Homeland Security: Alternative Approaches Needed
by Ken Dahlberg
On July 23, 2003, Pat Whetham and I attended a meeting of the Agriculture Production Work Group, one of four groups developing a set of strategic goals and objectives for the Agricultural and Food Supply component of Michigan’s Homeland Security Strategy - which is being updated. The three other Work Groups are: Inputs, Processing, and Retailing.
When states first defined their homeland security strategies after 9/11, few paid much attention to food and agriculture. However, the discovery in Afgan caves of captured al-Qaeda materials with extensive and detailed ideas for terrorist attacks on U.S. food and agriculture led the Bush Administration to designate food and agriculture as a “critical infrastructure” in need of much greater attention Both the federal and state governments are now working on developing strategies.
For a variety of reasons summarized below, I came out of the meeting convinced that all major organic, sustainable, and alternative food and agriculture groups need to actively seek to participate in such meetings - at all levels of government. Not to do so risks a whole new range of centralized controls and regulations being established which will make our work much more difficult once they are fully implemented. Such regulations will also reinforce the powerful centralizing provisions of NAFTA and WTO that restrict local and state action - which to date have been applied only minimally, but will likely increase dramatically.
Saying this does not mean that effective homeland security strategies aren’t needed. [For a good overview of the threats, see www.terrorismanswers.com/security/agriculture.html] Rather, it means that we can’t leave that task to conventional groups (governmental and private) that have neither a full understanding of what true security requires nor a realistic vision of healthier and more secure food and agricultural systems. Let me illustrate.
The Work Group on Production was composed of most of Michigan’s commodity groups (almost all had been invited; maybe half attended, along with MDA and MSU experts). Fortunately, MOFFA and MIFFS were also invited. Reflecting upon the meeting, I realized that there are four basic differences between the commodity groups and the organic/sustainable community:
*Specialized thinking vs. systems thinking;
*Short-term vs. longer-term thinking;
*Technological/organizational vs. structural thinking; and
*Use of a “medical” response model vs. a “preventative” public health model.
These basic differences were visible in the four breakout groups: prevention, preparedness, response, and recovery. At the general session, I raised - with very modest success - questions based on long-term systems thinking by suggesting that an effort was needed to map the over-centralized infrastructure of Michigan food and agriculture to identify the most vulnerable nodes - and then to develop a strategy to move towards more decentralized infrastructural patterns. I reminded the group of the 1973 PBB crisis, where one wrong bag of fire retardant added to dairy cattle feed contaminated almost the entire state’s supply - with great potential risk to public health (fortunately with relatively minor effects). Also, I pointed out that during the Cold War, when new computer-based communications were being developed, the creators of the internet consciously designed it as a very decentralized infrastructure that could not be disabled by destroying a few key nodes (as is still the case in most economic sectors).
Most of the responses in the breakout sessions were based on technological fixes, increased top-down organizational responses, greater training, plus some education. All of these are needed to some degree. However, they become dangerous if they are not a subordinate part of a larger, longer-term vision of a healthier and more secure society. Parallel risks can be seen in the increasing decline in support for a broad vision of public health - which involves community, population, and environmental health as well as individual health - as we spend more and more on medical technical fixes aimed at saving or extending individual lives. Unfortunately, at the meeting I didn’t think of this analogy as I tried to make the case of the centrality of building healthy local and regional food systems (along with other healthy local systems - education, environment, energy, economic, etc.).
There were a lot of both interesting and disturbing details in the discussions. Pat and I will be reviewing the drafts that will be circulated, but given the top down nature of the process, we may or may not get some of our important points included.
What is most important is that all of us seeking healthier local and regional food and agricultural systems need to try to make sure that homeland security efforts - at whatever level - do not become focused primarily upon narrow, specialized technical and organizational fixes designed to try to maintain unsustainable structures and systems. It is crucial that we actively extend our promotion of healthy alternatives to include this important policy arena.
