Imagine yourself 5,000 years ago, in a land with a bountiful amount of resources and absolutely no Kardashians.
You were the fruit of millions of years of evolution, being either a farmer, shepherd, gatherer, or hunter. If you did not fit into one of those categories, you were surely a king or of some sort of noble descent.
The story of the Agricultural Revolution is very complex and long, but in short (Warning: Reading Time Varies), I am here to tell you that actually 99% of us are still farmers…Or in other words, let’s apologize for environmental tragedies such as this and that (You’re welcome, Brazil), and start a counter-revolution, in which we take care of the earth through our occupations, purchases, and disposal habits.
Instead of working on how to transform every last drop of oil, soil, and mineral into something someone could buy, let us create regenerative and resilient systems that produce more energy, soil, and nutrition. Since very little of us are willing to touch the earth (I mean the actual farming part!), we’re just gonna have to pretend we’re farmers to make this work.
What’s the Difference?
As a farmer by profession, I know that it is not going to be easy for everyone to pretend to be someone like me. It’s clear the barrier between modern life and that of a farmer is still very much alive.
Although many people tell me they eat healthy food, they refuse to eat the carrot that I cleaned with my shirt. They refuse to eat an unfamiliar flower or weed that grows along a fence. They hesitate to hold the chicken that I hand them. The point is that, no matter how hard I try to convince them that this is not an escape, or amalgamation, but a way of life, they see it as something wholly unnatural.
Which is ironic.
In 1974, Wendell Berry wrote that “one of the miracles of science and hygiene that the germs that used to be in our food have been replaced by poisons.” It is true that we are more comfortable putting Purell on our hands than healthy soil, despite research suggesting the opposite.
In fact, our culture is making steps to take ownership of agriculture into the future. Developers realize that building prefabricated homes around farms might be a better sell than around chlorinated pool or golf course. Albeit, these guys must have read somewhere about the water shortage and impact on short cut grass and, yes, pools.
Grocery stores regularly display local produce and mix in organic options in the isles. There is even a business that sells you a reused metal box for $76,000 that produces a lot of lettuce, so you can get a small slice of a potential $9 Billion dollar industry. There are countless examples of our attempt to solve the immense problem that is our food system, but this does not address the massive problems of agriculture.
Farmland for the past century is becoming increasingly consolidated into larger and larger farms that are more and more mechanized. The people who work on these lands no longer have a profound relationship with the land. How can you when your head is 10 feet above the ground on a tractor looking at thousands of acres of crops that you are unlikely to consume? This all leads to degrading soil and genetic resources, which is where we are failing the next generation.
American Society, as a whole, follows the same path. Wealth is constantly being consolidated into larger and larger fortunes. Three out four adults drive to work alone to spend long hours at jobs that they have money to buy things they did not make. These items include a food selection that looks a lot like the portrait of farms above, which provides a diet of oil, sugar, grain, and meat. A lot this comes from big box stores with big parking lots. The rise of Walmart in the 1980’s is along with this prescribed diet is correlated to our obesity epidemic, meaning two thirds of the American population is overweight or obese. It is given that there are many factors that are involved in this complex picture. For example, mechanization itself has lead to a higher obesity rate among farmers. However, I am going to go out on a limb and say this has to do something with agriculture.
Are we going to pass this on to our kids or something else?
Farm labor isn’t easy although it is often romanticized through a weekend trip to a vineyard or an afternoon picking apples, is hard work that requires long periods of time in frigid rain or hot sun in uncomfortable positions on your knees or feet.
This is why many of us seeing farming as undesirable and dressing in a suit to play with a computer as “making it.” However, there are long list new technologies and old technologies that make arduous tasks easier. Even with the absence of serious research money conventional farming receives, farmers will continue to become more intelligents, but farming in the neighborhood lettuce box just ain’t going to cut it.
The farm has to include all the things we want in our house, not the stuff we expect in a McDonald’s. This includes lumber for the furniture, grain for the toast, and oil to fry up the eggs from the chicken that you might have seen on your way to work. I don’t think everything has to come from a local farm right away, but it has to be more than the lettuce that the kids likely won’t eat.
The farm has to humble and on a human scale, not some monolithic giant that can only be understood by people good at numbers.
The farm that we pass down matters because to paraphrase Wendell Berry, “We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors; we borrow it from our children.” We have a lot to do in order to soften the future generation’s judgement of us.
Everyone, in some capacity, can have a huge impact on our legacy we pass down by the everyday choices you make. These choices are buying from smaller farms that employ more farmers who walk the land, touch the soil, and eat their food. I think this will lead to stronger communities, with people who walk to work, relate to nature, and are friends with their neighbors because culture comes from agriculture.
Healthy farm culture can only be based on familiarity and bonding with how you consume. This can come from purchasing decisions, political discussion, and actually growing food. It does not matter how you participate, so long as you recognize yourself as a part of the natural system. The farm should not be bottlenecked into an image of a bunch of laborers toiling away on a field.
The farm is much bigger than that. A culture that brings out the best in humanity, a rekindle of our love for the earth and the offspring who inherit it. Society can hide this notion the best it can with a bevy of smartphones and TVs. But at the end of the day, when all that is far removed:
We are all Farmers.