Transforming Agriculture, Perennially
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Issue No. 67
Summer 2000

land-report-067

The Need of Being Versed in Country Things

BY Wes Jackson

The house had gone to bring again

To the midnight sky a sunset glow.

Now the chimney was all of the house that stood,

Like a pistil after the petals go.

The barn opposed across the way,

That would have joined the house in flame

Had it been the will of the wind, was left

To bear forsaken the place’s name.

No more it opened with all one end

For teams that came by the stony road

To drum on the floor with scurrying hoofs

And brush the mow with the summer load.

The birds that came to it through the air

At broken windows flew out and in,

Their murmur more like the sigh we sigh

From too much dwelling on what has been.

Yet for them the lilac renewed its leaf,

And the aged elm, though touched with fire;

And the dry pump flung up an awkward arm:

And the fence post carried a strand of wire.

For them there was really nothing sad.

But though they rejoiced in the nest they kept,

One had to be versed in country things

Not to believe the phoebes wept.

— Robert Frost

The last two lines of Frost’s poem probably are not true. Countless city people not versed in country things wouldn’t believe for an instant that the phoebes wept. Nature may have no sentimentality about human loss. It is probably Frost who is saddened when the murmur of the birds flying out and in through broken windows reminds him of the “sigh we sigh from too much dwelling on what has been.” He has reason to be sad — observing the abandoned farmstead, knowing that others had been and that abandonment continues. We’ll never know. Both the meaning and the effect of Frost’s poem hinge on being “versed in country things,” and that is an art form. This connection between “country things” and art inspired us at The Land Institute to explore more deeply. Every year we host a Prairie Festival at the end of May — what one friend of mine calls “an intellectual hootenanny.” The theme for Prairie Festival 2000 was “The Art of Living in Place,” and I think Robert Frost would have enjoyed it, had he been able to attend. “The Art of Living in Place” — there are many interpretations of what that means. One meaning for me is that one’s farm (or tract house for that matter) is a canvas of sorts, a space where we can be participants in the Creation. The first rule for the Art of Living in Place is this: Don’t destroy the canvas. On a piece of land we do not want to destroy the topsoil. But globally, we humans haven’t done so well at practicing the Art of Living in Place. During the last 40 years, nearly one-third of the world’s arable land has been lost to erosion. Over the last 200 years of U.S. farming, an estimated 30 percent of farmland has been abandoned because of erosion, salinization, and waterlogging. Croplands in the United States lose soil at an average rate of around five tons per year from water and wind erosion. Half the fertile topsoil of Iowa has been lost during the last 150 years of farming and continues at a rate of about twice the national average. David Pimentel of Cornell University estimates that erosion in the U.S. causes about $44 billion in damages each year. The International Food Policy Research Institute maintains that almost 40 percent of the world’s cropland is seriously degraded, “a condition which could undermine the long-term productive capacity of those soils. …” The Institute claims that soil spoilage already impacts the productivity of over 15 percent of the world’s agricultural land. Not only is the canvas being destroyed, the artists’ children are being killed thanks to the industrialization of agriculture. An Associated Press story alerts us that “More American children are killed while working on farms each year than in any other industry. Sixty years ago, family farms still covered the nation. Parents could at least try to ensure their children stayed a safe distance from dangerous machines and chemicals. But while farming has vastly changed to ever-larger, corporate-owned farms, the legal loopholes have not closed fast enough. Children employed in agriculture can work longer, at younger ages and in more dangerous jobs than in any other industry. Fatality rates among young farm workers dwarf those in other fields. Thirty-eight percent of all work-related adolescent deaths occurred on U.S. farms. More than half those fatalities involved tractors, most often while teens were driving.” But there is more from another AP report. Teenagers in rural America are more likely to use illegal drugs than those in big cities. Eighth graders living in the country are twice as likely as urban kids to have used amphetamines, including methamphetamine, in the last month. They are 34 percent more likely to have smoked marijuana, 50 percent more likely to have snorted cocaine and 83 percent more likely to have abused crack cocaine. Between 1990 and 1998, drug-law violations increased six times faster in places with fewer than 10,000 people than in cities with more than 250,000. There is more than drugs. The number of new AIDS cases increased by 82 percent in rural areas between 1994 and 1999 compared with 59 percent in large metropolitan areas. It matters but little whether we are talking about economics or health, the industrial machine in agriculture wrecks its havoc. I will illustrate with two stories. They may seem unrelated, but intertwined between them are personal problems, health problems, economic problems and ecological problems. The first story concerns a rural husband and wife, both 55 years old. They are parents of five children, grandparents of six. After college and teaching stints for both, they returned home to the family farm. These north-central Kansas farmers are religious, patriotic, and frugal. On that farm they raised as their best crop those five smart kids, all college graduates except the youngest, who graduates soon, all contributing members to society in healthy and productive ways. These youngsters were raised on farm chores and the traditional culture of rural Kansas. None of those kids will likely return to a paid-for family farm. They, important cultural seed stock, are more likely to raise our couple’s grandkids in a distant city or town. When this part of their story began, the couple could not afford health insurance. They have never made more than $25,000 a year total. Off-farm work made it possible to slow the decline of their assets. Because of the latest downturn in the ag economy, they moved out of their deteriorating doublewide to find work in a larger town. Even though they always have had a large garden and raised and butchered rabbits, chickens, hogs, and beef, they’re broke. Low hog prices, cattle prices, and grain prices make them one of thousands of families forced to leave farms and home towns, including aging relatives now in nursing homes. Versions of this story have been told thousands of times, and thousands of times dismissed as an “economic reality,” a consequence of economic determinism, the way the world is. Economists and others