–Ken Dahlberg taught for many years at Western Michigan University. He was an early critic of the export of industrial agriculture to the Third World through the “green revolution.” In searching for alternatives, he has done extensive research on regenerative food systems and local food policy councils. Now retired, he is helping various Michigan groups and organizations in their food system efforts.
Poultry In Motion
By Mike Phillips
Sven, our white and black-speckled banty rooster, has twelve feet of vertical lift. At dusk, while the other chickens slowly peck and scratch their way back to the henhouse, Sven separates. He then moves under a cluster of choke cherry trees up near the house. He sets his sights on one of several branches where he likes to perch. Then he launches—straight up—as if shot out of a mortar. It’s a fascinating sight. Once aloft, he’ll crow for five or ten minutes boasting his gravity-defying prowess. Sometimes he leaps or glides into the branches of nearby trees. Eventually, he shimmies out to the edge of the canopy to doze. (Editor’s note: I don’t think that chickens can see very well in the fading light. They make most of their decisions well before sunset. ) As darkness sets he’s thoroughly arboreal. Hopefully, the raccoons that prowl the grounds at night won’t think to look up there.
Sven is an early riser. An hour or two before dawn, he’s awake and crowing—often under our bedroom window. For a little rooster he can move a lot of hot air.
As the sun comes up, he gets impatient. His ladies—two comets and an araconda—are safely locked up and he can’t get near them. So he waits outside the henhouse—like a juvenile delinquent expelled from school waiting for his girlfriends to finish class. When from behind the walls, the hens cluck and cackle, he clucks and cackles. When one of the hens announces that she just laid an egg, he gets all blustery. He’s nothing, if not dutiful. Eventually, someone ambles down to the barn to open up the chicken coop at which time Sven acts like it’s Christmas.
Locked up in the henhouse every night along with Sven’s three hens are eleven young silver gray dorkings. Sven doesn’t like them. He doesn’t attack them, per se, but he expends a great deal of energy keeping his small flock apart. The chicken coop is cozy. I was hoping to integrate all the birds under Sven’s care. After several months, I’m not sure that’s going to happen.
So, there are two flocks. Each ranges in different areas. The eleven silver gray dorkings stay down by the barn or ramble along the gravel drive and into the woods. (There used to be twelve, but one was snatched.) As there is yet to emerge a dominant rooster, they move about in clumps of twos and threes but will occasionally cluster en masse. The older birds like to be up by the house where they’re more likely to score cat food and leftovers. They also like the mowed field. The other day, I saw them grazing alongside the doe that’s bedding down in nearby sumac. The older birds range over a fairly wide area. The only constant is that they come up on the porch to relieve themselves. Consequently, coming into the house is like crossing a minefield. We spend a lot of time scrubbing the porch decking. Fortunately, chicken droppings are biodegradable. Still, they leave a real mess—especially after the mulberries drop.
Well, a couple of weeks ago, Maynard and Barbara had their farm auction. If you live in a rural area, you may be familiar with these festive but somber events marking the end of one family's history on a piece of land. A little like vultures hovering over carrion, people poke and prod through the artifacts, heirlooms and treasures that represent the death of someone's way of life and livelihood. Farmers are becoming fewer and fewer with roughly 2 percent of the population providing the food for hundreds of millions. In the same way, auctions are becoming fewer and fewer as the farms become bigger and bigger. This area is characterized with its “diversity” of large blueberry plantations mixed with large cash crop farms interspersed with vacant wornout land. Polyculture livestock farms are making way for concentrated confinement operations. There is sporadic development often by outsiders with no history or commitment to locale. We are seeing a result of the industrialization of agriculture and a culturally disconnected colonization of the countryside. In Maynard's and Barbara's case, we can take comfort that the farm is going into good hands with buyers committed to sustainable agriculture and stewardship.
Americans are orphaned, disconnected from their history, myself included. Many familiar items put on the auction block, were a part of my history but in some ways painfully, I could only look at them objectively if not nostalgically.
