With a Hum and a Prayer
With a Hum and a Prayer

With a Hum and a Prayer

by Lynn R. Miller of Singing Horse Ranch

You believe you want to work a farm and HOLD it, keep it. You know it is the life and work for you and it is the life you want to provide for and share with those you love.

But you are slammed right and left and down by people insisting that what you want is dead or dying or death. That what you want is too expensive, too difficult to learn, too hard to live, and a guarantee of failure and poverty. They have a reason for telling you this, for dragging you away and down. It’s simple; they want you to stop reaching for your goal, your dream. They don’t want you to have it. So they tear you down with criticism and negativity. What they are telling you is not true, unless you make it so.

The negatives they throw at you are not implicit to a chosen life of farming.

These calamities can be made to occur in most any walk of life – be it doctor, stockbroker, publisher, software technician, carpenter or car salesman. Just as measures of success may be earned from most vocational choices if devotion, diligence, intelligence, perseverance and creativity are applied.

The choice to farm may carry with it difficulties of the sort which guarantee, when experienced, added riches on top of success. We value hard won gain more than gifts from chance. And when we value we appreciate. And when we appreciate we know the satisfaction of improving self-knowledge. The eyes-open choice to farm gives us an excellent opportunity for such happiness and more. There may be challenging expense and difficulty but it need not be crippling. Those challenges may well be enabling and strengthening.

Thankfully the choice to farm, and succeed at it, does not take inherited wealth, genius, church sanction, good looks, great connections, a criminal mind, superhuman strength, fantastic luck, or opportune marriage contracts. If this were true and success in any venture required such setups we’d be living in a TV-scripted idiotic dark age. In today’s working world, connections and “position” are grotesquely overrated. This is by virtue of their frequent use by lazy journalists, fiction hacks, and media moguls crippled by an attitudinal fungus called envy. It is more difficult for the insatiable fashion-crippled upper classes to truly enjoy this living life than it is for a camel to get a table at a great restaurant.

It is the meek and the humble who carry a natural modest plan for happiness in their makeup and the right attitude to pull it off. And their first mature order of business is to make an intelligent and instinctually correct choice of their life’s work.

It’s a paradox: hard hands-on work is an easier more noble and far more spiritual path to success and happiness than is a seat at the table of the pretenders to the throne. A life centered around, filled with, connected to, and growing from good farming is just such a difficult / easy path to success and happiness.

Lest this be misconstrued as a rant against wealth or success, know that we believe the enemies of right livelihood are not necessarily those who HAVE succeeded but those (wealthy or not) who would set a corporate, social, institutional, or collective agenda for how other lives are to be lived. We all know well-dressed well-connected church-going folks who look down on anyone who would deign to make a “hard scrabble” subsistence from a piece of dirt. Just as we may know of store-bought scientists and welfare-trough academics who snort insincere chortles of “you’ve got to be kidding” through their genetically-modified soup to avoid explaining their complete disdain for farmers of choice. They can’t just let us be.

We little farmers and craftspeople, in our pervasive infectious strength of self actualization, eat away at the hemline of their emptiness. They must squash us even if it takes a thorough whacking with a rolled up fashion section of the New York Times. But most of the time the weapon of choice is to send their army of sophomores out proselytizing for the word of greed, for the gospel of indolence – cheap thrills – and avarice. They go “door to door” preaching that

“this is all there is”
and “no man is an island”
and “all the best people are careful of what they say”
and “without us you are nothing”
and “man cannot live on bread alone”
and that “we must be realistic. The world cannot be fed without modern chemistry, expensive advertising, substantial packaging, bio-engineering and industrial process. The world cannot be properly fed without boardroom oversight”
and “it ain’t spiritual if it ain’t logical”
and “the first rule of logic is profit”
and “all the resources of the planet were put here by a God who meant for us to pump, poison, bioengineer and shop to our hearts content”
and “you’re either with us or against us.”

They remind us once again that one of our several Gods wants us to have our deserved chance at obscene wealth.

