[A]t this very apogee of the mega-farm, something new—and yet very old—may be stirring. Industrialized farming appears to be “pregnant”: not with some newly bioengineered chimera nor with the latest super-machine, but with agrarianism, a humanistic approach to agriculture that would re-attach people to the soil. The farming future may not lie with the consolidators, speculators, and agribusiness. Rather, it may lie with the resurrection of a family-centered agriculture. On the surface, this would seem to be among the least likely of twenty-first-century possibilities. All the same, as the land-use expert Eric Freyfogle enthuses, “agrarianism is again on the rise” and “agrarian ways and virtues are resurging in American culture.” Oddly enough, there is evidence to back up these claims.
Those optimistic words come from a Spring 2008 article in the Intercollegiate Review titled Agrarianism Reborn: On the curious return of the small family farm. The article is authored by Allan Carlson, one of my favorite faith-family-and-agrarianism writers. Carlson wrote the book, The New Agrarian Mind. Here are a few more quotes from the beginning of Mr. Carlson’s excellent article:
What is agrarianism? The poet, novelist, essayist, and farmer, Wendell Berry—America’s leading agrarian voice—describes this worldview as the countervailing idea to industrialism.
Lynn Miller, publisher of Small Farmer’s Journal, says that agrarianism rets on two principles: “First, provide for the family [from the farm] and second, always be looking for ways to help family, friends, and neighbors.”
Agrarianism means reinvigorating the household as “a center of economic productivity,” restoring women and men to their natural and necessary tasks.
As the price of fossil fuels soar, as the costs of farm machinery become prohibitive, and as the machine-driven depopulation of the land nears its end, a deeper accounting grows necessary and the reality of limits returns. Agrarians insist that a new agriculture, resting on respect for these limits, is the only alternative.
After presenting evidence to support his thesis of agrarian renewal, Carlson presents some “Troubles and Dilemmas.” Under that heading, he states that the current agrarian revival has “its weird elements. Most of them cluster around the concept of ‘biodynamic’ farming. This approach counts Rudolph Steiner as its architect.” Then the author goes on to explain what he means by “weird elements.”
Other problems and possible solutions are presented. One solution I think is a particularly good idea is that of prohibiting corporations from owning farmland.
In the end, Carlson concludes with these words:
…the American countryside is now in the early stages of ferment. Old dreams and old ways, mixed with new tools, techniques, and opportunities, have given fresh life to the agrarian spirit. A way of life preserved through the twentieth century by sectarian religious groups such as the Old Order Amish has found new energy and new recruits in the opening years of the third Millennium. The prospects for building a well-settled landscape of productive homes rich with the laughter of children seem more promising than has been the case for decades.
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