Monday, April 12, 2010

Reclaiming Our Agrarian Heritage

If you live in a rural area, you may be thinking that your lifestyle is already so agrarian that there’s nothing you need to reclaim. If you live in an urban area, as I do, you may be thinking that I’m going to suggest the impossible.
Actually, this article is for everyone. It covers such a wide area—an entire lifestyle—that I’m sure that a single article is unlikely to do the subject justice. I hope, though, to whet you interest enough to get you started.
Let’s begin with the basic concept of agrarianism.
You’re probably familiar with the Bible verse, “All things work together for good for those who love the Lord and are called according to His purpose.” Let’s look at that verse a bit at a time.
“All things work together.” Science tells us that, and so does experience. From the galaxies to the tiniest particles, all things work together. In human experience, there’s a law of reciprocity causing everything we do to influence everyone else and eventually ourselves. Some people call it karma.
This offers a lesson in humility to those whose idea of corporate social responsibility (CSR) is seen in the Triple Bottom Line: people, planet, and profits. The most common view of the Triple Bottom Line is that we must find a balance or compromise among people, planet, and profits. Since all things work together, though, there exist mutual needs among people, planet, and profits.
Business guru Michael Porter has pointed out that the most successful models for CSR are those that take these mutual needs into account. The key, then, is not a balancing or compromise but a strategic fit among the three. According to my studies of the Bible and the holy books of certain other religions, this concept of “fit” also applies to individuals. It applies in our relationships with each other, with nature, and with everything else.
This brings me to step two in this analysis: “All things work together for good.”
Really? Well, yes and no.
Recently Taiwan’s Premier (head of the cabinet) Wu Denyeh and President Ma Ying-jeou announced plans to drain a natural wetland to build some kind of business park. Premier Wu, stressing what he seemed to consider a balancing of business and environmental needs, said, “We can’t save every wetland,” and he went on to emphasize business needs.
On the surface, his argument sounded reasonable. In fact, Taipei County over the last ten years has spent enormous amounts of time, energy, and tax dollars not only to restore natural wetlands but to build manmade wetlands. Why? The cost of building water purification plants to meet all of Taipei County’s needs is prohibitive. Only 20% of Taipei County’s wastewater is purified before dumping it into the river. To make up the difference, Taipei County depends on natural and manmade wetlands.
Here’s the bottom line: Wetlands don’t have to be “saved,” as if the continued existence of wetlands depended on special effort on our parts. It’s the other way around: People need wetlands; and the only thing wetlands need from us is our willingness not to destroy them. Yes, all things work together for good; but we will enjoy that “good” only if we choose to work within the system that the Almighty has designed for our benefit.
That brings us once again to the complete verse: “All things work together for good for those who love the Lord and are called according to His purpose.”
When I was young, I enjoyed listening to things that older people said about generations past. One elderly lady told me how she and her neighbors survived during the Great Depression. Families that had enough food for two days would share with families who had nothing. When they had nothing, other families shared with them, and she knew of no one who starved. This attitude of working together reflected agrarian values.
In two nearly adjoining verses, St. Paul wrote, “Each person must bear his own burdens,” and, “Bear one another’s burdens.” There’s no contradiction between the two admonitions.
Many years ago, as I was walking to church, I saw that a baby mockingbird had fallen out of its nest. Its mother was squawking with anguish. At the time, I believed the myth that, if you touch the baby bird, its mother won’t have anything to do with it.
In church, by amazing coincidence, the pastor quoted the verse that says God takes note of every sparrow that falls. I wondered what good it did if the sparrow died. That afternoon, I saw the dead mockingbird covered with ants. I mused, “It seems that the Lord also cares for ants.”
I was troubled by the thought that, the further up the food chain a person or animal is, the more victims it has in its attempt to nourish itself. The numbers increase in geometric progression.
After years of pondering the question, I heard that one third of all household dust is dead human skin. It’s consumed by bacteria. Billions of bacteria now live on our bodies, and billions of viruses live in our bodies to aid in digestion.
Thus, in addition to the pyramidal food chain, I began to see an inverted pyramid. The higher we are on the food chain the more living things we sustain. We voluntarily kill plants and animals for food, but nature is designed so that we involuntarily feed others.
We all came from the soil. We’re nourished by the soil. We'll return to the soil. A substantial portion of human happiness depends on our closeness to the soil and the Creator of the natural system of which we’re an inseparable part. A substantial portion of our happiness depends on meeting the triple bottom line fitting ourselves with one another, with nature, and with nature’s God.
Any system that attempts to subvert the Divine system of relationships between Man and nature, Man and Man, and Man and his Creator is demonic, destructive, and must be resisted with every fiber of our being.
[Recommended agrarian reading: Mother Earth News, Shirley’s Wellness Cafe, and—for this purpose at least—Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Deuteronomy, Psalms, and the Sermon on the Mount.]
Concerned about Frankenfoods? Want to eat the real thing? Take a look at the Non-GMO Shopping Guide.

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