It is ironic that a dangled carrot of vulgar individual excess would be one of the controlling forces holding so many to the destructive lie of membership in the sterile corporate model. The battle lines of the future, those which will shape our grandchildren’s lives on this planet, all come down to the contest between individual and corporate. Will it be the responsible person multiplied or the licensed suicidal mob protected from liability?

I know the answer. I know the outcome. I am more than optimistic, I am optimism. But that does not lessen my concerns about today’s conditions. I believe frequently what we get is what we allow. This implies important choices. The best choices are made from a combination of principles and perspective.

We are guided by what we believe and what we think we see coming. What we think we see coming may be an apparition, a mirage, a bluff, a feigned attack, a fashion statement, a marketing ploy, a virus, a scientific advance, a poisoning of the well, a tax, a restriction, or a government edict. Or it may be a society devoid of outlook mumbling their way towards emptiness and misdirected anger. And this is what I see, disorientation and disillusionment. People are hungry for the genuine, for the sincere, for those difficulties which might result in accomplishment, for the beautiful beneficial results of well made individual choices and intense labors. And this hunger I see and feel in others, this yearning is what makes me so optimistic. It is why I know that the successful small farmer is a lantern bearer lighting a road to a better other.

Words fail me but I can’t keep from trying to say it right. Please permit me a shot at it in another way.

When I struggle to understand the perspective given to me, and the shapes and noises of conditions and possible futures, I am frequently struck with how much it feels like a broad sweep of drama. What follows is my attempt to synthesize social conditions and trends into an abstract outline for a piece of theater. It will never work as a play but it might work as a writing to drive home a set of points concerning one farmer’s view of the bizarre progress of modern society and the perpetual contest between arrogant consumption and purposeful lyrical sufficiency.

the tale of the well lit road

A fictitious fractious parable told as an eleven act play with two prayer vigils for intermission and concluding in the lobby with a potluck supper and dance. This is not for the faint of heart or casual reading. The seats are heated, we can only hope the heats are seated. Seat belts are optional. The author of the play declines any responsibility for the outcome of the last two elections. All the synthesizers in the orchestra pit are pedal-powered and the farm odors are genuine.

Act One The Old Hard Simple Distant Past

The man or woman moves slow and deliberate, back loaded with seed and tools, out through the groaning steaming detritus of civilization to find a quiet soft sequestered patch of soil well met by sun and rain. Seeds are planted and tended and a crop is grown to be harvested. Seed is saved from that crop for the next year and food is put by for the farmer. The balance is traded for a handful of an additional variety of seed, three chickens and a new handle for the hoe. The work is hard, and intelligent preparation often results in a measure of good fortune. Man or woman, the farmer who survives prospers by small significant gradual gain. And the path from gain to mankind and back again is always clear, resonant, and purposeful.

Act Two The Poisonous Money Tree And The Other Road

An indolent offspring of the purposeful farmer wagers his gain in clever ways. He offers loans to impatient farmers so that they may have cows and pigs and larger houses sooner – and pay for them later. In this way he makes the wager that either the farmer will succeed and interest and fees will be paid back or that, should the farmer fail, all gain and assets would fall to the gambler/banker. In this way the gambler/ banker without physical effort gains from his own modest risk and from the large efforts or failures of the farmer. The significance of the process has grown in unpleasant ways. The path from gain to mankind and back again has become murky, squeaky, and troublesome.

But the road back remains well lit.

Some farmers are deemed to be unworthy of credit or they choose not to borrow money. Instead they invest in their work by labor and by choice. They work at timing and procedure to arrive at better soils and better crops. They choose better seed and better breeding stock. They take the time to build a gate to last a life, to grow a crop that feeds a soil, to breed for a bull or a stallion or a ram that will be a foundation of health and wealth for years to come. They work always not with a view of buying new but of growing from the ground, of farming. They light the road for those who might be looking.

