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Agricultural Values, Essay Example

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Words: 1051

Essay

Beliefs about agriculture – about the land, and how we shape it and what it is that we value about farms and farming – are, even in this industrialized age, one of the things that defines the character of a nation.  So when talking with people who come from very different cultures and agricultural traditions, it is not surprising that there are going to be some similarities – and of course some differences – in what values are held in any specific country’s agricultural tradition.

For this paper, I talked with Mr. Bob Smail, an old friend of mine who I met when I was participating in WWOOF (Willing Workers on Organic Farms).  He is a farmer at Newhouse Farm in the small village of Kniveton, about twenty-five miles outside of the city of Derby in Derbyshire, England.  Mr. Smail’s farm is about ninety acres of rolling countryside in the Peaks District and his “Newhouse” is actually very old, at least by American standards: it is a 17thcentury farmhouse built around the remains of an 12th century shepherd’s hut which now serves as the farm’s pantry.  Newhouse farm is largely concerned, as much of Derbyshire is, with the raising of sheep, but also has extensive outdoor vegetable gardens, a polytunnel, an orchard, cows, geese, and chickens to make it a very diverse farm indeed.

What you realize very quickly about Bob when you first meet him is that what he values most about farming is the land itself, and nurturing and taking care of it even as he uses it to make his living.  He grew up on this farm, inheriting it from his parents, who inherited it form theirs, etc., and the Smail family has been farming this land for centuries.  For him, the farming is wrapped up in generations of family tradition, and the land is utterly a part of who he is and who his family is.  He sees organic farming, not as something new-fangled or modern, but as a return to many of the practices his forebears used to work this land, practices which were largely destroyed with the advent of modern agricultural techniques, especially after World War II. But even with all this tradition behind him, Bob does not romanticize the hard, 24/7 nature of farm work: I remember being very upset when we were gathering some of the sheep together for their trip to abattoir; I was in tears, because I had gotten fond of them, and Bob looked at me and smiled patiently and said “You’ve got to be hard.”

I think in many ways my values are similar to Bob’s: what I love most about farming is the close, nurturing relationship you get with the land when you are able to work it and to grow your food from it.  I believe that if you take care of the land, it will take care of you, and that farming should be more than solely a means of making a living: it should be a sort of two-way street between you and the land you work, with both sides giving and getting.  Where my values and Bob’s diverge the most from one another is in the sense of history that Bob brings to his work.  He is doing a job that has been done on that particular land, by his particular family, for hundreds of years: Kniveton is a settled, isolated farming community that has not changed much in that time: the church in the village is Norman, Bob likes to joke, and so is the outlook.  I cannot wrap my mind around a long view of history like that; everything in America is so new compared to what surrounds Bob every day.   He is also very poorly-travelled, having even been to Derby (which is about twenty-five miles away) only twice in his life, and I, who am a bit of a wanderer, cannot imagine ever living my life in such a constricted world, even if it is a world that I love and have dedicated my life to, as Bob has to his farm.  We Americans just simply lack that sense of a long view, our country has not been in existence long enough.  One incident between myself and Bob that really illustrates this point is an afternoon when we were working out on upper field together, working on the hedgerows.  It is tough, backbreaking work, and I remember asking him between gasps, “How long has this thing been here?” He glanced over at me and shrugged, “That’s a new hedge, that is – it can’t be more than three hundred years old,” he said casually.  “Bob,” I said, “This hedge is older than America!”  He just looked at me, bemused, and blinked before turning back to his work.

My agricultural values are relatively simple:  I believe that farming is like a marriage, a long-term, mutually beneficial relationship where sacrifices are made on both sides, but where both parties ultimately come out the better.  I believe that working and taking care of the land, living from it in a way that many city-dwellers cannot begin to understand, is to experience what it means to be fully human.  I also believe that there is a religious or spiritual element to farming: it is a form of stewardship, of taking care of one little piece of creation.  I get this values largely from my grandfather, who still has a farm in northern Michigan; he is a hard-working, deeply spiritual man who has lived on the land all his life and so many of my childhood memories are wrapped up in helping him feed the chickens, picking apples from his orchard, helping him slice fresh cucumbers he had just brought in from his garden.  While I realize that for many today in American agribusiness which seeks to take farms and turn them into factories, that this emotional and religious reaction to farming would seem ludicrously out of place. However, with the small-scale, sustainable farm movement growing, I think that values like mine are not really so out of place, that many people who want to work the land feel much the same as I do, and seek in farming not only food but a sense of satisfaction – both spiritual and emotional – that can come from no other job.

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