Farming is fundamentally biological. The essence of agriculture begins with conversion of solar energy through the living process of photosynthesis. The food that sustains our lives comes from other living things. If life is sacred, then food and farming must be sacred as well. Throughout nearly all of human history, both food and farming were considered sacred. Farmers prayed for rain, for protection from pestilence, and for bountiful harvests. People gave thanks to God for their "daily bread" -- as well as for harvests at annual times of Thanksgiving. For many, farming and food are still sacred. But for many more, farming has become just another business and food just something else to buy. Those who still treat food and farming as something sacred may be labeled as old-fashion, strange, radical, or naïve.
But, the time to reclaim the sacred in food and farming may well be at hand. The trends that have desacralized farming may have run, even overrun, their course. There is a growing skepticism concerning the claim that more "stuff" – be it larger houses, fancier cars, more clothes, or more food – will make us more happy or satisfied with life. There is growing evidence that when we took out the sacred, we took out the substance, and have left our lives shallow and empty. Humanity is beginning to ask new questions. The old questions of how can I "get" more is being replaced with questions of how can I "be" more?
The answer to this question, at least in part, is that we must reclaim the spiritual dimension of our lives. But, how can we reclaim the spiritual or sacred? And, how will doing so change the way we farm and live? These questions will be addressed, but first we need to understand why we took spirituality out of food and farming in the first place and why we now need to put it back in.
What is this thing called spirituality? First, spirituality is not religion, at least not as it is used here. Religion is simply one of many possible means of expressing one’s spirituality. William James, a religious philosopher, defined religion as "an attempt to be in harmony with an unseen order of things." Paraphrasing James, one might define spirituality as "a ‘need’ to be in harmony with an unseen order." This definition embraces a wide range of cultural beliefs, philosophies, and religions.
A Native American, Chief Sealth, or Seattle, said: "Whatever befalls the earth befalls the sons and daughters of the earth. We did not weave the web of life; we are merely a strand in it. Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves." (Roberts and Amidon, p.10 ).
From another culture, "the most important characteristic of the Eastern world view – one could almost say the essence of it – is the awareness of unity and mutual interrelation of all things and events, the experience of all phenomena in the world as manifestations of a basic oneness" (Capra, p. 131).
An example of a Polynesian worldview: "The Kahuna told me, if you are looking for God, look out at the sea. Look to the horizon. Get in your canoe and go to the horizon. When you get there, you will meet God. God is nature. God is everything" (Pearsall, p. 121).
And, from a Jewish Prayer: "And God saw everything he had made and found it very good. And he said: This is a beautiful world I have given you. Take good care of it; do not ruin it…I place it in your hands: hold it in trust" (Roberts and Amidon, p. 62)
Finally, from the Bible: "To everything there is a season, a time for every purpose under the sun; A time to be born a time to die; a time to plant and a time to pluck up that which is planted; a time to kill a time to heal; a time to weep a time to laugh;… a time to love and a time to hate; a time for war and a time for peace" (Ecclesiastes 3:1-8).
A common thread of all these expressions of spirituality is the existence of an unseen order or interconnected web that defines the oneness of all things within a unified whole. We as people are a part of this whole. We may attempt to understand it and even influence it, but we did not create nor can we control it. Thus, we must seek peace through harmony within the order of things beyond our control. This harmony may be defined as "doing the right things." And, by "doing the right things;" for ourselves, for others around us, and for those of future generations, we create harmony and find inner peace.
The sustainable agriculture issue ultimately is rooted in a perceived "need to be in harmony with the order of things" -- in spirituality. Finding harmony with a higher order requires an understanding of that order – wisdom not power and control. Sustainable farming means farming in harmony with nature – nurturing nature rather than dominating or manipulating it. Sustainable agriculture means fitting farming to the farmer and the farm – not forcing either to fit some predefined prescription for progress. Sustainable farming means farming in harmony among people – within families, communities, and societies. Sustainable farming means farming in harmony with future generations – being good stewards of finite resources. A life of quality is a shared life. A life of quality is a spiritual life.
The goal of sustainability is to sustain a desirable quality of life. Quality of life is not something we can buy at Walmart or Disney World with the money we earn from farming for the "bottom line." Quality of life is determined by our ability to "do the right things," for me, for us, and for them. Quality of life, inherently and inseparably, is personal, interpersonal, and spiritual in nature.
A sustainable agriculture, likewise, has personal, interpersonal and spiritual dimensions. A sustainable agriculture must be ecologically sound, economically viable, and socially just. Protecting our own environment is not enough. We must conserve and protect resources for those of the future. Profits are necessary but not sufficient. The economics of short run, self-interests are inadequate to ensure that there will be anything left for future generations. A society without justice is not sustainable -- no matter how profitable and environmentally sound it may seem. The economic, ecological, and social dimensions are all essential and inseparable. Sustainability requires harmony among things personal, interpersonal, and spiritual. We can begin reclaiming the sacred in food and farming by reclaiming, up front and without compromise, the spiritual nature of sustainability.
As we reclaim the sacred in food and farming, it changes the way we farm and live. We learn to pursue peace and happiness rather than success. We seek "harmony" among things economic, social, and spiritual – not maximums or minimums. If we focus on any one, we tend to deplete the others, and lose rather than gain what we seek to achieve. Farming solely for the bottom line, for example, invariably takes time and resources away from family and community, degrades the natural resource base, degrades the human spirit, and eventually destroys the ability of the farm to even generate a profit. However, ignoring farm economics for short-run family or religious reasons can be just as devastating in the long run for both family and spirituality.
To farm and live sustainably, is to farm and live spiritually. Sustainability certainly is not a religion, but it is fundamentally spiritual. Sustainable farming and sustainable living are attempts to work and live "in harmony with an unseen order of things" -- to work and live spiritually. To farm and live sustainably, we must be willing to openly proclaim the spirituality of sustainability. We must reclaim the sacred in food and farming.
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