The New Agrarianism: Quixotic or Not?
Gregory Wolfe March 16, 2009 - 1:20am
One of the comments on my recent post about Front Porch Republic -- a new blog where traditionalist conservatives with agrarian and distributist leanings opine -- contained a fairly typical response to agrarianism: "Oh, Id love to live in an ecologically sound world that retains the beauty God conferred on it, but farming for everyone?"Well, no. Not even earnest agrarians propose farming for everyone.But I do understand this response. Most of us dismiss agrarian thinking as being either innocently or dangerously romantic. We're obviously not going to return to a pre-industrial society so why kid ourselves? I know -- that's often been my reaction, too.Still, something in me senses a major disconnect here. Yes, most of us are permanently and hopelessly detached from our agrarian roots. And yet we constantly invoke the beauty and fragility of nature or "the environment" (wretched, wretched term). We can spend huge amounts of time, money, and effort praising nature, and frolicking in it -- hiking, skiing, kayaking, etc. -- hell, we even love nature from the comfort of our armchairs.But somehow when we speak of nature as mediated by human effort -- the farm -- we lose interest and talk about how unlikely it is that any of us will become farmers anytime soon.Huh?If you ask me, the most dangerous form of nature romanticism today centers around the cult of the "wild" -- for all its virtues, it is a sensibility that tends to discount agriculture. As if the human touch, even in the careful stewardship of the land, is somehow tainted and uninteresting. (There's a big philosophical can of worms beneath this way of thinking, but a blog post ain't the place to run it under the electric can opener.)So, in short: Is talk about localism and sustainability, the importance of a regional, versus a global, economy, and the role that regional agriculture can play in these issues nothing but quixotic blather? Is the effort to think about how the food we eat is made -- and what it does to us -- merely prissiness? I don't think so.Sadly, the current frantic effort to prop up the economic status quo ante makes it highly unlikely that anyone -- including President Obama -- will pause to seriously reflect on the true radicalism of sustainable regional agriculture. We're just so desperate for things to get back to the way they were....In one of the comments on my post, Brian Volck presents a wonderful short list of serious authors exploring these issues: not only Wendell Berry, but Barbara Kingsolver, Michael Pollan, and Norman Wirzba, among many others. Read his comment for specific titles.