Act Three It Was Supposed To Be A Party

Many other anxious farmers gather together to bemoan the changes brought on by lenders. Their status is no longer clear and simple and strong and they fear they are losing their independence. Most lenders, in turn, gather together to complain of the farmer’s ungrateful organization. Compromise results. Most parties from all sides form a governing body to judge grievance and avoid difficulty. In this way one gathering merges with the other. Meanwhile committees of common folk strip individualism from member farmers as a woman would strip feathers from a dead steaming chicken. New criminal concepts such as liability, slander, defamation, usuary, fraud, embezzlement, and piracy are added to the simple terrible and unlawful acts of theft, deceit and murder. The opportunity for tremendous gain at the expense of others is deemed a right of citizenship to be protected by law and religion. The list of new legal concepts grows rapidly and a new class of professional evolves to handle interpretation, presentation, and representation. They call themselves lawyers but they think of themselves as advocates once removed. And that aspect of “once removed” is a harbinger of the monster’s gestation. Faced with test tube embryos, people begin to forget about what results when a seed is planted and a crop is grown.

The path from conglomerized-documented-gain to mankind and back again has become at this point a treacherous ill-lit swamp-crossing denying most participants any opportunity to traverse unsullied. Every participant, willing or otherwise, is an accomplice. A few enjoy tremendous gain. People are afraid to note the discrepancy unless they are able to afford the best advocate to defend against charges of treason. And she is seldom to be trusted.

But the road back remains well lit.

Outside of it all, beyond the edges of social and industrial membership, a man checks the brooder which warms his twenty five chicks and a woman removes jars of fruit from the pot checking to see if the lids have sealed and a young lady brushes her pony longer than necessary and a boy scolds his collie pup for moving after the milk cows at the wrong time. All of them growing from the ground, farming.

Act Four The Right Clothes For The Job

A minority of independent farmers insist on following the old simple path though they are told repeatedly it doesn’t work. Although they enjoy actualization and success at their farming they are deemed by committees, and attorneys general, as either fragile antiquities worth preserving or an awkward adult example best kept some distance from publicly-educated children,* or both.

* (or those most likely to be attracted to perverse unsociable notions of self-worth – profit and gratification they say are holy, self-worth on the other hand is sin).

Outside of and along with it all, a family loads a pickup truck with boxes of fresh produce, garlands of braided garlic, bouquets of flowers, flats of eggs, a folding table and chairs and a new painted sign. They are heading for the farmer’s market anxious to see old friends and meet new people. They may not realize that they look, smell and taste just like the gardens and farm they leave behind. To them the pickup load is both not much and pure gold. The light pulses.

Act Five Leach Dispensing

Bankers and lawyers, having evolved to the position of political advisors, frequently instigate and administer little wars at tremendous profit and long for larger wars and larger profits. But only if risk may be manageable. Lawyers, male and female, borrow the worst from committee format and twist notions of ownership until stewardship and responsibility are wrung out to the last drop. A specialist is brought in to apply organic mathematics so that numbers may grow mysteriously and all columns made always to balance. Slight of mind is employed to devise well greased suspense accounts which work in tandem with accrual gymnastics. And promises are made to faceless thousands that their investments will never be hampered by direct liability, culpability, or closely held stink. The corporate model wasn’t born, it was brewed from abhorrent greed and pathogenic concepts.

Farmers, crafts people, and truly independent business people feel a cloud of inequity and argue for justice believing she will advocate on their behalf. But justice is a concept not to be trusted so long as the letter of the law is crafted by corporate lawyers and administered by corporate-owned judges. The concept of a jury comes to be questioned as unnecessary, expensive and time consuming.

A few old farmers choose not to argue and instead they follow a love and trust of their work.

Back at the big banks, those execs with the expensive underwear and the best sleeping pills say “Who are those people out there? What are they trying to prove? Yank their loans! Get them off our largesse!”

“But sir” would insert the lowly clerk “they don’t have any loans with us.”

To which the owner of two Mercedes, an Armani series Ford Excursion and a time-share at the Lincoln bedroom retorts “Well then give them a loan and then yank it! How dare they demand public attention without a substantial balance sheet?”

