Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Isn't It Romantic? (No, Actually, It's Not...)

I do not know much about modern scientific farming. Combines frighten me by their sheer immensity. I can feel the earth weep under their heavy treads. It seems to me that they take from the earth but give nothing in return. Horses, as they go a–plowing, fertilize the earth. Man’s hand is gentle when he tills the soil. There is a less hurried pace about the whole thing. Tractors have a frantic pace about them. I cannot understand this hurry to get returns and results.

Today in our new world the earth is treated as if it were a factory. It is wounded by machines. Chemicals are sprayed, from airplanes and by tractors, onto the earth, the fruits, vegetables, and flowers. The earth is fed man–made chemicals that produce a large but far less healthy or tasty crop.

Farming has become almost a synthetic factory with a production line. Are we eating the fruits of the earth, or are we eating chemicals that God never meant us to eat? And what about all the insects that get killed in the process? We used to have a reverence for bees. Every farmer was a beekeeper.

But I have seen apiaries destroyed in a single summer in this wondrous land of ours by some new spray invented by some learned man somewhere—probably someone far away from a farm who never had the privilege of working with things that grow, nor with insects which God created to help things grow.

Catherine de Hueck Doherty, Apostolic Farming

Reflection – I’m spending a few days looking at Catherine’s basic approach to environmental questions. As I hope to show, her approach has commonalities with the ‘green’ movement, but some radical differences. One key difference is that her ideas do not remain at the level of ideas or of a few cosmetic changes in our life style, or of some restructuring of industry that someone else needs to actually implement. Her approach to healing the earth, which is Madonna House’s, is to thrust our hands into the earth to make it fruitful by farming it.

The above passage from Apostolic Farming follows upon a long trip down memory lane by Catherine to her family’s farm estate of her childhood, the natural methods used there, the harmony of animal, plant, and human being, the unhurried pace and peaceful spirit of the place. Some, reading this, would dismiss her as hopelessly romantic, out of touch, unscientific, unrealistic, luddite, etc., etc. (add your disparaging term here!).

I think that misses the point. Catherine was a symbolic writer, and I don’t think she was actually suggesting an abandonment of modern technology to return to methods of farming from the middle ages. She was in fact aware of the growth of global population and the realities of food production needed to support the human race. And indeed MH has always used, according to our needs and means, the tools of modern farming. We are not Amish; we use tractors!

What she is talking about is a very deep approach to the earth, to God’s creation, that is utterly lacking in modern factory farming. Modern factory farming, like so much of modern life, assumes that creation is woefully deficient and needs to be ‘fixed’ by human beings to meet our needs and agendae. We do this with our sexuality, and so castrate and sterilize ourselves chemically, and then abort the children who manage to get conceived in spite of our best (?) efforts.

And we do this agriculturally, pumping cows and chickens full of growth hormones, pouring poisonous chemicals onto the land to kill the weeds, taking the nutrients out of the soil at maximum yield and pumping back chemical nutrients into the soil. The earth is a factory, and we are the overseers, and we will bend and break the earth to meet our needs, as we define them, with no heed to what God has fashioned.

Catherine is a radical, and so are we in Madonna House. We know that the global agro-business model cannot just be done away with without causing famines. We know that the whole of our global civilization is interwoven with modern factory farming and that it is all deeply connected.

And we know that there is something badly amiss in this. The bees, in fact, are dying. So what do we do? Protest General Foods? No. We pick up a hoe, a plow, a pitchfork, and we start farming. Our few little acres here in Combermere, where we strive mightily to work with God and work with His creative genius. And we invite people to come join us, to work the land alongside us, to plunge their hands into the good soil, to smell the good smell of manure, to collect fresh-laid eggs from the chickens and hear the baaing of the ewes and their lambs.

We don’t opine or rail or agitate. We farm. And in that farming, many beautiful things happen. To be continued…

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