school, for instance, I don’t think anyone was thinking that I was blowing a shot at a brilliant career by returning home. Coming home was not encouraged by any influential person in my life except my family. And this is where my unending debt begins in my heart and in my memory. . .

I was asked once what it was like to be a Berry child. I answered that it was fine except for the constant humiliation. I believe that I went along with my father’s plans for us very agreeably until I was 12 or 13, the age when I think many children realize that their parents need guidance.

Daddy had come home to live and farm. He bought a rocky hillside farm overlooking the Kentucky River. He and my mother have added some acreage over the years and the place has been their home and their fascination ever since. . .

I went right along with all of this until I was old enough to have a reputation to protect. That coincided with the addition of a composting privy to the rest of an ever-more-embarrassing way of life.

Unfortunately for me, my father didn’t understand at all that he should. . .never mention the composting privy to a journalist. I was in a difficult predicament. I never really thought that my father was wrong about anything. In fact, the reasons for the things we did at home were talked about all of the time, and I understood and even honored those reasons. But, to have details about your composting privy reported in the Louisville Courier-Journal was just too much to be borne. . .

The very public privy opened the floodgates and suddenly I knew how abused I was: no television, no junk food, no trips to amusement parks, and I had to WORK outside in the dirt. And, my father was always protesting something: wars, dams, strip-mining, airports, etc.

Well, to make a long story short, I expect that by the time I left for college there must have been a general sigh of relief. Some of the freshman English classes at the college I attended were reading The Memory of Old Jack, a novel written by my father. I had not read it before I left home. In fact, I had read almost nothing of Daddy’s by then. He read things to us that he was working on and I guess I thought that was plenty. I suppose I experienced positive peer pressure at school because girls in my dorm were reading The Memory of Old Jack. So I read The Memory of Old Jack, myself. That book gave me back my home and it gave me the chance to make amends with my father and then to find out that no amends were necessary. . .

A heartbreaking part of Old Jack’s story is his estrangement from his daughter Clara, who, like me, had wanted something else, something better. I called my father when I finished the book and asked, “Am I Clara?” I remember being reassured by the phone call. I still have the letter he wrote me a few days after we talked. He said that he was moved by my question and told me that of course I was not Clara. The letter is long and beautiful and I treasure it because of its kindness, its good sense, its understanding of a flawed young girl. . .

Trouble has come to me in my life as it does to all and I have made mistakes. The gift that my father gave me so many years ago was the knowledge that I live in his love, and if forgiveness is needed it has already been given. What greater gift could a parent give a child? Daddy has kept alive in my head — even in the worst of times and in the face of awful news — that if we actively choose it over and over everyday, we can indeed live in the world of affection and membership that he honors in his life and his stories.”

 

– Mary Berry-Smith, from Wendell And Me, published in the May/June 2013 issue of Edible Louisville Magazine (emphasis mine).

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I find so many details about this story life-giving, but the real solidifying agent for my respect of Wendell Berry is that his child knows and can articulate why she respects him so greatly as to devote her adult life and the family she started to following in his footsteps. Many great leaders of men have inspired the masses while leaving wreckage at home, but those devoted eternally to their families carry a certain weight that should not be overlooked.

As a parent myself, the greatest impact of this story is the fact that above all else in their relationship, Berry’s daughter has been moved by a realization that she has always existed in her father’s love, affection, and forgiveness. She came to realize that, whether she knew it or not, he cherished her, delighted in her personality, and was always ready to pardoned her missteps.

Things like obedience are valuable. Social skills and a drive to learn are developmentally key. But after about 18 years, obedience becomes completely obsolete in the parenting relationship. Social skills and learning generally fall out of our influence range. So when my daughter it 25 or 30, what is my deepest desire for our relationship? The answer is intimacy.

More than I want my daughters to make great decisions and live to the fullest, I want them to know that any failures or tragedies that befall them can be safely confided in me, without any negative repercussions. The deepest, underpinning goal is that the relationship may always be authentic, open, and capable of enduring all things.

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From the text of The Memory Of Old Jack.

“In all their minds his voice lies beneath a silence. And in the hush of it they are aware of something that passed from them and now returns: his stubborn biding with them to the end, his keeping of faith with them who would live after him, and what perhaps none of them has yet thought to call his gentleness, his long gentleness toward them and toward this place where they are at work, they know that his memory holds them in common knowledge and common loss, the like of him will not soon live again in this world, and they will not forget him.”

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.

Wendell Berry’s Greatest Poem


While I have mentioned him here in passing, I must now go on record stating that Wendell Berry is my favorite living sage thinker. He takes the practical steps to live exactly what he believes. His life is an inspiration in its thought-out-and-acted-upon simplicity. He is a Kentucky farm boy, turned scholar and poet, turned university professor, turned cultural and political activist, turned farmer. While I would highly encourage you to dive into his essays, poetry, open letters, and novels, I am more eager that you delve deeper into his personal story.

While I would still consider myself a novice in his work, I always come back to one poem in particular. I have read and loved some of his short stories and his novel Hannah Coulter, and Jayber Crow is on my 55 Classic’s List. I have read many of his open letters and essays, and Bring It To The Table has also made its way into the 55.

