I’m about halfway through Wendell Berry’s The Unsettling of America. It was originally written in the early 1970’s but his insight into culture, agriculture, human bodies and our connections to the earth and each other are timeless.
I’ve considered myself an urbanite for many years now. While I fantasize about country living, or mountain living, the reality is, I like living 10 minutes or less to the closest Target. Modern conveniences and city life have infiltrated my bones. Though my daydreams sometimes take me to open spaces, with large gardens and lots of trees and a quietness I only experience now during long weekends away, I can’t really imagine not having neighbors nearby, or a taco truck just down the road.
That doesn’t mean I don’t consider the impact and importance of country life.I’m a proud Midwest girl at heart. Though my hometown was too small for a Target, a Wal Mart showed up while I was in high school, as well as an Applebee’s. We lived on the southeast side of town and it only took about 5 minutes to drive to the nearest farm fields. A drive through town and toward the northwest could take 10-15 minutes depending on red lights, then there would be more fields. These were not the small, idyllic family farms of Berry’s childhood. These were monoculture fields of corn and soybeans, 1000’s of acres, with rows extending from the road as far as the eye could see. Although a wonder in it’s own right we’ve come to learn a lot about this type of farming and it’s not all good news. In trying to produce as much as possible, as quickly as possible, the earth is being destroyed in the process. Farms are rarely family owned but rather a financial investment of “city folk” who are not involved in the actual work of the farm, some never seeing the land at all. Bigger farms of single crops create soil erosion and top-soil depletion at unprecedented rates, resulting in siltation of rivers and estuaries, and lowering of deep-water aquifers due to extensive irrigation. Because the soil is overused, fertilizers and chemicals seem to be the solution for trying to replenish lost nutrients but are full of toxins harmful to the human body. These massive fields require larger, more expensive machinery resulting in debt farmers never expect to pay off. And the majority of “food” produced is not for human consumption. How do we justify this type of farming environmentally and economically?
This week many of us will be feasting. The Thanksgiving holiday in America has a long-standing tradition of being focused on food. And for us city-folk, it’s quite easy to enjoy meal after meal with almost no consideration of where that bounty comes from and what it is we are actually consuming. The convenience of local grocery stores and food delivery has a way of detaching us from our food sources.
Yoga teaches us about unity in the body, mind and spirit. It helps us rediscover the wholeness within ourselves. Unity does not end there. Our connection to the earth and to each other is also vital. Our wholeness depends on the wholeness of all creation. And we all have a part to play. I do not have answers to the problems of American agribusiness. But I do know the benefits of shopping at a local farmer’s market, buying produce in season and limiting my meat consumption. And the joy I experience when my fingernails are full of dirt as I pluck my homegrown carrots from our small piece of earth, is without comparison. Will you join me in finding new, creative ways to reunite with the earth and our larger human community? Please share any tips and ideas for how you build connection with the earth.