I Want to Farm
by Arthur Lups of Hudson, NY
As many of your readers will acknowledge, your editorials are thought provoking Lynn. I often sense how you work with those themes that reoccur in ones thoughts when working in the farmyard or riding the tractor. “What is the relationship of fertility and profitability? What is it that makes our farm unique in its surroundings? How can I relate to the consumer? Can you love your farm? What is farming?” And certainly for me, “What is the place of the tractor on my farm and that of the horse on Lynn’s and other farms?”
Those questions bring me to observe the historic development of farming and bring new questions about the future of farming, of the husbandry of the Earth. This is what I want to address and I hope to inspire new thoughts with which we can live while we split firewood, weed the garden or review a day full of experiences.
The times in which our rural social fabric was colored through the extensive use of the horse and the speed of the farmers’ handwork, have far preceded my date of birth. So have the times in which the change of the rural scene was accompanied by mechanization and by farmers who, in their work, became inspired by scientists. I have only read and heard how promises of profits seduced farmers to start spreading dead minerals on their land and poison their soil with chemical substances. And how even Liberty Hyde Bailey, with all his reverence for nature, could not avoid as to be so deluded to advise us to use lead and arsenic to cure disease in a crop. Even the time in which Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring cried out against the crimes of the petrochemical industry has preceded my birth.
Now, young and farming, I can share with others a glance at the ruins of a hundred years of farming for profit. I see deserted farms, the land overgrown and poisoned, the barns collapsed. I see supermarkets full of precooked, prepackaged, pasteurized, inferior food produced at the cost of our health and the health of the planet. I see people buy this stuff for as little money as possible, unknowingly discouraging the small farmer to continue his work and encouraging big business to commit more moral crimes. I see how much the big producers and their customers have alienated from nature. And I see how these big producers reduce their understanding of nature to the observation that nature can be a source of monetary gain, and how they in an attempt to make this illusion a reality, strive to eliminate the work of those who prove their ideas wrong: the small farmer. Who wants to farm? I want to farm! And with me, many, many readers. Amid disaster and destruction does not arise the Phoenix? The bird once dead and being burnt, arises from the ashes, young, fresh and more beautiful than ever before. This Phoenix is not only represented by the fact that indeed we can operate a small farm, but that we now have the ability to choose HOW we want to do that. Where before we were inclined to farm the way our father and grandfather did, we now often have the desire, the strength and the intellectual capacities to break away from tradition and become original in our work. Wherever we look in our culture and society we can observe how strongly we live in a time of choices and of diversity. Rock music next to classical music, acupuncture next to chemotherapy, biodynamic farming next to farming with poisons. And all of us can choose between these possibilities or even create new ones!
And so we can see how the developments in mass production of food and its accompanying decline in the quality of the food, create in turn the demand for “morsel-production”: the limited production of high quality food. Morsel: tasteful food, be it lettuce, bacon or shiitake mushrooms, incorporating in taste and texture the unique qualities of the soil on which it is produced and the singular way in which the farmer has accompanied its development. Morsel production: yielding those unique products, sold by a farmer who is like no one else, to a group of people who know that these products will feed their bodies in a delightful way. Morsel production: the way a farmer can express his or her creative way of farming while extending an open invitation to consumers to participate.
How then shall we produce these morsels, these high quality foodstuffs?
Only a few hundred years ago our ancestors farmed and lived in harmony with nature. And it took only a few hundred years to develop today’s science and its products, truly alienating ourselves from nature. Our world and our existence has completely changed; we now more often touch something which is man-made than that which exists in nature. We interact more often with machines and their products than with plants and animals. No longer do we share our living spaces with our farm animals, like we did in olden times. We are surrounded by machines. But we all can admit that this evolution brought cultural and intellectual development. Beethoven’s music still resounds because he could write it down and we can replay it. The Small Farmer’s Journal can give us solace and pleasure because it is written with intelligence, printed by machines and distributed by plane, train and car. Machines have become an integral part of our existence and so has our lack of sense for nature. Our machines we will develop further and hopefully will remain our useful servants. Our lack of understanding and our feel for nature will hopefully not grow. We farmers, subject to the same developments, will have to work hard to cultivate feeling and respect for nature and an understanding of its processes. And we will have to work hard to help the people we feed develop a healthy, understanding relationship to nature.
With the change of times we have lost the possibility to be embedded in the processes of nature and thus to know instinctively what to do on our farm. But with this loss, we have gained the possibility to become conscious of the process of our decision making about what to do when. And now we are faced with all those questions:
“Are we the true owners of this land or does it actually belong to everybody like the Native Americans said?
Are we just making a living of nature or does nature expect something of us too?
Are we actually responsible for the Earth or will God straighten things out sooner or later?”
And here I hope that I will be able to inspire other people to recognize that we as farmers and foresters are actually able to make or break the Earth. We are the people whose daily work it is to have immediate interaction with the face of the Earth and its population of animals and plants. If we desire to poison nature, we can do so effectively, but if humanity desires the Earth to be healthy and vigorous all will turn to us farmers and foresters because we can make that happen. We have the capacity to make the Earth or break her, and we have the responsibility to recognize that. As for myself and many readers, I choose to work on the restoration of nature’s vitality.
Where our ancestors were inspired in their ways of farming through this closeness to nature, we will have to find other ways to learn about nature. We, as modern people in a modern time, have to learn to find guidance in our own being. Because it is in ourselves, through the perceptive qualities of our heart, that we can develop an intimate conversation with our environment. As a conscious human being, we meet our farm: a unique piece of land, a unique organism. And we all know that our land can tell us how to treat it, how to shape it, what to plant. We can sometimes sense how our farm can give us inspirations as to what to do. Do we need to water the garden yet? Can I sell that calf? We find the answer in ourselves, but not always through reasoning. It is as if the farm talks to us.
The farmer of the future can hear every day, every moment, the voice of the farm and will learn to recognize what needs to be done to make his farm thrive. I truly foresee that we as farmers will develop the possibility more and more that in our own inner being, in our heart, in our “inside,” we will recognize how our farm lives and thrives. And guided through our inner sense for our farm, we will learn to tend to it as to a child for whom we are responsible. We will feel a sense of responsibility to our farm and our land that surpasses that of: “We need to watch our crops and animals because our income depends on it.” With this development of a new closeness to nature, a relationship which comes truly from the heart, we will know that the thriving of our farm, a piece of Earth, depends on us. And that inspires me to a poetic form of trust that only farmers can share with me: “When I care for the Earth and learn to make her vital and fertile, than she will care for me and make my endeavor profitable!”
I sense that whenever we are concerned about the profitability of our farm, we need to work harder on perceiving its needs and developing its fertility. Whenever we feel our farm is not doing what we need it to do to make a living, we need to work harder on our own inner relationship to her and learn to meet her needs. That truly turns farming into an exceptional, individualized activity, makes it thrilling, exciting, tough and sometimes saddening. This approach turns farming into a quest for life.
I have found much inspiration in the work of the Austrian visionary, educator and philosopher, Dr. Rudolph Steiner, and his suggestions for the renewal of agriculture. I want to acknowledge his contribution in making my farming into an individual endeavor and in giving me hope for a future in which many farmers, each unique and different, will be caring for the Earth and feeding their customers and family well!
Arthur Lups is farmer and co-owner of Pleroma Farm, a 50-acre dairy operation and therapeutic farm in the mid-Hudson Valley in New York State.