as well sit comfortably well fed as forensic scholars, one might say, who now and then call out the score — telling how many more losers have gone under or have quit. Those who fail are predictable casualties on agriculture’s economic battlefield — mere statistics. Twenty miles from our state’s land grant university lives another couple in their early 30s, both teachers, parents of two boys, one four years, the other a few months old. Both are graduates of Kansas colleges. They moved to this small town one summer to assume positions in local high schools. A week after they moved in, a neighbor, seeing they had a young child and were expecting another, handed them a notice warning that neither children nor pregnant mothers should drink the city water. A neighbor delivered the announcement — not a town official. Three members of one family — the small boy, a developing fetus, and the mother — were not to drink the local water. Although at-risk town citizens could obtain free drinking water in gallon jugs at the local grocery, the stock is rapidly depleted requiring a 40-mile trip to town and return. The woman’s sister and her husband also have a small child. During a summer visit, the two families went to the local park. Two active kids ran, became hot and sweaty, and naturally approached the city park drinking fountain, which, of course, supplied polluted water. The drinking fountain had to be off limits to the children, but the parents had to say so; there were no posted notices. What’s wrong with the water? Nitrates from “non-point-source pollution.” The culprits could be either grain farmers or feedlot operators or, if both are present, probably both. That 55-year-old husband and wife were once my students. I knew the parents of the man as early as 1954 because their oldest son was my friend. Two of their sons were my students. So I know the family. All are intelligent, efficient, honest, patriotic, devoted members of their community, their church and their schools. As former teachers and farmers, when these pillars left their home county more was lost than population statistics will indicate. In story two, the woman teaches Spanish, her husband history and English in consolidated rural high schools. I know the mother very well, am getting to know her husband well. She is my younger daughter, he my son-in-law. Their children’s cousin is my granddaughter. Her parents, who teach in a university in Iowa, can relate story after story about agri-chemical pollution throughout Iowa. The lives of the 55-year-old farm couple and the couple in their early 30s are snapshots of American agriculture and of industrial culture in general. The total picture is larger than the visual range of any one person at any one moment. Both landscapes and people have suffered from unacknowledged and externalized costs. Ambiguity in accounting may be minimized by keeping the boundary of consideration greatly restricted, but as the boundary shrinks the irrelevance increases. For industrialized agriculture especially, the boundaries of consideration are narrower than the boundaries of causation. It may be cost effective for the farmer not to rotate crops, or to use an herbicide instead of cultivation, but if one draws the boundary of consideration to include the ground water and health costs, then society’s agricultural costs go up at least in the long term. The problem with the efficiency arguments is that corporations tend to measure short-term profits that ignore long term effects and act in some cases irrevocably even when faced by lack of data. Essentially everywhere we look in rural America are people living in war zones of sorts. The clear though short-term winners of this war are the agri-business corporations and their stockholders and the professional servants of agri-business in many of our colleges and universities. The losers include the condemned bystanders — small children or reluctant participants such as the low-wage-earning feedlot cowboys. These people are not mere statistics, although statistics show that they are not alone: too many of our Kansas’ rivers and streams are not suitable for recreational use or drinking, and our lakes are considerably less clean than they need be. Ancient armies had clear motives and triumphant returns when they poisoned the water supply or salted the fields of the enemy in the interest of the immediate goals of a campaign. The armies that poison our water today and force the evacuation of the long-term residents of rural America assume, as Shakespeare put it, “We can bestride this world like a colossus.” Competitive corporate capitalism under current charters is allowed to subdue or ignore nature and by small extension social injustice is a consequence of production. Where do we begin? It is clear that, when we face the problems of rural America, be they pollution or mass exodus, operating with the idea of absolutes fails us. Ending dependency on exports alone won’t save rural life nor will it happen very soon. Our export policy is rooted in colonial times, clear back to the first tobacco planted at Jamestown as an export crop. In a similar manner we cannot seriously oppose agricultural technologies. Few among us would reject Jethro Tull’s seed drill (1701), or James Small’s cast iron plow (1765), Andrew Meicle’s threshing machine (1780), Cyrus McCormick’s mechanical reaper and binder (1834), or Anna Baldwin’s suction machine to milk cows (1878). Moreover, scientific discoveries, like technological discoveries, have positive results few of us would oppose. Mendel’s laws of heredity, elucidated in 1865, are as important as the invention, early this century, of the Haber-Bosch process that fixes atmospheric nitrogen. No, it is the convergence of science and technology with the expanded scaleof these developments, driven by an exploitative brand of capitalist economics left to itself, which collectively destroys options for future generations. Social and regional history combine with the lack of a sufficiently broad education that could assist us in knowing when enough is enough. Our cultural failure in this realm, rather than the adoption of science and technology, stands behind the 55-year-old couple leaving the farm for a city in Kansas. It also stands behind the unsafe water in the town my daughter, son-in-law and grandchildren left (they did not leave for that reason). Knowing when enough is enough requires an artistic sense. Knowing when enough is enough would have prevented what we would eventually refer to as “industrialization of agriculture.” Great masterpieces are not great because their creators heaped more and more paint onto the canvas; they are great because of their creators’ sensibility of balance, appropriateness, and scale. We have seen the experiment and now we see that the industrialization of agriculture over the past 60 years has not promoted “the art of living in place,” which fits hand in glove with the need to be “versed in country things.” Every now and then I enjoy visiting a place — an example that meets such an ideal — by reading a passage by Wendell Berry which appeared in The Unsettling of America.

