A short and rather morose post, but I want to draw attention to an excerpt from Wendell Berry’s The Gift of Good Land:
There is no want of evidence–some is given in this book; more is available–that the small farm, if properly ordered, equipped, and managed, is highly productive, kind to the land, and economically workable. This being so we may ask why it has so few advocates in the colleges of agriculture, in government agriculture agencies, and in agricultural journalism.
The reason, I think, is a general one, and is to be found both in what we call our economy, and, because an economy is a cultural artifact, in our culture. For complex reasons, our culture allows “economy” to mean only “money economy.” It equates success and even goodness with monetary profit because it lacks any other standard of measurement. I am no economist, but I venture to suggest that one of the laws of such an economy is that a farmer is worth more dead than alive.
A second law is that anything diseased is more profitable than anything that is healthy. What is wrong with us contributes more to the “gross national product” than what is right with us. Let us take a healthy marriage for example: a man and wife who produce from their own small farm or homestead or town lot as much as possible of what they eat, and provide on their own as far as possible for other needs; who therefore have “home life” and all that that implies. Such a couple may contribute immeasurably to the health of the nation, even to its solvency. But they are not good for the nation’s business, for they consume too little.
If this man and wife were to get divorced, their contribution to the economy would increase spectacularly. Their household, with all its productive motives means, and energies, would be dissolved, and its members would live by consumption. Their dependence on the industries of food, style, transportation, entertainment, and so on would be greater. So probably would their dependence on the industries of drugs, medicine, psychiatry, counseling, and the like. They would be worth far less to themselves, to each other, to their community, and to the world–but far more to the economy.
I am aware of our consumer based economy, but I was profoundly struck by these paragraphs, especially this statement: “What is wrong with us contributes more to the “gross national product” than what is right with us.” Our society is encouraged to pursue a lifestyle that directly affronts values and practices that bring us happiness. This book invokes a range of emotions; I am angry that so many people did not have a choice or option to ever hold on to a tradition–I never had a small farm with techniques passed down through generations for me to put into practice. I have to relearn everything, I am totally unselfsufficient. I cannot grow my own food, the best I can do is commit to buy from local growers. This anger gives way to the chills and injustice as I read about the “agribusinessmen” and their inherent disregard for the health of humans, families, communities, and the world. Why are these disconnected and unpracticed THEORIST the ones in charge?! Of course all of the previous emotions melt into an deep sadness, and a longing for the way things were or could be now. I do not want to leave out the silver lining of my emotions, but the hope, passion and inspiration I feel after reading about people who ARE doing it right is not absent from the desolate feelings invoked by the insolent ass holes of todays current industrial agricultural system. I know name calling is not in place here, I am as disconnected to these farming businessmen as they are from the health of their soils, but new “innovations” and “improvements” are constantly thrown into the industrial food system which undermine any honor in producing food on a smaller and more sustainable scale.
Each of us can only control our own actions and support businesses and practices we deem worthy. Despite this truth, it is rare to consider the worthiness of the company to which we give our money. But, as I am professing responsibility of self, I am going to refocus my energy on the possibility of finding a sustainable farming program during the summer where I can learn some of the traditions I so entirely lack. Please let me know if you have any suggestions!
Great Video Clip: The Story of Stuff