Seconds after viewing this commercial on Super Bowl Sunday, I received this text, “There’s your farmer love.” Though some might find it odd, my friend could not have been more right. My eyes were filled with a tearful pride that nationalists feel when they hear the National Anthem. I was excited that for at least a few minutes almost every American’s attention was turned toward this testimonial of a forgotten link. That night, I realised more than before, that this lack of farmers in the conscious held a bigger issue within me that conflicted my feelings with my actions.
I have farmers on both sides of my family. At one time, this would have been the case for many people, but now few people have any claim to land. My father spent several vacations as a boy on his grandfather’s farm in South Carolina. My mother was born and raised on a farm in Southern Georgia, run by her family. Though this farm was not at its full capacity when I was born, much of my childhood was spent there playing in the fields with my cousins and eating massive fresh meals with extended family. As it is, our own house in SC has half an acre or so devoted to growing our own vegetables throughout the year. Our family was raised to explore and wonder at nature. We love to interact with it in positive ways, which is much more than half of the people I know can say.
Perhaps it is no surprise, then, that by the time I got to college, I chose environmentalism as my science credit. I first took a course taught by Rudy Mancke, a well known naturalist who had a show on PBS and traveled all over, discovering flora and fauna and teaching the viewers about them. From him, I learned the animals and the plants that occur naturally in our habitat; the way of the ecosystem; and human’s often selfish impositions. Fro my second environmentalism class, I learned the effects of urban sprawl and the detrimental results of a growing farm industry by way of tools and food demand. As if to somehow reconcile all of this information, I discovered a naturalist named Wendell Berry through a Southern Literature course from the essays of The Unsettling of America. I was at a loss of what to do with all of this information. I was tempted to throw myself into a pastoral lifestyle as soon as I had the means and never look back.
After graduation, these feelings lay quiet under the surface. They would rile up at moments when I saw blatant disregards for nature, or when the subject came up from some inquiring mind. However, I stayed in the present, preoccupied with another goal, or distracted by various issues. But then, last month, a friend and I ventured to Savannah, Georgia to view a documentary called, “Eating Alabama.” A young man and his wife return to Alabama to start a family and begin to question the source of their food. Both came from Alabama farmers and decided to spend a year living off of the land and “locally” as their grandparents did. As you may imagined, they found the conquest very challenging, at one time spending an entire weekend driving around the state of Alabama searching for local produce. As time progressed, they worked around it, found a community of like-minded people and gained what was, to them, a more healthful lifestyle. The idea remained, however, that they were not able to fully actualise the means and methods of their grandparents. This was an issue I always faced in my musings of my adult life: Would it even be possible to fully return to the ways of my ancestors? Could I personally achieve this, find peace with nature and would I find others to join me?
Bunny and I were able to meet and speak with the director, Andrew Beck Grace, after the showing. I asked him whether he had read Wendell Berry before he and his wife made this choice, or at any point when he was searching for farmers in Alabama. He said that he had, and so we were able to discuss this modern day “radical.” Grace even mentioned that Berry might speak at a conference where Grace was planning to show his film during his tour of the states. Should this occasion ever occur, guess who will be taking a road trip?
Afterwards, I had still had many questions. Who are the farmers nowadays? The commercial during the Superbowl was nice, but I know that farmers now are few. Fewer are farmers who are not associated with a corporation who actually make a living off of the land. Anyone in my family who has interest in land or livestock use it as supplemental income now. I wonder how many people even know about local produce stands, let alone nearby farms and the products that they grow. I live by two farms, I pass them everyday on the way into town, but what about everyone else? Are they truly so distanced from the land? Is the pastoral image only a sticker on our boxes of food filled with unnecessary bio-engineered chemicals and preservatives? With all of the fluctuating concern about our earth, land, food, what we eat, the effect of it all it is hard to know if everyone cares or no one cares. And what future does that leave us? It feels as if, for every person who does care, there are at least twenty who are apathetic or ignorant.
These questions and thoughts are not easily answered or put to bed. But I am searching for the like-minded of the past and present to motivate me and to bring me some peace. Personally, I am avoiding those who wail on about what is in or isn’t in the things we consume in a frenzied hypochondriac fashion. I am aware, and life is stressful enough. It doesn’t mean that I ignore the fact. Instead, I remain conscious of it, but research towards the naturalists and romantics who can give me insight on how to be with nature from time to time, if not live in it. I am currently looking at Thoreau, a rather conflicting character in my personal history. Lately, he has me up in arms because of some belittling comments made about farmers in “Walden” (but that will all be saved for another time.) I am hoping that this redirection will motivate me to be more the naturalist that I know hides in myself, the raging passionate side of me that wants nothing more than to enjoy the earth despite society’s demands. I need to explore, as I am always yearning to. Also, should my decisions lead me towards Chatham University (Grad school responses are still coming in) I know I will find the community that will allow me to explore and practice the naturalist lifestyle I love with like-minded folks.
We shall see where it all leads; I may even find a few answers on the way.