It has always been our intention to farm the way we see the world, i.e., seeing ourselves as a part of a beautiful, vastly complex, and deeply ordered creation. A creation that is far beyond our full comprehension and can only be approached and beheld with a deep humility. A humility that admits it is way beyond us, we did not make it, we are not separate or over and above it, but are inextricably part of it, made from it, and deeply woven into it through the daily needs of our bodies. From this vantage point we can begin to have a true agriculture that does not abuse creation and thus ourselves.
We have found an attitude of humility in Organic/Sustainable agriculture because it honors this vast and deep created order by seeking to work within it rather than abuse it; applying an abstract order to subvert it for maximum short term production, while in the long term undermining its very foundations. An agricultural humility contains an awe; it acknowledges the depth of the created order, and our inability to fully comprehend it. It seeks to understand this order, to work within it; to preserve and keep it while drawing our sustenance from it. We have always believed this approach would take care of the creation and provide us with the most flavorful and nutritious food.
The soil alone demonstrates the need for an agricultural humility. In a 2013 New York Times article “The Hidden World Under Our Feet” European Scientists testify to the vastness of life in the soil, and the limited knowledge we have of it:
“Scientists using new analytical techniques over the last decade have found that the world’s ocean of soil is one of our largest reservoirs of biodiversity. It contains almost one-third of all living organisms, according to the European Union’s Joint Research Center, but only about 1 percent of its micro-organisms have been identified, and the relationships among those myriad life-forms is poorly understood.”
As farmers we are husbandmen to all these creatures, many of which we cannot see or know. We have a choice to approach these creatures with humility, (i.e., to trust they are here for a purpose even though we may not fully understand it) to seek to understand, enhance, and work with them in this mystery that makes our lives possible. Our other choice is the equivalent of chemical warfare on these "myriad life forms" in the soil that we unwittingly rely of for our food. Using pesticides, fungicides, chemical fertilizers, and erosive farming practices we can destroy this poorly understood web of life and count the myriad life-forms as collateral; the necessary casualties of maximum production.
This agricultural arrogance is the current model of our time, and it is destroying and depleting the "the world's ocean of soil." While producing nutrient and flavor compromised, unclean food. It is the same arrogant husbandry practiced on the creatures we can see and know; as when we ignore and deny the nature of a pig, a chicken or a cow, and chemically force them into the inhumane, abstract grid of the mass production factory system. These imposed orders ignore the deep and beautiful created order and work against it, denying creatures their nature and wholesome lives, depleting and eroding the soil, poisoning the water, the food, the animals, and ultimately ourselves. Our removal from agriculture over the past 100 years has produced an ignorance and enabled a disconnect between the health and lives of the creatures we eat and our own health, the life of the soil and our bodies.
The consequences of this approach are now apparent, as is the realization that such systems cannot be sustained. But rather than change our farming systems, the response of industrial agriculture has been to change the genetic structure of our food (plants and animals) to fit into the imposed extractive order: genetically manipulated organisms GMO. This is a new level of arrogance, to remake the creation in our own image. This will not ultimately feed the poor, end hunger, reduce pesticide use, or any of the other claims used to sell GMO's to the "consumer". It will give more control and power to certain agricultural and biotech corporations. They will now "own" their patented creations, make us reliant on them, and charge us to use them. From a perspective of agricultural humility we can know this response will cause bigger problems than those it is claiming to solve. Gmo’s are not really a response to the inherent problems in industrial agriculture but just a further transgression to gain control masquerading as a high tech solution.
In our twenty some years at New Town Farms we have seen some hopeful changes. With 98% of our population now uninvolved with agriculture we are a population separated from our food production, allowing an agriculture without oversight from those it is feeding. Over the last twenty years we have witnessed a parting of this veil of separation between us and our food, those who peered behind the veil learned some unappetizing truths about our food. Exposed were the illusions of pastoral farms and other false images served up by the advertisers to satisfy our inherent need to know the origins of our food. No longer eating in ignorance, those who could, began demanding wholesome food and thus a wholesome agriculture. We have witnessed the rise of the real local farmer's market as a food buying option. We have seen "organic" grow from a fringe movement to a federally regulated standard and the fastest growing segment of the food economy. This has allowed the return of many to farms and kindled the desire in many more to return. We have seen a revival and rediscovery of regional food cultures and a movement to revive and preserve the seeds and breeds associated with the diverse regions of our country that we're being lost to the homogeneity of industrial food. Out of this has grown a chef driven restaurant movement that has had agricultural implications, and a cooking revival that has turned "drudgery" back to joy and health again. Many great challenges remain as our agriculture has gotten into places that are difficult to back out of. The Goliath of industrial food continues to rage, and the obstacles to making a sustainable family farm a viable business are many. We are still predominately fed by corporations and there are more people watching cooking shows than are actually cooking. The majority of agriculture continues to poison, mine, and erode the soil, pollute the water, and treat creatures as abstract protein. The number of farms continues to shrink, the average age of farmers continues to rise, the farms that remain continue to get bigger; and we continue to build tract housing on the fertile farmland around our cities while shipping our food from distant fields.
The answers to these challenges are not all visible, The responsibility entrusted to us for the care of this "good" creation is possible and requires more than we as men in and of ourselves contain. In the realm of hope can I see to make the daily choices to do what is right on our farm as in our lives. Working with this beautiful creation is limitless, exciting, challenging, rewarding, enlightening, and humbling. It is our joy, it is the sweat of our face, from the planting of the seed to the harvest it teaches us about faith, hope, love and patience, and there is so much to learn.
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge.
Then I beheld all the work of God, that a man cannot find out the work that is done under the sun: because though a man labour to seek it out, yet he shall not find it; yea further; though a wise man think to know it, yet shall he not be able to find it. -Ecclesiastes 8:17
“The husband, unlike the "manager" or the would-be objective scientist, belongs inherently to the complexity and the mystery that is to be husbanded, and so the husbanding mind is both careful and humble.” -Wendell Berry
Jesus saith unto them, Come and dine. And none of the disciples durst ask him, Who art thou? knowing that it was the Lord. -John 21:12
©2014 Samuel Ellis Koenigsberg