Some years ago I frequently used to drive past a farm in a creek valley of narrow, scarce bottomlands and hillsides. … The farm was small, mostly hillside, with a few narrow ridges and a creek bottom that could not have been larger than an acre and a half. In an area of semi-abandoned land, this farm was outstanding, not because of its “improvements,” which were old and few, but because it was clearly both well used and well cared for. It was farmed by an old man and woman and a team of Percheron horses. Everything about the place was neatly kept. House and yard and barn always showed a resident pride. There was an orderly, abundant vegetable garden beside the house. The pastures were mowed every summer. The tiny bottomland where the old man grew his tobacco crop was cut into three or four pieces by waterways that were grassed and bridged. More than anything else, those little timber bridges bespoke the old man’s care; the usual thing would have been to drive regardlessly across such shallow drains and so wear the banks away.

Like Wendell, I found this place interesting — and for the same reason: “because it was a good marginal farm and because it was obviously a relic, the lone survivor within hundreds of square miles of a kind of farm that had been commonplace only thirty or thirty-five years ago. And finally it, too, went the way of the rest of them.” Wendell describes what happens when the art of living in place disappears, when those versed in country things die.

As I watched the old man’s farm, driving by it at intervals, I saw it suddenly begin to change. The yard began to look unkempt. Disorder began to spread around the house. The team of horses disappeared. I learned a little of the story. The old man had died. His wife had moved to town to live with her children. The house had been rented to people who, though they had technically become its residents, clearly did not live there. The farm also had begun to be used by someone who did not belong to it. I had stopped once and talked a while with the old man. He was busy fixing a fence at the time, and though he received me courteously enough, he did not permit himself to be much interrupted. I told him that I admired his farm. He thanked me, but without enthusiasm, obviously having spent little time yearning to be complimented by strangers. I said his team of horses looked like a good one. He said that they did very well. One morning after I had learned of his death, I stopped at the farm again — in his honor, maybe, or in honor of my own sense of loss. It was a gray, wintery day. The place looked and felt forgotten. It had gone out of mind. Absence was in it like a force. The barn was closed, empty, the doors tied shut by someone who did not intend to come back very soon. Peering in through a crack, I found that I was looking into a milking room with homemade wooden stanchions, unused for years. I knew why: it had become impossible to be a small dairyman. I spent some time looking at the old man’s horse-drawn equipment. Some antique collector had taken the metal seats off several of the machines; these had become bar stools, perhaps, in somebody’s suburban ranch house. For the rest apparently nobody now had a use. Examining the pieces of equipment, I saw that they were nearly completely worn out, patched and wired together like the fences and buildings, made to do — the forlorn tools of a man who had heirs, but no successors.

