Subjectively speaking, I don’t think farming today arouses the interest of the majority of this human population, nor do I think it could be adequately defined in a cohesive manner by several different cultures simultaneously, as one can observe the radical differences between American farming, Mexican farming, Moroccan farming or Icelandic farming. But this is not an attempt to define the niche of farming into a scientific field, they are the musings of someone who IS a farmer, and knows what that means, at least in my own way, and why that is important to me.
A lot of people would describe me as an atavist, seeking ideals lost in the old world, preserving archaic religion and spiritual abstractions that are peculiar to so few, as to have almost little significance in the current community ethos. I would say they are right on the surface, but wrong to the core. For me, I see farming as a pathway into tradition. A force of creative labor that uses the libidinal energy, in a ritualistic AND habitual manner towards the fertility of the earth, and the production of abundance, both of sentient life, and vegetable life, which by this I mean to incorporate all things that can grow from the soil. Farming uses soil as the alchemical prima materia, or so we can imagine for this metaphor I want to give. Each soil is different in its humus content, its clay deposit, its minerals, or bio-matter, its life and organics. From the soil can be seeded the microcosm of an entire ecological habitat, or it can be depleted in a bad experiment. In the smallest of seeds, protected by it’s husk of armor, the entire biological existence is already mapped out, to come into fruition with all the order and beauty that unfurls. From these very seeds, a culture can grow, one of maize, or coffee, rice, and potatoes. We think of the Irish or the islanders of PEI and their world renown spuds, or the golden corn and blue agave of southern Yucatan that are so ingrained in Mayan and Zapatista lifestyle. We honor vicariously the coffee culture of old, from it’s roots in South America every time we drink a brew. I for one have picked the ripe cherries in the cloud forests of Oaxaca, to be transported away by donkeys, and sorted on sun drying racks. Every time I caffeinate myself with a dark bitter cup, I think about these times.
Farming for a connection with the source, with the past, and with an integrated culture, but also with the future. Being a provider. I often think farming is a form of altruism and meditation. There are no mass profits, unless it crosses the threshold of commercial industry, which I witness to be more of a factory like labor than real farming. You make enough to get by, and support your kin. Small scale farming, centered around the family, community, or clan, is for the most part where I focus my labor and time in the world. Though my four years of experience on the ground do not stack up to the multi-generational farm-steaders I have met in my travels, this only leaves me with something to aspire to. This is perhaps the second reason why I see merit in farming life, for it’s longevity of spirit, and the fact that there are families who have known nothing else, not because they couldn’t have integrated into a modernistic society or business profile life, but because the tenets of life on the land were satisfying enough to the soul to allow a continual feeling of satedness. The modesty that accompanies most farmers is something of a lost human countenance. You don’t meet anyone who brag about their grandfather who worked as a stock exchange man, and his grandfather before that, and the great-grandfather before. It just doesn’t happen, because there is no pride, no learning process, and honor in that field, and above all no growth, literally, and spiritually. I find especially in sustainable small scale farming, there is no need to go big, or to have large amounts of excess surplus because the minute you start producing multiple times more of your fodder, your produce or your product, then you start working for someone else other than yourself, or the extended self, being the family. Your abundance is only abundance in so far as it is now tracked and portioned out, marketed and controlled. Now you have met with the expectations of a society who can not fend for themselves and are parasitically dependent on your work for their sustenance.
