An Essay by Sammy Koenigsberg
March 25, 2014
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 far beyond our full comprehension which can only be approached and beheld properly through deep humility: an orientation of the heart and mind that concedes the limitations of our understanding and acknowledges our creatureliness. A clarity that we did not form creation, we are not separate from it 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 attitude we can begin to have an agriculture that cares for rather than abuses and undermines the health of the creation and thus our own.
We have found this attitude within the Organic/Sustainable agriculture movement. With the long view in mind, it honors this vast and deep order by seeking to work within it rather than abuse it; endeavoring to understand the life and the processes that exist and working with them in ways that encourage life, and the flourishing and health of the natural systems and all those connected to it. When it inevitably bumps up against mystery it uses wisdom to make decisions that affirm life and care. This movement is an appropriate reaction to the abuse of power referred to as “industrial agriculture” which seeks to subvert natural systems for maximum short term production, while in the long term undermining its very foundations
through all manner of manipulations, destruction of soils, and poisoning of ecosystems.
An agricultural humility contains an awe; it acknowledges the depth of the created order, and our inability to fully comprehend it. It values all creatures not only mankind. 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, 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 on for our food. Using pesticides, fungicides, herbicides, 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 age, 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 natural and wholesome lives.
Our removal from agriculture during the so called “green revolution” that has industrialized agriculture over the past 100 years has produced an ignorance of the natural systems as well as farming systems we rely on for our sustenance. This ignorance has in turn 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, and the increasing fruits of this approach such as the increase of diseases related to destructive agriculture. 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. This is a new level of arrogance, to remake 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 as they 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. Genetic manipulation is 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 thirty years at New Town Farms we have seen some hopeful changes. One notable change has been progress toward a reconnection and engagement with the origins of our food. With over 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 thirty 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 were 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. The Goliath of industrial food continues to rage, it is now in the process of co-opting and industrializing “sustainable agriculture” which will render it unsustainable. The obstacles to making a sustainable family farm a viable business are many. We are still predominantly fed by corporations, and there are more people watching cooking shows than are actually cooking. The majority of agriculture continues to poison, mine, 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 yet seems to require more than we as men in and of ourselves contain. In the realm of hope and trust I can 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 more to learn. All of us at New Town Farms thank you for supporting our work in this journey.
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.
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge. -Proverbs 1:7
©2014 Samuel Ellis Koenigsberg
Revised August 2023