In a recent issue of The Wall Street Journal, front page, left hand side, with the stippled-in face complete with a Pioneer Seed company hat, is Francis Childs of Manchester, Iowa, 60 years old. Mr. Childs has a target of 400 bushels an acre for corn this year. Last year, Mr. Childs posted 394 bushels per acre, breaking a 14-year-old record. The national average is a little over 100 bushels per acre. He is something of a hero to others, for according to the article, “At a lecture on a snowy night in the Iowa town of Waukon, all 132 seats in the Vets’ Club are filled. Before he speaks, several farmers walk up to have their picture taken with Mr. Childs.” This farmer of 320 acres of the best land in the world is not my idea of a person “versed in country things.” He is not an agrarian, nor an artist. Those who clamor to be photographed with him are probably pretty much the same. A member of the Practical Farmers of Iowa said Mr. Childs was “like an athlete on steroids.” The Wall Street Journal featured him because of his success in industrial agriculture. He has helped set the standard — the escalating standard. Downstream from our Iowa super-farmer is the Hypoxia Zone in the Gulf of Mexico. This is the largest zone of coastal hypoxic bottom water in the Western Hemisphere, right in the midst of some of our nation’s most important fishing waters, an area about the size of Connecticut. Because of low oxygen, mostly due to agricultural chemicals in the Mississippi drainage, the zone is dead and expanding. Those “versed in country things” would do more than see the connection between the hypoxia of the Gulf and record setting corn yields. They would feel the connection as well. The sigh we moderns sigh “from too much dwelling on what has been” is drawn in part from an analysis well articulated toward the end of the same piece by Wendell quoted above:

The curious thing is that many agriculture specialists and “agri-businessmen” see themselves as conservatives. They look with contempt upon governmental “indulgence” of those who have no more “moral fiber” than to accept “handouts” from the public treasury — but they look with equal contempt upon the most traditional and appropriate means of independence. What do such conservatives wish to conserve? Evidently nothing less than the great corporate blocks of wealth and power, in whose every interest is implied the moral degeneracy and economic dependence of the people. They do not esteem the possibility of a prospering, independent class of small owners because they are, in fact, not conservatives at all, but the most doctrinaire and disruptive of revolutionaries.

We all dwell on what has been, often without a sigh. When we dwell on the good examples, which show us possibilities, we are given heart. Here is Wendell again: “the old man and his farm together made a sort of cultural unit, recognized and valued in this country from colonial times. And it is still a perfectly respectable human possibility. All it requires is the proper humanity.” Wendell’s analysis is, of course, correct, and thankfully we do have a few examples of good farmers who have practiced the art of living in place — Gene and Carol Logsdon and David and Elsie Kline in Ohio. The late Harlan and Ann Hubbard on the banks of the Ohio in Kentucky, the couple given higher visibility by Wendell in his book on them. Harlan a painter, Anna an accomplished musician, both fluent in foreign languages, built their place with their own hands, mostly from what they could find, and then sustained themselves from the river and their large garden. Theirs was a life of abundance, not nearly so austere as Scott and Helen Nearing’s and with none of the self-righteousness one feels from Scott Nearing’s writings. What is interesting is that the aesthetic sense of all of these good examples carries the potential for driving down prodigal consumption. This exercise of the aesthetic sense necessitates ecological contact and instructs us on how to achieve a spare use of nature. Instead of leadership — accommodating aesthetic considerations with some eco-agrarian thinking from our colleges and universities — leadership toward a path that would help correct the problems, this is what I hear:

  1. What’s wrong with shrinking the number of people on the landscape? Why shouldn’t farmers, like everyone else, have to play by the rules of the market? Why not weed out the “inefficient” farmers?
  2. Food is safer now than ever because of the chemicals applied to our landscape and 2,4-D as a cause of non-Hodgkins lymphoma is one unfortunate tradeoff.
  3. Soil erosion? We’ve had agriculture and soil erosion for 10,000 years. Human numbers keep growing, don’t they? Sure, civilizations have come and gone, but in those regions there are as many or more people now as at the time those civilizations crashed.