Maynard has plenty to say about this corruption of our spiritual connection to elemental livelihood, and we should definitely let him say it! Jon Towne
FOOD SYSTEMS: SACRED, PROFANE AND DEMONIC
A little over thirty years ago I published a scholarly article on the new homesteading movement. Since I was already living on a small farm west of Kalamazoo and raising food for the family, I felt I was part of that movement. This was in the time of the back-to-the-land movement and my students were enthusiastic about self-reliance on the land. They asked me to teach them the arts and skills of self-reliance and thus the idea of a school of homesteading was born.
When I asked my colleagues in the Religion department for a half-time leave of absence from classroom teaching they asked me what self-provisioning in food had to do with the study of religion. I was not able to provide a satisfactory answer then. Now I think I can. But thirty years ago there was, compared to now, very little awareness of “food systems.” Food was simply a part of agriculture, and although environmentalists were beginning to think about alternatives to chemically-dependent agri-business, a separate focus on food systems was only gradually beginning to emerge. One of the first references to “food systems” I remember was the title of a book in 1983, “Sustainable Food Systems”. I think it is significant that awareness of food systems emerged when corporate control and the industrialization of food and agriculture began to take over and crowd out small farms and locally-owned grocery stores. My work with MOFFA, Michigan Organic Food and Farm Alliance, also prompted me to learn about the global food system as we worked for local food systems.
Food systems range from simple to highly inter-mediated and complex. Raising food in your back yard, processing, preparing and eating it and composting food wastes is a simple food system. (It only seems complex when you try to do it!) Buying food in a supermarket may seem like a simple process: you simply buy it and eat it. But such food is the product of a capital- and energy-intensive corporate food system, dependent on transportation and a high degree of processing. Moreover, this food has lost its intrinsic value as nourishment. It has been transformed into a commodity and is produced for only one reason: to make money. Such food can no longer be seen as a sacred reality.
It may help us understand how food can participate in the sacred if we examine how food was seen in archaic or pre-modem societies. The great historian of religion, Mircea Eliade, wrote a book called “Patterns in Comparative Religion.” The chapter on vegetation is twice as long as other chapters because there are so many examples of the regenerative power in nature. Plants, especially trees, are charged with the power of the sacred. They lose their leaves and die and are regenerated in spring. Thus trees can be seen as sacred symbols expressing the regenerative power of nature. The sacred is power. Rites and myths and symbols are religious because they relate us to the power of the sacred and help us participate in that power.
Eliade’s chapter on agriculture explains how farming was such an important religious rite because now humans were intervening directly in the regenerative power of nature. It has been argued that women invented agriculture. While the men were out hunting, the women, as they were gathering, noticed that food grew where seeds were scattered. Soon women were scattering seeds and agriculture was born.
It is true that because of the association of woman, earth and fertility, women were essential to the raising of crops. In some places naked maidens would have to go into the fields to show the plowmen where to plow. Or in many cultures there was ritual copulation on the plowed ground, the man with his phallic spade and the woman identified with the furrow. Such rituals and many others, more orgiastic, were believed to enhance the fertility of the soil. I could go on to describe them in greater detail, but this is a family-oriented newsletter so I will stop here. But the raising of food required the power of the sacred and food itself was sacred because it assured the regeneration of life. This worldview persisted in peasant societies well into the nineteenth century.
During the last three or four centuries the Enlightenment and the Scientific Revolution gradually changed the sacred understanding of agriculture and food. We learned how plants grow. We learned that they need nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium, along with trace minerals, and we learned how to add these to the soil to make plants grow. If weeds or insects interfered with our plants we made pesticides to kill them. We no longer needed to rely on disgusting rituals to protect our plants or to assure the fertility of the soil. The sense of the organic unity of nature was replaced by a mechanistic view. Personal involvement was replaced by scientific technique. Wherever people adopted a scientific world-view, a sense for the regenerative power of nature was lost They moved from the sacred to the profane.