Act Six The New Hard Simple Present

In the meanwhile, out of range, thousands of pockets of true civilization grow gingerly and naturally from clusters of independent farmers with simple direct needs. They need blacksmithing, they need meeting houses, they need lumber, they need cloth, they need decoration, they need school houses, they need doctoring, they need bridges, they need books, and by finding ways together to arrive at these things they found they needed each other. The land which surrounds these clusters of good farmers hums with fertility and health.

Intermission: prayer

Let us always be thankful, and ever yearning, for that better homegrown ‘other’ within our grasp. Let us trust suspicion to lead us to reflection and patience. Let us grow and never take. Let us bake and never follow. Let us chew before we swallow. Let us feed others before ourselves. And let us look under the blanket of good humor for the usable beneficial truth.

Second prayer: Let us be.

Act Seven Science For The Common Greed

Attorneys lenders and business leaders, some good some evil, are elected to public office and quickly convert government to the committee-based corporate model. The committee-based corporate model moves quietly to swallow the concept of food production. After all, everyone must eat therefore the profit potential is astronomical. However, in just a few decades of mining the soil, boardrooms recognize that far greater profits may be had if weird science is brought in to play a larger role in developing beneficial plant and animal mutations. To the corporations, farmlands are now seen as neutered staging areas for mass produced parthenogenesis and hideocrities. In the name of farming, big business sets up the virgin birth of monstrosities to be sold to the publicly educated masses as food. And Farmaceuticals, combining mood control with antibiotics and cell ticklers, give dangerous idiot leaders the notion of controlling the electorate through diet. The mantra goes something like this – more more more more. And for each human being the result is less health, less spiritual solvency, less happiness, less meaning.

Act Eight Fox In The Hen House, Hens All Tied Up

Well meaning farm activists are convinced that if the world could only be shown that certified organic produce is healthier for humans and the planet, the general public would choose it resulting in socio-environmental change for the better. Hard leaning farm produce brokers are convinced that the world is already coming round to the idea of organic produce but that the rules of the game are slippery and locally grown. They work to get corporate government to take over administration of organic certification because they see enormous short term profits to be had from increased supply and sophisticated industrial organic production.

Government has been concerned for some time that organic food politics were creating public perception difficulties for their footrace to render the food supply synthetic and fully controlled, so the lawyers and lenders-cum-politicos easily identify that the path to neutralization of “organic distinction” is to take over administration of certification with a view towards dilution. They figure within four to eight years ALL foods will either carry the label certified organic or the label hazardous to your health. Care will be taken that all heavily taxed foods carrying the latter label will be narcotic and/or pleasure inducing in their nature including herbs, honey, coffee, wine, raw fish, raw sugar, brown rice, poppy seed, wild berries, wild mushrooms, etc. Meanwhile, in short order (pun intended) fast food restaurant chains, armed with the international criminalization of locally grown exotic food stuffs, use neon signs to proudly proclaim, in France and other weird places, that all the burgers they sell are certified organic which roughly translated means ‘shut up and eat this’.

Act Nine Wait A Minute I’m Confused?

Out beyond the range, down roads pallid people dread to traverse, behind windbreaks only an inebriated hunter would dare to peek, a man is putting finishing touches on a new stilt-built chicken house designed to allow him to park his manure spreader underneath a trap door in the floor. He can’t wait to try it out next time the litter needs cleaning. Clean and fertilize all at the same time, he likes it! At the same time his wife is entertaining folks from town who have braved the road to purchase fresh eggs, (illegal) raw whole milk, (illegal) Echinacea root, lettuce, (illegal) fresh pressed raw apple cider, fingerling potatoes, (illegal) wrapped packages of cut meat, (suspect) Jerusalem artichokes, (illegal) Chanterelle mushrooms, and (illegal) edible cut flowers. All grown without poisons and without genetic mutation. They all laugh at the hand-made stamped labels which read “not fit for human consumption” and remark how funny it is that this has become an underground code for goodness. (Nobody mentions “organic,” not since the new Federally-funded music videos starring Michael Jackson and Britney Spears touting Fuzz-link brand organic corn burgers have started thinking people thinking.) Everyone waves to the son who’s out raking hay. Spiritual solvency hangs in the air. The road has become backlit.

