In this final installment, Herrick Kimball’s Q&A with Stewardculture Magazine shows some insightful thoughts about two different styles of life. You can follow Herrick’s blog here and check out his mail-order business Planet Whizbang here. Read part one here.
You wrote in your book, Writings of a Deliberate Agrarian, about the differences between people you refer to as “moderns” and others you see as agrarians. Could you touch on who those two groups of people are and what makes them different from each other?
Moderns are people who live their lives in obedience to the industrial-world expectations. The faux richness of the moderns’ lifestyle is founded on the accumulation of wealth (or perpetuating the appearance of it through debt slavery). They consume an excess of material goods, while having no semblance of a family economy. They aspire to a physically easy job working for someone other than themselves, and make up for the lack of occupational exercise by joining a gym. They are transients, moving wherever they must in their quest to make more money. They are ignorant about agriculture, and ambivalent about agricultural destruction. Gardening is below them. They view children as a burden. They place a high value on being entertained and amused by entertainers and amusers. They embrace every new technology without questioning its ethical and social implications. They view traditional ways of life and traditional values as quaint but outdated. In short, they are an acquiescent, dependent, and vulnerable class of people.
Agrarians are just the opposite.
Now, mind you, my description of the archetypal modern is not a condemnation of anyone who lives that kind of lifestyle. It is nothing more than a discerning observation on my part. Based on such observation, I prefer the authenticity of agrarian life over the modern’s artificiality. I’m not interested in submitting to that paradigm any more than I must.
We’ll make the assumption that you see these two groups of people having different values. Can you describe the values of the kind of agrarian with whom you’d like to be a neighbor?
I think the values and qualities that make for good neighbors are not necessarily agrarian as much as they are just decent humanity. Treating others as you would like to be treated comes to mind. Offhand, I don’t recall us ever having a bad-neighbor experience in the decades we’ve lived here. Of course, it helps that we have no neighbors living right next to us.
That said, after growing up in a suburban housing project, and then moving to this rural community when I was in 9th grade, I can tell you that the average rural neighbor is cut from a different cloth.
The biggest difference I’ve seen is that rural neighbors have more of a live-and-let-live attitude. There seems to be a whole lot more respect for the privacy and autonomy of others around here. For example, when I built my house, and it was covered with tarpaper for years afterwards, no one made a fuss. Likewise, no one around here cares when we raise chickens on our front lawn. We could have hogs out there and it would be nothing more than a curiosity. When my kids were growing up, and hunting woodchucks on a summer afternoon, no one was alarmed to see boys with real guns in the neighborhood.
Besides that, I think rural folks are just friendlier. Most everyone around here waves to each other when they drive down the road.
When reading your writings, you seem to find a very deep sense of pleasure in your garden, both the place and the actions of gardening. Tell us about that sense of pleasure and why you think you experience it?
My garden is only a few feet from the door of my home and workshop. It is in many respects the center of my earthly universe. It is my never-ending, ever-changing laboratory and life pursuit. Occasionally it is a nemesis, but more often it is an old friend, and it is always a source of mystery and wonder.
When I garden I act as a co-creator with God. I sow the seeds and nurture the plants, while God provides the rain, the sun, and His divinely ordained system of plant growth. Then comes the abundance. From a single, dry, dead-looking little seed comes so much beautiful, wholesome, flavorful goodness!
I enjoy being a part of all of that, and I’m persuaded that God is pleased to see his children working in the soil. I say that because God himself is a gardener. We can see this in Genesis 2:8 where it says “God planted a garden eastward in Eden.” And what did God do after planting the garden? He put his created man into it. Why? Well, Genesis 2:5 makes it clear that man was created to till the ground and care for a section of earth.
It was through the Christian-agrarian writings of Howard Douglas King that I first became aware that tilling the earth is the first corporate calling of mankind. It is a biblical mandate that God has never revoked. When I first became aware of this seldom-discussed (but fundamentally important) aspect of Christian culture, it resonated deeply with me. I realized that the reason I love to work in the soil of my garden is because I was created to work in the soil. I see gardening as an act of obedience as much as a joy.
Faith in the God of the Bible is central to what we are about at Stewardculture Magazine. Without putting you on the spot too much, in your opinion how can we practice agriculture that is God glorifying, whether we have a patio plant box or a 1,000-acre farm?
A correct understanding and proper pursuit of God-glorifying agriculture must begin with a fear of the Lord. Which is to say, reverence or respect based on an understanding of God’s incredible power in creation, His sovereign authority over His creation, the awe-inspiring complexity and beauty of His creation, and the manifestation of His love through creation. Those who have the eyes to see these things are naturally humbled, and that is as it should be.
If you grow a simple patio plant box with that kind of humility, I believe it pleases God.
From a much larger perspective, God-glorifying agriculture should be guided by a spirit of love, naturally conforming to God’s transcendent ethical standards. For example God-glorifying agriculture will not be selfish. It will not steal. It will not lie, or perpetuate lies to advance itself. It will not harm people, animals and the environment in the pursuit of profit.
From a more positive perspective, God-glorifying agriculture is agriculture that seeks to improve the good of all people by providing them with safe, nutrient-rich foods. Better yet, I think those who pursue God-glorifying agriculture should seek to teach and empower the poor and other dependent classes of people with the goal of them being successful co-creators with God – providing for themselves and their families by tapping into His economy of abundance through gardening. Furthermore, God-glorifying agriculture should continually seek to better understand the diverse natural order as God created it and work within that order. With that in mind, such agriculture should adopt an attitude of stewardship, of caring for the land with a mind to make it more fertile and more productive, not only for now but for future generations.
A quote Wendell Berry is said to have repeated is about the idea that eating is an agricultural act. I’ve observed that food to moderns is thought of differently than to an agrarian mindset. How would you explain that difference especially as it relates to your faith?
Moderns look to supermarkets as their source of food. They are disconnected from and largely ignorant about the work and the ways of food production. Supermarket food is always there, it is plentiful, and it is relatively inexpensive. Thus, the availability of food is taken for granted.
Also, supermarkets are full of so many artificial and adulterated foods. Such food is tasty but not nutritious. When you think about it, those kinds of foods are a metaphor for modern life.
On the other hand, agrarian-minded people who actually grow some of their own food have a deeper understanding of where food comes from and how difficult it is to produce. There is no instant gratification when growing your own food. There must be forethought, along with an expenditure of time and significant effort. There is also a great deal of hope and faith that goes into personal agriculture. As a result, there is a much deeper appreciation for food.
The Bible begins with these words: “In the beginning God…” Those four words are the foundation of the Christian faith. Well, I like to borrow from that and say, “In the garden, God.” Which is to say, agriculture reveals God and declares His glory. This is so clearly evident in the overlapping layers of God’s intelligent design in His creation. But supermarkets? They declare the glory of man.
Okay, here’s an easy one … what are you most excited to grow this year?
I’m planting some different potato varieties this year, and growing petit pois peas for the first time. Petit pois peas are a small, super sweet, green shell pea that is popular in Europe. But, actually, I’m excited about growing everything. After a cold and bleak winter season, we who garden have another chance to cultivate beauty and bounty. Our canvas is clean, so to speak. Everything is new again, and full of promise.