But the worship of power did not simply end. Rather, (and this is extremely important to understand) as people lost a sense for the sacred power in nature they gained a new respect for the power to control nature. The scientist in his white lab coat replaced the priest or shaman as our sacred hero. The mythical man in the street, and his little woman in the kitchen, are sure they have better living through chemistry. They no longer have to do the onerous work of raising food; they can go to the supermarket and choose, from hundreds of brands, food that is cheap and tasty. They are consumers of commodities in what seems to be a totally desacralized world.
I say “seems to be” because the worship of power has not ended. But the object of that worship is no longer the sacred regenerative power in nature. Most people in the modem world worship the power to control nature, and this is a diabolical power. Remember how Faust, our modern culture hero, sought power from the Devil to control and manipulate nature. Remember how Jesus, after fasting in the wilderness, was tempted by the Devil who offered him power in return for adoration. The Devil had the power to offer; worldly power is demonic. Our technological ability has freed us from reliance on divine powers. In our ignorance and short-sightedness we have relied on demonic powers. During the past quarter-century or so, this demonic power has become fully manifest as it made a quantum leap in economic concentration. This is the power of trans-national corporations, who hire scientists and politicians to do their will. They now control the world. 52 of the 100 largest economies in the world are business corporations, and many are involved in food and agriculture, the biggest industry of all.
Why should these corporations be thought of as demonic? I have already mentioned the fact that they seek power to control and change the natural or created order. Genetic engineering is a current example. Barbara Kingsolver calls this a fist in the eye of God because it threatens the natural biodiversity on which the stability of ecosystems depend. When Percy Schmeiser, the Canadian canal grower spoke at the Organic Conference last March in East Lansing, he suggested that Bo-tech corporations like Monsanto might deliberately allow genetically modified seeds to contaminate natural seeds so that their market for g.m. seeds can grow. Whether Monsanto’s seeds contaminated Schmeiser’s fields by accidental drift or otherwise, Monsanto sued him because they had a patent on the seeds through intellectual property rights.
The fact that corporations seek to control nature for profit is also demonic. As Norman 0. Brown explained, “modern secularism, and its companion, Protestantism, do not usher in an era in which human consciousness is liberated from inhuman powers, or the natural world is liberated from supernatural manifestations; the essence of the Protestant (or capitalist) era is that the power over the world has passed from God to God’s ape, the Devil....The money complex is the demonic, and the demonic is God’s ape; the money complex is therefore the heir to and substitute for the religious complex, an attempt to find God in things.” Brown is using mythical imagery here (as I do) to describe cultural dynamics because only mythic stories (in which divine beings interact with humans) can convey the magnitude of current changes in the human condition. The symbol of the demonic need not be understood literally to mean there is an actual supernatural being out there.
Another characteristic of corporations as demonic structures was brought into focus by the great twentieth century philosophical theologian, Paul Tillich, who revived the concept of the demonic as manifest in and through secular activities. He argued that the demonic is a structure of evil primarily because it arrogates ultimate power, or unconditional status, or unlimited expansion to itself and thus refuses to recognize any limitation or judgment upon itself. While corporations may not be inherently evil, they are structured, by law, to make a profit for their shareholders. And as they make a profit they gain power. Money is power and power corrupts. Absolute power tends to corrupt absolutely. As a result of this power and insatiable greed, the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. The top fifth of people in the world receive 82.7% of total world income,while the bottom three fifths receives only 5.4%. This was in 1992, and the disparity in income has grown since then.