In the hills of France a sheepherder gathers his farmer neighbors together to protest the new McDonald’s restaurant. They have a party and disassemble the building. They are charged with terrorism. They look for other ways to protect their food supply.

In this country government has decided that millions of food poisonings, millions of people protesting genetic engineering, globalization and banking practices, plus the low ratings for mainline TV programming bode ill for re-election prospects. Huge personal fortunes, staggering power, and invitations to the best parties are all threatened. They need a smoke screen. So they take the only road available to them and declare war and go in search of suitable adversaries. In the process of the war declaration they are surprised to enjoy from bored middle class citizens a wave of patriotic fervor. Sensing a ripening of political opportunity they assign their media surgeons to blanket the country with extended notions of treason. An advertising campaign is launched to label anyone who refuses to eat genetically engineered food as un-American, and anyone who eats raw unprocessed native foods as liberal, and to label anyone who buys food direct from farmer pirates as treasonous. A new federal department is created to fund and direct efforts for Americans to tattle on each other but especially those who call themselves progressive. Little do they know they have signed their own future treason warrant and worse, that their French sounding bottled water was actually twice reconstituted through Los Angeles treatment facilities.

Act Ten David and Goliath or the Wizard and the Lizard

A self-proclaimed rogue scholar with several internet doctoral degrees and a fortune made from short-selling junk bonds and auctioneering automobile repossessions rises through the scattered media as a candidate for king. His glory is shortlived. A large group of people, but not all, are mesmerized by his platform. He promises “TV sports, prescription mood enhancers, ponies for the kiddies, fast new cars, fresh carrots, idyllic country settings, no work, hard bodies, low maintenance church membership, elected officials who appear to be dumber than we are, frequent shopping trips, virtual reality programming and box seats at executions, we want it all, and we’ll have it all.”

Meanwhile elsewhere in a small Midwestern town not on the way to anywhere, a small man of perpetual good humor and mysterious talents with plants and animals finds his continence threatened by the packs of Madison avenue dogs hired through government managers to discredit simple farming.

He cannot help himself, he knows he must do something. At night in his attic he authors and designs edible labels for food packages. There are labels for egg cartons, milk jugs, apple crates, canning jars, pear wrappers, produce sacks, bread wrappers, wine bottles, pastry boxes, salad bags, cheese (on and on). Each lovely label carries a subliminal statement done in a light touch. For example;

“In the shade of the orchard from which this pear came, late spring lambs snoozed and the farmer’s children were safe to play games.”


“The fragrance of an August clover field and the natural digestive secretions of the beautiful mature cow’s third stomach blend to create this free floating cheese the bouquet of which perhaps only a master cellist may fully appreciate and no government can deny.”

And each label centers on the reproduction of several different curious fragments of a hauntingly attractive painting. He finally marks each label with its own code of three digits, a letter – number – letter. By rumor campaign he has let it be known that the code will enable little people to reconstruct a map out of the painting fragments. A map to a well lit road and treasure beyond worth. As the rumor continues, final clues to the reconstruction of the map only occur while the labels with the fragments are being chewed and swallowed. For it is as they are being chewed that each painting fragment releases a different musical tone, a hum.

Millions scurry to purchase the obscure farm products which bear the edible labels which hold the clue to the hidden treasure. Most chew up a few labels and say “I don’t get it.” A few chew up the labels and smile and head off as though they know where they are going. All of them come to prize the produce itself for they discover flavors and satisfactions and prehistoric sensorial memories. Quickly the result is an increase in the number of people going off to farm a farm.

Madison Avenue advertising hacks smell a good thing and rush to inform their corporate clients that they too may cash in on this curious marketing ploy of the edible label, but first things first they need to patent the process as a new life form making it illegal for any small men in attics or basements to reproduce same.

