Sunday, May 19, 2013

Connecting Lives

One of my favorite authors is Wendell Berry who authored the book ‘The Unsettling of America’.  In his book, Berry does a good job of relating every day, simple concerns and events in our culture to the moral character of family, importance of good top soil and clean water, and how we as a nation have departmentalized most everything to the point that we miss the connectedness all things in life have.  In a way he is referring to a term I use quite often which is the holistic approach.  Nothing stands in isolation.  To learn all about the mechanics of a locomotive and not understand the social effects that mechanization may have on a community is the opposite of holism.  Or to work diligently to send all one’s classmates to a university to study at levels of graduate level  learning and above without reckoning with the appropriateness of such a debacle caused by labor shortages in such areas as refrigerator repair or shop keepers is also a recipe for moral decay.  How can families become happy and productive if everyone around them are doctors and lawyers, but when their car breaks down on the interstate no one owns or operates a tow truck business or mechanic shop to fix their car.  

In the early 1970’s our agricultural system had a political push to expand not only the size of the farming enterprise in number of acres per farmer, but it put forth increased pressure to departmentalize or specialize in single crop production.  Eventually a term we know today as mono cropping became the norm instead of the exception on almost all farms regardless of size.  Where it was once common for most productive farms to be managed in a way that benefited from having two, three or more species of farm animals, and maybe several crops raised in a symbiotic relationship that benefited the production of each small enterprise on each farm, the push for single crop or single animal production became the standard.  And at most agricultural universities today little is taught or understood about mixed farming from those who are employed there or who support that educational system.  Mechanization with larger and larger tractors and other equipment used on today’s farms to work these mono crops seem to have no limits in size.  And with the advent of more and more equipment the need for less and less farm labor seems to have been one of the direct results.  It was anticipated and specific words were spoken during the early stages of this agricultural change that along with this great mechanization underway more and more people would be relieved from farm work and be allowed to study more, learn more and the results would be more doctors, lawyers, and other professionally labeled individuals.  No one asked the question do we really need more lawyers or office workers and more importantly no one took a look at what might happen to the small communities around those farms when a swift migration to the cities occurred.  And how does a farmer instantly become adjusted to city life and are all of those farmers suited to such a life change.  They cannot all become pediatricians so where do the non doctor farmers find employment in a big city where milking cows, feeding pigs, and managing pastures are all very specialized skills that are seldom if ever needed in the city.  If you look closely you will see an explosion in the ghetto population and intercity projects, unemployment and many forms of government subsidies and welfare type programs emerge. 

Without the mixed species holistic management of the small farms the larger mega farms began to find productive increases by housing tens of thousands of animals in confinement buildings which are today labeled CAFOs.  These productive increases are really a myth hidden by creative accounting which fails to include for one the degradation of human drinking water caused by the run off of sewage of all these confined animals.  Nor does it include the human consequences from the increased antibiotic use in the feed these animals consume just to keep them alive during their short lives in such deplorable living conditions i.e. most often living their entire lives wading through their own excrement.  And maybe the increase in the need for more doctors was partially anticipated in this great agricultural change to fight the antibody resistance to most of these drugs that eventually wind up in our food supply and effect persons with such deadly and mostly untreatable diseases like MIRSA.  If this was the case we can add one more failure to this flawed experiment in humanity.

One of the biggest results has been our unprecedented increase in human auto-immune disease and others yet classified in an appropriate manner.  Our poor health, increased poverty both in the inner cities and rural America, increases in moral decay once partly held at bay by the small farming community that once worked together which demanded personal responsibility.  All life exists at the hands of those who tend the soil.  We might should consider where our priorities are best applied.   It is true that the great Roman empire was destroyed not by an enemy invader but from within itself.