I will conclude this section on corporations by listing several specific examples which illustrate how we can speak of the global supermarket as a demonic food system. First is the problem of globalization itself, especially as it destroys local cultures and exacerbates the detachment of people from their local ecosystems. People in developed societies have already lost any sense of dependence on local ecosystems. They are “distanced” from their food, both literally and metaphorically. Trans-national corporations are busy transforming subsistence cultures around the world into consumer cultures. There will no longer be enough people who know or care about the preservation of biodiversity in local ecosystems. In addition to this we must charge agricultural corporations with pollution of air, water and soil as they externalize the environmental costs of production. The recent war in Iraq reminded us that corporations need cheap oil to transport food around the world, and that adds to global warming. We face the threat of ecological collapse because of what demonic food corporations are doing to make money.
Second is another consequence of globalization as TNCs enclose and privatize common lands in Third World countries. Displaced peasants are lucky if they can be hired to produce crops for export. Most lose subsistence opportunities and employment as they crowd into shanty towns around urban centers. This is often a result of “structural adjustment programs” in which the World Bank requires indebted nations to produce crops for export so they can get cash to repay debts. Because of low wages and exploitation of workers food can be imported into this country cheaper than it can be grown here. Apple orchards are being bulldozed out in Van Buren county because it is cheaper to import apples from China or Chile, the largest supplier of off-season fruits and vegetables to Europe and the United States where 50% of the crop is controlled by a handful of TNCs. Such imported food, incidentally, is often produced without the environmental regulations that protect us from pesticide residues in this country.
Third, in addition to the exploitation of cheap labor, there is actual slavery of people in food production for the TNCs. Gary Paul Nabhan reported that 27 million people are enslaved in the global food system. The “New Yorker” magazine recently published an expose of how migrant workers are enslaved in tomato production in Florida. The strategy of the TNCs is to impoverish workers to such an extent that they are willing to work for food. Where profit is the only consideration there is no concern for the health or well-being of workers.
Fourth, the billions of dollars spent on advertising lure innocent or ignorant consumers to buy processed food even though it is inferior to natural whole food. An example from several years ago is the three to four thousand babies that died each day because they were fed (improperly, to be sure) on infant formula made by Nestle instead of breast milk. Brewster Kneen quite correctly called corporations like Nestle “murderers.” Demonic corporations profit by deception and outright lies.
Although books have been written that detail many more corporate abuses m the pursuit of profit, we have enough examples to recognize the corporate food system as not just profane but demonic. Most poor people, in this country and elsewhere, live in a world where they are confronted by hostile powers who seek their own ends at the expense of those already impoverished. Programs such as NAFTA and WTO, which transfer global governance from democratic governments to corporations, are pushed through the legislative process by corporations who buy and sell politicians. Corporations have more power than governments, and we should bear in mind that the political corollary of demonic corporations is fascism. A dictionary definition of fascism provided by Thom Hartmann can help us recognize our current government: “fascism, a system of government that exercises a dictatorship of the extreme right, typically through the merging of state and business leadership, together with belligerent nationalism.” Although some of us may be critical of George Bush and his policies, polls show that the masses still love George Bush because he and his corporate friends so brazenly manifest the power to control me world. The worship of power is alive and well! The masses also love the fact that Bush has the power to lie with impunity. So I am using these extreme words, demonic and fascist, to help us avoid facile optimism as we think about the possibility of reforming the system we live in.
And I should emphasize that we are in the system. All of us, when we purchase corporate food or eat in a fast-food restaurant, participate in a demonic food system. Yes, most of us are also demon-possessed, especially when we are shopping.
I don’t think we can reform the system, and I think it is wrong to seek power to overthrow it. But I do think it will collapse because it is not sustainable as it exploits nature and human beings in its single-minded quest for profit. Because corporate control is so total, the collapse could cause even more massive suffering and chaos than it has caused in its success, or it may be a gradual disintegration. In either case. We can prepare for the end of the demonic food system by assessing our resources for an alternative. The nation-wide movement toward local organic food systems could be an important part of the emerging alternative. At this point, however, this system is still too small to be much of a threat and so corporations have left it alone. It is likely that as me organic food supply does grow it will continue to be co-opted by corporate control. So it may be that small-scale local food systems are more promising as a viable alternative food system. Above all, we should be concerned about the moral and religious values which alternative food systems reflect or embody.