I was recently co-erced into working on a rather large dairy. Living in Newfoundland, thinking I knew a fair amount of the heritage here, I went into it with open arms. Tending a 500 cattle herd, milking routine twice a day, right up my alley. But my expectations fell quite short, and the illusion of the matter came out in the wash so to speak. I was hired as a dairyman, and with any sense of truthfulness I was told I would be in doing the milking routine. Well, after three days of being around the cows, morning and evening, not a single drop came from my work. Instead, the cows were auto-milked, and the whole human interaction was missing. Powerful sucking machines placed on the utters for mass production of milk. I thought with a touch of humility, sure you are getting more from the cow, but what about the talent? and the relationship? and the actual work of the body? It all seemed backwards to me. It felt like a factory. Instead I spent my idle hours of work moving manure piles, scraping stalls, moving cows, cleaning the ground, shoveling shite, and nothing else. Nothing with the cattle themselves. There was no work outside, it was all in several barns, and I thought, these are just like my production line days when I lived in French Canada, completely pointless and directionless. I have not learned a thing, and my health was suffering from constantly inhaling the scent of ammonia. I did not get the sense that the other workers cared much for my well-being, and it all felt more slavish than anything. I had a jolt of reality, and realized I could not do this, I couldn’t even bear it or trick my mind to thinking it was still farming because it wasn’t. I had to remember who I was, where I cam from, and why I am. The objective had changed, while these cows were not treated cruely, they were not allies in the sense of other sentient beings worthy of interaction, they just represented a tag, a value, a commodity to be moted about. Besides the fact that I don’t even drink the milk coming from this farm, so how could I support the production of it. Personally I prefer raw free range, goat milk, or some of the alternatives to milk like almond, oat, or rice milk, but that is another tangent. Needless to say I could not continue here, and it brought to the surface an old paradigm of keeping one’s integrity, even in the face of survival.
As a traveler, I am always looking for work, I am kind of an international hobo in that way, but instead riding airplanes and buses, less than hopping trains. The field of labor generally intrigues me and interests my higher self, because I see a limitless potential there so I am genuinely interested in work, and when it comes to farming, I want to have as much archived experience as I can bottle up until the day I have my own land to put it all into practice. I left the farm, and now i’m jobless, but none less the farmer. Because I see one to be not only a provider of the people, you may have heard the adage ‘farmers feed cities’ but also a kind of hero of the land, cultivating it’s worth and artistically rendering the earth to produce nutrients, proteins, and vitamins for the great cyclic system of life, and recycling.
Rather new to the agrarian lifestyle are the agendas of ‘Rewilded farming’, Perma-culture, and Bio-dynamic farming. The latter, a spiritual agricultural disciplined invented by the genius Rudolf Steiner. It’s like sustainable farming with ritual, and moon cycles tied in, which really is a kind of throwback to the Farmer’s Almanac. The former two of these are reactionary, and somewhat archaic types of farming. Rewilding farms to smooth off the hard edges of industrial mono-culture, and seeing the land in a more primal, gaian manner, that can be let to go feral, and still yield abundance. While permaculture is ultimately a counter to intensive agricultural practice as well, global warming, resource availability, politics, and neo-community building. There are amazing principles in each and I have dabbled with all of these, both personally and communally. But the tenets do not change.
I like to see farming in the scope of it’s effect on the consciousness, or more simply put, on the methodology of why. It is one of these past times that preoccupied our ancestors, and farming really means, living in tune with the cycles of nature and is a kind of symbiotic relationship between biology and the people. It represents a society who are dependent on agrarian principles. One must be knowledgeable about the seasons, about ripening times, about pest control, about harvest schedules, about the weather and temperature, about soil health, planting periods, and I can run the gamut, but these are some basics. You can even get more intensive about it, when permaculture is involved and talk about things like; grafting, animal co-workers, hybridizing, hydroponics, soil building, and so forth. These days, these concepts are no longer really seen as important
in mono-culture. The dirt is already robbed and growing one crop in over-tilled soil, seasons do not matter when vegetables can be grown all year round, and we can find something like peppers or cherries in the market even when they are out of season, the state of the food is compromised by a slew of pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, and insecticides, it seems all knowledge and wisdom of natural ecology is thrown out, and there is a single pointed focus on production instead. Even now 3D printed food is a thing, and I consider it almost a marker of a new age, a bizarre one to say the least.
So if farming can mean draught horses, black earth, strong bare chested men, and potato harvests, but can also be chemically induced, genetically modified, big CAT tractors, laziness, destruction, cruelty, and stock shares. I just wonder for the future of farming if I as a holder of the tradition by the very work of my own hands will not be able to place it into the arms of my forebears, if this is the last generation to see real farming. It is a scary thought.