The ultimate goal of farming is not the growing of crops, but the cultivation and perfection of human beings.-Masanobu Fukuoka
As I prepare for a class this week, I am struck by a few things. We are so disconnected from our source, detached from that which gives life. We are even confused about what constitutes sustenance.
In thinking back to the process that woke me from my consumerist, hamster wheel slumber, I am drawn repeatedly to lessons learned on the farms of my youth and on our current piece of Earth. I ponder these same ideas as I prepare the curriculum for our children each semester, looking ever forward to those classes that draw us outdoors, make the information practical and help them put knowledge and skill in context.
Somewhere over the years I started taking things for granted that western society, as a whole, no longer even acknowledges.
While I am, of course, guilty of impatience, we each need to have, and instill in the next generation, a sense that good things take time. From parents who treat children as little adults to the tech we all have in our pockets that literally allows instant answers, the art of waiting is being lost. I am in no way disparaging tech (I love Google. I love NOT looking everything thing up in a card catalog and hoping the books I find have answers.) Whether it is the gestation of an animal or the time spent waiting for a plant to fruit, a garden or farm is a world of work now, reap later.
There are two spiritual dangers in not owning a farm. One is the danger of supposing that breakfast comes from the grocery, and the other that heat comes from the furnace.-Aldo Leopold
The first supermarket supposedly appeared on the American landscape in 1946. That is not very long ago. Until then, where was all the food? Dear folks, the food was in homes, gardens, local fields, and forests. It was near kitchens, near tables, near bedsides. It was in the pantry, the cellar, the backyard.-Joel Salatin
Connection to the basics:
The number of people who think food comes from a drive through is astounding. Now, I am a huge fan of specialization. I love economics too much not to be, but there is a limit. Our bodies are literally made of what we eat but most of us don’t have any idea what we are ingesting. If I showed you the label on most of the highly processed goods at the grocer and the label on a bag of dog food, most people wouldn’t know the difference. In fact, the more premium pet foods are probably cleaner than the “food” in the center of the store.
So, if most people don’t know what real food is, or how to grow it, is it surprising that the other most basic skills are missing from our repertoire? What percentage of people can start a fire without a lighter or matches, much less judge soil quality or build shelter? We are weak on the fundamentals of being human.
This brings us to another fundamental: interpersonal relations. Let’s not throw this baby out with the bathwater, either. Tech can bring us together and link us over miles. It can enable us to share ideas and solidarity around the globe but it will never replace the time spent in the kitchen together or shelling peas on the porch with another human. It cannot replace the “ another set of hands” my husband and I are always hollering for across the farm or the soul by your side surveying the damage after a storm. It cannot smile when you shout that the first strawberries are ripe or help you bury your dog. All of these are, however, part of life on a farm.
The single greatest lesson the garden teaches is that our relationship to the planet need not be zero-sum, and that as long as the sun still shines and people still can plan and plant, think and do, we can, if we bother to try, find ways to provide for ourselves without diminishing the world.-Michael Pollan
The farm teaches, given time, that the Earth covers itself, the soil is the basis of physical and some spiritual sustenance and sanitation is counter to nature.
People either fight nature or work with it to cultivate it into something that benefits them. When we fight it, we remove balance and nature tries to restore it. This is true on the farm where monocropping and pesticides create infestations and super-weeds and in our lives where being out of balance wrecks havoc and causes physical and spiritual depletion and death.
A garden always has a point.-Elizabeth Hoyt
The circle of life:
When a plant is spent and the harvest is over, it is returned to the soil to decompose, provide organic matter that becomes the hummus and nutrients that provide for future crops.
When people eat meat, it means something has died for their sustenance.
When animals, including worms defecate, they create the gold that is manure and this is rich food for plants.
Everything dies eventually.
The cycle continues.
If this seems elementary to you, you are not in the majority who no longer understand these fundamentals because they no longer encounter them. These facts cannot be avoided on a sustainable farm.
Most folks probably think that gardens only get tended when they’re blooming. But most folks would be wrong.-Shannon Wiersbitzky
Things break. They break down. Living things die. You will always fight entropy. Knowing when to fix, when to replace and when to let go takes wisdom and experience. There is no need to get worked up about it. Such is the stuff of life. Roll with it and make the decisions that need to be made. Then, follow through. This applies to so much more than broken fence and rotting boards.
Gardens are not made by singing ‘Oh, how beautiful!’ and sitting in the shade.-Rudyard Kipling
There is satisfaction in hard work:
It is so cliche but that is because it is true. Runners and people who have to go to a gym to exercise know it. Some people chase it but many more avoid it. Strenuous physical activity may be better for your mind than it is for your body. Pushing yourself, completing a task, breaking a sweat…it all builds confidence and satisfies our need to be productive. Too much of modern life can leave us feeling like a mental Sisyphus, answering more emails, filling out more forms, balancing the books again. It is all important in its own way but it rarely cleanses the soul and body in the same way as standing back and seeing something you have built with your own muscles and sweat, overcoming discomfort and exhaustion along the way.
The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing.-Albert Einstein
Whether you do it for the vitamin D, the bacteria, to reset your circadian rhythms, for fresh air, to get dirty, to sweat, to chill, to release tension or any of a hundred other reasons, get outside. No matter your thinking, humans were not designed to stay indoors or stand on concrete.
If you leave livestock indoors it withers and dies. I remember how some of the show horses of my youth were kept in stalls (not on our farm) most of the time. They were depleted and unpredictable. The animals in CAFOs are killed before they expire (usually) from the environment through which they suffer. Left much longer, they would have considerably shortened life spans just from circumstance. All animals needs sunlight and air. Restrict them too much and their immune systems are weakened. They fail to thrive.
Horses left on concrete have joint and hoof problems. The same thing happens to bartenders and restaurant staff, assembly line workers or any other person left on concrete most of the time.
Go outdoors and refresh your body and soul.
Happy eating, Katy