In our world shaped by the Judeo-Christian tradition I can think of two types of sacred food systems: either the system is in conformity with an established religious tradition or it is in harmony with an ecosystem conceived of as a sacred reality. The first is the Judeo-Christian emphasis on stewardship. The creation myths in the book of Genesis have helped countless generations understand themselves in their world. It was a world created by God who then created humans in His own image and gave them dominion over other creatures. God also, (in the second story) put Adam in a garden and instructed him to till it and keep it. So here we have the idea of stewardship: humans are given dominion but also responsibility. It is an anthropocentric ethic in which humans are led to think of themselves as separate from, but responsible for, their natural environment. Just as God was above nature, manifest in history, so humans are above nature and active in making history. In this story God is the absentee landlord who has put humans in charge.
I have known many Christians who have consciously and deliberately sought to live and work as farmers in accordance with the ethic of stewardship even when it meant simply being more careful. Or stewardship may be appropriated in a more secular context by farmers working toward more sustainable methods, such as the members of the Michigan Agricultural Stewardship Association (MASA). There is also the Land Stewardship Association in the Great Plains states which promotes an ethic of soil conservation. These are worthwhile efforts, but it is important to see that they operate on an ethical level. I do not think these farmers would describe their efforts as constituting a “sacred food system,” and I am quite sure they would not think of food as sacred. In the Judeo-Christian tradition God alone is the sacred reality. Nature is good because God created it. But it is not sacred. God may be thanked for the food, but the food is not sacred. By being given dominion, humans are separate from nature. While they may take responsibility for nature, they will not easily feel kinship with other species or feel themselves as part of an ecosystem.
These comments should not be construed as a negative attitude toward what remains, for most of us, the dominant religious tradition. I have the highest respect for any number of thinkers and writers who work explicitly in a Christian context. I am thinking of E. F. Schumacher and more recently, Brewster Kneen, whose book, “From Land to Mouth” is the clearest exposition of the concept of food systems. Conventional Christianity is simply the kind of religion that thrusts its adherents into the secular world where they are called to live in a morally responsible manner. At the same time, it must be acknowledged that Christianity is very easily assimilated by culture. Very few Christians who talk about stewardship on Sunday have shifted away from conventional chemically-dependent farming methods on Monday. Some Christians have changed to organic farming methods but it is not clear to me that they did so for explicitly Christian reasons. The organic orientation can be assimilated from contemporary culture, or these farmers may be in quest of higher prices for their produce.
It is easier to interpret and evaluate the religious dimensions in organic farming. My 30 plus years of association with organic farmers has made it abundantly clear that organic fanning and gardening is a kind of incipient religious movement even though it may not be recognized as such by the farmers themselves. Organic farming began as a reaction to the use of chemical fertilizers as tractors replaced draft animals. In Germany, Rudolf Steiner, founder of biodynamic agriculture, wrote the first book on organic farming in 1924 as part of his quasi-religious anthroposophy. As they challenged the use of chemical fertilizers, and later chemical pesticides. Organic farmers went against the grain of conventional agriculture. They tried to work in harmony with nature. They worked in faith as they trusted micro-organisms in the soil to feed plants long before science confirmed their intuition. At one of the first organic meetings I attended near Lansing I heard the farmers muttering to each other: “yeah, feed the soil, not the plant” It took me a while to figure that out, but it remains one of the maxims of organic farming and, as it implies a holistic rather than a reductionistic orientation, it brings back that sense of organic unity that preceded the Scientific Revolution.
