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> Monday, April 2nd, 2012 > Opinion > Notes From Day Seven: Principles from the Amish farm
Notes From Day Seven: Principles from the Amish farm
Click here to read more Interrobang articles written by Michael Veenema
Published: Monday, April 2nd, 2012
It’s probably an urban legend, but recently I heard a story about someone who refused to eat any more eggs. She always liked them, but one day confessed to her friends that she didn’t know where they came from. When she was told that they came from the back end of a chicken, she swore off them.
London, like any city in Southwestern Ontario, is surrounded by farmland. But how many of us know much about rural life and farming? We drive past vast stretches of developed crop land with hardly a thought. Actually, since most of our commuting takes place either right in the city or on the stretch of the 401 between London and Toronto, the chances are good that many of us have never even see a farm.
But so what? As long as the tiny percentage of people who actually work directly with fields, orchards and livestock keep doing what they are paid to do, who cares? They make money by working the tractors and operating the barns so they can buy the stuff made in the cities. And city dwellers who make money building toasters and retailing clothes buy the food farmers produce in the country. It all balances out.
Maybe. Or maybe not. Wendell Berry, a farmer, teacher and writer has for many years been saying that we are in peril for ignoring our land and our farms, especially our family farms.
The family farm, one that is intimately connected with the land, is a crucial source of the values that make human life possible.
If, like me, you have ever spent any time living on a family farm, living among family farmers or even just visiting a family farm, you might have a feeling for what this means. Berry, in his book, On Farming and Food (Counterpoint, 2009), explores the meaning of the family farm, what its success brings to all of us, and also what its failure would mean for us.
In one of the essays, “In Defense of the Family Farm,” Berry writes about the Christian Amish communities in North America. They are easily found. If you drive, say, north of Kitchener, you might see them working the fields by hand and using horse and buggy instead of cars. Do slow down when you pass such a rig so the horses and the occupants in the buggy will know you are sharing the road safely with them.
Berry recommends what he calls eight “Amish Principles.” I more or less quote them here.
One, they preserve their families and communities.
Two, they maintain the practices of neighbourly living.
Three, they practice the art of kitchen and garden, household and homestead.
Four, they use technology, but are not afraid to limit its use. They resist allowing technology to displace or alienate the human labour already available in the community. And they do not throw aside the free sources of power available from the sun, the wind, waterways and so on that come with their land.
Five, they create farms of a scale that are compatible with both the practice of neighbourhood and the optimum use of lowpower technology.
Six, because of these practices, they keep their costs down. Therefore, they are not forever indebted to banks, nor are they at the mercy of national and international agribusiness.
Seven, they educate their children to live at home and serve their communities.
Eight, they esteem farming as a spiritual discipline as well as a practical art. In fact, those two dimensions are inseparable.
I would add a ninth principle that is clearly at home in these first eight. Frugality. To throw away nothing. And a concluding story: For a time my father farmed. The barn he used was not the best. But within a few months he had it ready for livestock. One of the things he did was take an old pile of planks and make a second storey.
But here’s the most interesting part. The planks were full of nails. Many people today, rather than deal with old planks filled with rusty nails, would throw out such material and buy new lumber and nails from the building supply centre. But my father and I took those planks and pulled out the nails. Each of those nails was precious to him. He had me take those nails, one by one and hold them carefully on the concrete floor. I hit them with a hammer, straightening out every bend, and putting the recycled nails in a jar. Almost all were salvageable. They held that barn together for a long time.
I learned more about what makes an economy healthy from that small farm exercise than I have learned from all the professional economists I have read quoted in our media over many years.