Act Eleven The Eleventh Hour and the Map

Before a patent may be properly filed for, corporate heads and sub heads and lackeys and jackals are rounded up by the busload and taken to county jails to be prosecuted as treasonous for they have been discovered in executive washrooms eating the produce of farmer pirates. Politicians rush to their defense a little too early. And a swirling vortex of inevitability causes mass confusion. Media races towards what they think is the front line of the fracas only to find nothing there. Government shuts down, public stock trading in any company dealing in food issues and bio research is suspended. New companies are formed overnight which produce hand tools, work clothing, edible papers and glues, free access to information, edible engines which run off of a new quasi-hydraulic principle incorporating compressed air and pressure cookers. Edible vehicles are designed which generate their own power while slow cooking dinner. And the vehicles can be either cleanly burned for fuel when old or eaten. Cloth is made from animal or plant fibers. Building blocks are made from clay mixed with plant fibers. Everywhere people are scurrying for more and various plant and animal fibers. Everywhere people are scurrying for information about how things may be made by hand. Everywhere people are poking their noses in looking for secret or long buried recipes for home cooking. Everywhere people are humming.

Madison Avenue ad hacks and the few remaining corporate engineers are heard to shout once in unison, “This is madness! Common people aren’t supposed to determine what they want. That’s not how it works. We make it and then we tell them they want it, that’s the way it’s supposed to work! Always has! This is madness, this is communism, this is sacrilegious, this is anarchy, this won’t work, this is a sure disaster, this is going to destroy our economy, this is not what our forefathers fought and died for!” The legal council for the Senate AG committee takes the gist of this rap and drafts a new law against unlicensed edible label manufacture and systems design. The law, the senate ag committee and the legal council are all brought before the supreme court to show cause why they should not be shown in “contempt of the people.”

The normally tired shortsighted grumpy supreme court justices surprise everyone by inviting in the press and common folk to the session, nationally televised and held in a huge abandoned warehouse. There’s a bowl of uncertified organic carrots in front of them and each justice, robed in cotton or wool, can either be seen chewing a carrot or a beautifully decorated “not fit for human consumption” edible label. The bailiff is eating a sun-dried honey dipped apricot with an edible label affixed. There is a brief pause while a small unofficial man reads a public announcement, it seems the presidents of Monsanto, Cargill, Archer-Daniels-Midland, Bank of America, Microsoft, and the US have all resigned in a plea bargain to avoid prosecution for eating the produce of farmer pirates. The supreme court ruled that food must never be controlled by committee or corporate edict and that it belonged to all people and to the planet.

Out beyond, where bird song is still audible and odors odiforous, a small boy is determined to milk the family’s young cow. His smiling father says “Okay, I’m going to rig a kicking strap this time so she doesn’t knock over the bucket.” “What’s a kicking strap, Dad.” “It’s a little trick son, we fasten her hocks together, that way if she tries to kick or swat with a back leg she’ll pull on the other one and quit.” “That’s cool Dad.” The boy said as he hummed a tune from deep in his head.

And in these mysterious ways farming became sacred lighthearted work which produced the stuff of a better life for anybody. And the road back to the farm was well lit by maps held in every small child’s memory, maps which were kept fresh by the hums in their heads. And we ate well, slept well, lived long, loved long, were always thankful, reflecting and patient, were always generous, and we were plumb full of useful beneficial truth.

Men and women once again and always moved slow and deliberate, back loaded with seed and tools, out through the groaning steaming detritus of civilization to find a quiet soft sequestered patch of soil well met by sun and rain. Seeds were planted and tended and a crop was grown to be harvested. Seed was saved from that crop for the next year and food is put by for the farmer. The balance was traded for a handful of an additional variety of seed, three chickens and a new handle for the hoe. The work was hard. Men and women prospered by small significant gradual gain. And the path from gain to mankind and back again was always well lit, clear, resonant, and purposeful. LRM

With a Hum and a Prayer