Rudolf Steiner, incidentally, did quite explicitly relate his lectures on agriculture to the sacred. Although I cannot remember this exactly (I read the book 20 years ago) Steiner wrote many pages detailing the ritual of making compost starter. Since both terrestrial and celestial influences were emphasized, Steiner explained that it was necessary to take some cow manure, put some in a cow’s horn and some in a cow’s hoof. Let it decompose for a year, mix it with water at a certain phase of the moon, stir it clockwise and counter-clockwise for a certain number of times and add it to the compost where it would function in a homeopathic manner. These exacting rituals were intended to change the soil and the food it produced so that the resulting sacred food would change the eater.
To think and work as an organic farmer or gardener is one way of moving from an anthropocentric to a biocentric orientation. This is really quite revolutionary and it is interesting to notice that practice preceded theory in this instance. There is evidence for a broader and deeper cultural shift here as practices such as recycling and organic gardening move people toward a new awareness and a new lifestyle. A rather light-hearted but basically serious article in the July issue of Harper’s Magazine, “A Gospel According to the Earth,” reflects on the possibility that a new eco-faith is emerging in Western societies. The article is an extended meditation on a series of words such as “compost, global warming, off the grid. Pollution, renewable, tree-sitting.” and their conventional religious associations or implications in Christianity. So this author implies that a change within Christianity is happening. As process theology based on the thought of Alfred North Whitehead taught us for the last 50 years, “the world is God’s Body.” Environmental concerns, which are widespread among common people everywhere, may gradually help us recognize ourselves as cells in that Body.
A couple of Christian thinkers have also been urging new ways of recovering a sense for cosmic sacrality. Matthew Fox writes about “creation spirituality,” and argues that the conventional emphasis on personal sin and redemption was distortion of the Christian gospel. Thomas Berry similarly argues for a “New Story” which would incorporate the whole process of cosmic and biological evolution into our self-understanding. And the thought of Thomas Berry is fully grounded when he urges backyard organic gardening as the first step toward healing the earth.
Also in the early 1970s, as the organic movement was getting started in Michigan, a young poet and writer from Kentucky published a book of poems called “Farming: A Handbook.” Now recognized as the foremost agrarian philosopher in America, Wendell Berry has also contributed enormously to the resurgence of this sense for the regenerative power of nature. The first poem in that book is called “The Man Born to Farming.”
“The grower of trees, the gardener, the man born to farming,
whose hands reach into the ground and sprout,
to him the soil is a divine drug. He enters into death
yearly, and comes back rejoicing. He has seen the light lie
in the dung heap, and rise again in the corn.”
Wendell Berry moves beyond the Christian ethic of stewardship as he celebrates the cyclical structure of time and the sacred power of nature, especially in his poetry.
Although Wendell Berry is an agrarian and has written countless essays on the values of small-scale farming, it is essential to remember that his emphasis is on subsistence farming, on the household economy, or, as he entitled one of the books, on “Home Economics.” This is an emphasis nearly always neglected by professional or scientific writers. But the backyard garden is the most ecological kind of food production possible. Any agro-ecological system will distort the ecosystem because, in order to derive a sustainable harvest from a piece of land it is necessary to provide more inputs. The cyclical processes of the ecosystem are thus disrupted and it begins to be a through-put process in which decomposer organisms are by-passed. If we value the ecosystem as the sacred power which provides food for life, we should learn to live as consumer organisms in the system rather than consumers of the harvest who live outside of the system.
I want to conclude with one more evidence of the resurgence of the sacred in the backyard garden. This is the reappearance of nature spirits in the garden. Many of you have probably read about the devas and elemental beings in the garden at Findhorn, in Scotland, where they helped the gardeners produce fabulous crops. This spring there was lovely little article in the “Healing Garden Journal about elves and fairies in the garden. And, of course, we have the fascinating book by local author. Penny Kelly: “The Elves of Lily Hill Farm.” Although I, with my coarse sensibility and rational mind, lack the finesse to tune in to the vibrations that make such vision possible, I would like to see and sometimes I try.
Prepared for a talk sponsored by “Fair Food Matters” in Kalamazoo, Michigan on August 5, 2003.
Return To MLT Page