Such questions, statements and the attitudes they represent are the product of isolation within the safe boxes of universities where knowledge is not forced out of the categories. The universities increasingly become places that feature questions for which there are answers. These cynical positions explain why so little effort has been devoted to a research agenda to deal with the problems. How else can we explain why there is no agenda that would reduce input costs, put more money in the pocket of the farmer, reduce the ecological impact of agriculture on the landscape and concern itself with the viability of rural communities? How else can we explain that the problems tied to pesticides or nitrates in ground water and the movement of people off the land are still not priorities for all — city, suburban and country folk alike? The same agenda affects all of us. Raise the issue of the loss of rural youth and the ensuing “loss of cultural capacity” and one is likely to be met with such answers as:

  • “The world is changing.”
  • “Many people who have not grown up on a farm are able to go out and be successful farmers and will do so in the future.”
  • “Being ?raised to farming’ may be a virtue, but even here this loss of our ?cultural seedstock’ — as you ecological worriers put it — is relatively unimportant so long as even one percent have the desire to learn agriculture on their own.”
  • “Humans are adaptable creatures and economic laws are derivatives of human nature dealing with reality.”

There are basic practical reasons for people being “versed in country things,” as the account I am about to describe illustrates. The story appeared in our local paper a few years ago as an Associated Press piece by Sarah Mae Brown, who described the following conditions in Kurilovo, Russia.

Each day, Nikolai and Galya Nikolinko arise in the dark and go about the business of making a living. They milk their cows, feed their pig, gather eggs from their chickens, tend their garden. They live off what they grow, and sell the rest for a few rubles here and there. From milk alone, they earn perhaps $100 a month. And when the sun rises, Nikolai heads off from his simple wooden house to his long-time job as a welder in a state-run auto repair factory. For this, he earns nothing. … People survive on their gardens and their wits, and the official economy primarily is a distraction. … Across Russia, especially in smaller towns and villages, millions of workers have gone months without wages. Both the government and private employers have been unable — or unwilling — to pay them. Even retirees have gone without their pensions. Outsiders tend to ask how this is possible: How can a nation survive when its people are unpaid? Why would a worker show up for a job that offers no wages? Like many Russians, Nikolai Nikolinko — who hasn’t been paid in three months — doesn’t ask these questions. Why wouldn’t he show up for work? “Where would I go?” he said. “There aren’t any other jobs in this town. I’m too old to look for work in Moscow. This is a one-factory town; we have no other choices. And besides, what if the day I decide not to show up the managers start handing out wages?”