Even with all this great material, I am most impressed by his poem “How To Be a Poet”.

How To Be a Poet
BY WENDELL BERRY
(to remind myself)

i

Make a place to sit down.
Sit down. Be quiet.
You must depend upon
affection, reading, knowledge,
skill—more of each
than you have—inspiration,
work, growing older, patience,
for patience joins time
to eternity. Any readers
who like your poems,
doubt their judgment.

ii

Breathe with unconditional breath
the unconditioned air.
Shun electric wire.
Communicate slowly. Live
a three-dimensioned life;
stay away from screens.
Stay away from anything
that obscures the place it is in.
There are no unsacred places;
there are only sacred places
and desecrated places.

iii

Accept what comes from silence.
Make the best you can of it.
Of the little words that come
out of the silence, like prayers
prayed back to the one who prays,
make a poem that does not disturb
the silence from which it came.

C.S. Lewis And J.R.R. Tolkien: “The Strength Of The Hills Is Not Ours”


While permaculture is still a newish (30-40 years) subject of suddenly increased interest (myself falling in among the band-waggon stagers), I’m learning not to be surprised when I stumble upon a highly relevant, pre-dating thought from someone who would not be considered a natural farming resource. In a letter to his life-long pen pal Arthur Greeves dated the 22nd of June, 1930, C.S. Lewis mentions Tolkien’s thoughts on the spiritual and generational effects of living directly off of the physically surrounding country.

“Tolkien once remarked to me that the feeling about home must have been quite different in the days when the family had fed on the produce of the same few miles of country for six generations, and that perhaps this was why they saw nymphs in the fountains and dryads in the wood – they were not mistaken for there was in a sense a real (not metaphorical) connection between them and the countryside. What had been earth and air & later corn, and later still bread, really was in them. We of course who live on a standardised international diet (you may have had Canadian flour, English meat, Scotch oatmeal, African oranges, & Australian wine to day) are really artificial beings and have no connection (save in sentiment) with any place on earth. We are synthetic men, uprooted. The strength of the hills is not ours.”

People like Fukuoka, Lewis, Berry and Tolkien seem to have this in common: they interest was not in resonse to a couple of generations of problems and discontent, or because of some impending global disaster. They began by asking themselves much larger questions about what it means to be human and, when alighting upon confident conclusions, the implications of what they understood led them to value the concepts that permaculture and natural farming ideals now come to out of desparation or fear. They were asking these questions in the 1920’s, 30’s, and 50’s. When everyone else was head over heels in love with new technologies, they were wondering at what had been lost. I am in no way implying that those who desire to live naturally do not see the immense beauty before them, I only mean to point out the difference between coming from a concept to its implication versus finding that the natural is the necessary solution to so much unnatural action. I think I’ll go medetate on these philosophies a bit more before heading back into the practical how-to’s.

Masanobu Fukuoka and Wendell Berry: Finding Non-Fiction That Changes You For The Better


So I’m beginning to think that I may have lied to you.

About a week ago I made a big point of the fact that I basically hate non-fiction reading. The assertion was that I am bored by non-biographical information in long form. While I’m still not ready claim that I can easily finish a full book of non-fiction, I am realizing that the claim may make it sound like I don’t enjoy learning about reality, when in actuality I love a lot of broader types of information in smaller doses.

Natural Farming is one subject that I have been interested in for a few years and, more recently, permaculture. My interest in permaculture was sparked when my friend’s wife (who is also, interestingly enough, a friend of mine) took the course about this time last year and told us all about the huge wealths of information involved. This interest has recently blossomed upon finding that the Permaculture Design Course is offered online for free! Through this training I found out about Masanobu Fukuoka, and I am actually attempting to read two of his non-fiction books. Gasp!

Fukuoka reminds me of Wendell Berry, and that is not just because Berry did the foreword 0f his first English-language book. Berry is a farmer, essayist, poet, and novelist from Kentucky (my homeland) who has been championing natural causes, local culture and small farming for half a century. I have been a long-time fan of his breath-taking prose and poetry, and his essays are written so that every sentence expresses a grave wisdom that most others could take paragraphs to attempt without accomplishing. He has been farming his Kentucky hillsides for about half a century now.

I have found that Fukuoka is also a champion of the overlapping between the arts and nature.

There is no time in modern agriculture for a farmer to

write poetry or compose a song.

— Masanobu Fukuoka

I’m going to do my best to finish these Fukuoka books and eventually begin to impliment the techniques of permaculture in our lifestyle.

With the recent tragic death of the great artist Philip Seymour Hoffman, I am left somberly wondering if perhaps his life and full career may have been twice as long and three times as artistically-fulfilling if he were able to find a different way to live, a different atomosphere in which to foster his creative inclinations. A terrible tragedy, linked back to a lifestyle, developed in the same atmosphere that made the artist great.

I am starting to find the answer to my own ask-the-reader question; I am finding that non-fiction and fiction alike can be powerful resources for good change, if we let it change our actions.