According to the U.S. Consensus of agriculture (2007), about 2.2 million Americans are employed in the task of farming, which comes to about one percent of a total population of 300 million people. That’s just to say a very small portion of folks in this country actually have a working relationship with the land anymore.
As a rurally-raised Coloradan, I grew up in a small town of about 1400 people in the midst of orchards and ranches and farms in a mountainous mining community. I remember as a kid going to pick up farm-fresh lard from our neighbor, buying meat from a butcher in town, and making special trips to different farms for different varieties of produce. We picked our own choke-cherries, blueberries, and green beans, and often we butchered our own animals. We had a small grocer in town, but the nearest City Market was 30-40 minutes away. It wasn’t really glamorous like the organic buy-local movement today—it was more of a necessary way of life.
We eventually moved to Denver, the budding metropolis of the West, and that lifestyle essentially disappeared. Enter the suburbs, super-sized grocery stores, fast food (the nearest McDonald’s when we lived in Paonia was a 40-minute drive) and 24-hour, on-demand everything. At that time Whole Foods didn’t exist, but ironically, the “granola movement” blossomed in many ways just a few miles up the road, in Boulder. So I got to experience a unique perspective of both the rural farming scene and the ultra-yuppie, white-collar sprawl of the organic/granola movement.
And of course you can’t really exist without running into the food fad today, whether it’s veganism, paleo-whatever-ism, all-natural, organic, farm-raised, gluten-free, non-processed, locally grown, or about a million other odd combinations of dietary dogmatism. I know at least a dozen people, as a result of this, who’ve bought land, raised chickens, invested in raw milk, ground their own wheat, and purchased their own livestock. For about a million different reasons, people are concerned about their food, the land, and their own connection to it.
The question is why? We’re a largely suburban or urban culture with SUV’s and 20-acre supermarkets, cable TV and technology galore. So why do so many people feel out of place, disconnected, driven back to a bygone era of history like farm life?
My argument is simply this: it’s in our DNA, in our nature. Think about this—as image bearers created by God, even the way we were made is instructive: God formed us from the dust, from the earth itself. And when he made us, he put us on a farm (the Garden of Eden) to work the land and produce good fruit from it. We came from the earth, were made to cultivate and work the earth, and when we die, we’ll return to the same earth.
An odd place to find a nugget of wisdom on this issue for sure, but I read this from the famous psychoanalytic psychologist, Carl Jung, who lived into his eighties on a patch of land, cutting firewood and getting dirt under his nails:
Everyone, he maintained, should have his own plot of land, so that the instincts can come back to life. To own land is psychologically important, and there is no substitute for it… everything around me is part of me, which is why a rented flat is disastrous. Big cities, Jung thought, were where uprootedness began. “Human existence should be rooted in the earth.” (When Character Was King, Peggy Noonan).
Human existence should be rooted in the earth. What a profound statement. Like I said, it’s ultimately about our nature, the very essence of our being. Why do horses gallop and run in fields? Because that’s how they were made. And why do humans have this unavoidable connection to the earth? Because they were made with that end in mind; it’s hardwired in.
I also think something else becomes evident from all of this, namely, that the “uprootedness” of suburban or city life is a reality we sometimes don’t see. It’s in the way people eat meat bought at the grocery store but cringe at the actual thought of slaughtering animals. How did you think it happened? People have become disconnected, sanitized, and yes, blinded. Our existence here is about things dying to give other things life, but we try to hide our eyes from that truth.
Obviously not everyone is going to live on a farm or butcher their own meat, nor would the absence of technology improve anything about our situation. I myself am a web editor who lives on the outskirts of a city, drinks Starbuck’s coffee, uses a MacBook, and drives a Yukon XL. But I think it’s reasonable to ask yourself this question: am I living in ways that are consistent with my nature as a from-the-earth, made-to-work-the-earth type creature, or am I living blind to that?
I’m sure the way you live in connection with the earth, your unique way of cultivating, will be different. Maybe it means a few times a month you get out in the creation, take a hike in the woods, or leave your illuminated screen time for stroll along a riverbank. Maybe it means you visit a local farm with your kids to see again. Or for the first time. Maybe you plant a garden and learn cultivation there. Maybe you go roll in the grass with your kids, the ones whom you don’t have to tell to rejoice in creation, but who do it so naturally.
Something to think about. Made from the earth, to work the earth, will return to earth. For those belonging to Christ, will be raised with perfect bodies in new earth. What is your connection to the earth? Is your position more or less than biblical? Ponder.
Creation sings the Father’s song
He calls the sun to wake the dawn
And run the course of day
Till evening falls in crimson rays
His fingerprints in flakes of snow
His breath upon this spinning globe
He charts the eagle’s flight
Commands the newborn baby’s cry (Townend & Getty).