A crucial message  one never made explicit in the article  is that nature’s economy, in combination with traditional culture, continues to feed the people and now subsidizes the industrial economy. Try to imagine nearly anyone but the rich and the Amish going without wages in the United States for three months now that our traditional rural economies have been mostly undone. The collapse of the Soviet Empire represents the first major failure of the industrial mind. We should more or less ignore the differences between capitalism and the Soviet brand of communism for both systems have sought to concentrate power and in so doing greatly reduced the number of people on the land and in small communities. Two important messages come through to me, messages of what we need to do to prevent the eventual likelihood of widespread social upheaval. First, we must aggressively consider ways to keep people on the land and in the small towns and second to imagine and implement ways to get more, but not all, people back onto the land and into more traditional relationships with sun, soil and rural community. Here is an immediate practical reason to be versed in country things. We don’t have to junk every accoutrement of the technological era, but during times of food crisis, history has shown that no one is safe whether they grow food or not. Cultural arrangements of a diverse nature — not the industrialized pig or chicken factory — will insure our security. Whether we are talking about the huge feedlot beef facilities or a Central Valley of California-style agribusiness to provide our vegetables, both are brittle forms of food production. They combine key elements of the Soviet way which collapsed. This has all been said before in many ways, and in this period of affluence it is easy to deny that anything can or will go wrong with our production system however well motivated our workers or reliable our machinery may be. Whether it is the application of farm chemicals to our land and water, cutting of the tropical rain forest, or overhauling the architecture of our major crops and livestock genomes by introducing genes from long evolutionary distances, we see everywhere that the resilience of the important patterns in nature which support humanity is not infinite, that what we call cultural stability is more fragile than we have imagined, and that the small cascades of human calamity in the past become predictors for the future. Meanwhile we tend to ignore where true resilience lies. The Siberian welder and his family with their garden, pig, and chickens can teach us far more about a sustainable future than can the internet. There has never been a golden era in agriculture. And as we acknowledge the domestic problems — drunkenness, spousal abuse, kids on drugs and more — there was and still is a cultural wisdom, an agriCULTURAL wisdom derived from staying put, a wisdom gained no other way. Rural people, many rural people, even those with average or low intelligence, have and had a cultural handing-down of knowledge that expanded their intelligence. On the other hand, what we often see among intelligent people disconnected from the land is the use of their intelligence (often unwitting) for destructive purposes. High intelligence often multiplies brainpower in the wrong direction to create a kind of dumbness. I want to talk a little about the “eco” part of the eco-agrarian mind. This requires us to begin with the question: What has happened to ecology as a popular movement? We seem to have given up on the challenge of developing ecological modes of production. Why should we? After all, nature’s ecosystems — prairies, forests, alpine meadows and more — run on contemporary sunlight and feature material recycling. Organic food production does exist, to be sure, but is not necessarily ecological. What seems to have supplanted the era of ecological awareness is lots of popular concern about human health. Endocrine disrupters becomes an issue. Health concerns range from dirty water and dysentery to accommodating the narcissistic who visit the organic boutique. The ecological point of view is lost in individual selfhood even before we get to how nature’s ecosystems have worked over the millions of years. What about the question: How do we live in this world? How do we relate to the things we take and use? How can we live more artfully? Instead, this current emphasis on health and longevity has moved everything ranging from Midwest soil erosion to Southern California soil salting and agri-chemicals everywhere off the agenda to be replaced by arguments about the costs and benefits of biotech. “Gee whiz” genetics reigns. We hope to clone hogs to produce organs for human transplant. Pigs are slated to become factories for hearts, livers, kidneys and more. Putting our concerns for health and kids center stage and relegating to off stage how the world is or works ecologically and evolutionarily, results in the paradoxical trivialization of both health and kids. Most current agricultural and ecological thinking regards itself as progressive, and in one sense it is: very little of it can be enacted or implemented without ignoring or overriding our ancient human aesthetic sensibilities. C.S. Lewis said it very well in his book That Hideous Strength: “The very experience of the dissecting room and the pathological laboratory were breeding a conviction that the stifling of all deep-set repugnancies was the first essential for progress.” The array of industrial equipment on our farmsteads along with our pharmacopoeia of agricultural chemicals demanded a “stifling of all deep-set repugnancies” and this is what has accelerated the so-called progress in high yield agriculture. The farm as a canvas where we can practice the art of living in place has been subsumed by the economic and technological imperative. Finally, some thoughts of two soul mates who are also our best teachers. The first is from Leo Tolstoy who, before the Russian Revolution, wrote: “To return to the old ways is not possible; only one thing is left for those who do not wish to change their way of life, and that is to hope that things will last my time after that let happen what may. … the deception on which everything depends is wearing out.” To call “what everything depends on” a deception, at first glance, may be too strong. Upon closer examination it may be even more true for us than it was at the time of Tolstoy. For whether we are talking about the automobile or Iowa corn, we are deceiving ourselves, at a minimum, by ignoring their ecological and energy cost. America’s Tolstoy, our friend Wendell Berry, commenting on that farm in the Kentucky hollow has this to say: “By the standards of orthodox agriculture, as well as by those of the present economy and culture, this old man and his farm were merely anachronisms, leftovers. The possibility of their existence would seem contemptible, not just to the majority of agriculture experts, but to the majority of influential people of their kind. And yet we must ask why. And we must be careful not to accept too hasty or easy an answer. For no matter what may be said by the current standards of economics or technology or cultural fashion about this old man’s life, there is still no legitimate way of withholding respect from him. … Here was a man who worked until he died, taking care of himself and of his part of the earth.” Our hope lies in that minority of people whose lives are less defined by economics than by beauty and the love which attends it. If agrarian thinking could replace industrial thinking one day, with technologies serving as agents rather than as masters, and if we, like the phoebes, can rejoice in the nest we keep, then we will see eco-T-shirts and bumper stickers and all the language of eco-hype only in museums. We’ll look back to this time as a primitive era which called itself the environmental movement before “being versed in country things” was widely realized.

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