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June/July 2006
Peace in a Piece of Land
By Harold Brown


Peace. It is what we all yearn for. It is what all sentient beings live for. But as humans, we have a knack for disrupting the natural order, creating disharmony and ultimately living out of balance. This is not our intention, and there are everyday folks working to create a better world. One way that some people are looking to create a more peaceful world is to return to the land and become plant-based farmers.

This is an ancient calling. There is something basic, perhaps primal, within us that finds pleasure being in nature. Nature in and of itself is complete, a balance of all systems large and small. I think we innately envy the natural order we observe and desire to live in cooperation with the web of life. Unfortunately, humans live very much outside the natural order and, due to our ever-increasing populations, the carrying capacity of the planet is possibly at its limit. In my travels, I have found it is extremely rare to encounter a person who doesn’t want a closer relationship with the land and with their food source. There seems to be a growing concern among consumers to reconnect to their food. This is evidenced by polls that show a growing awareness of the connection between our food choices and health. This may be in part due to the conflicting information coming from the food industry and the organizations that investigate the impact of diet on disease. The best evidence is market research that shows the demand for organic foods is 15 percent greater than the current supply. Consumers are waking up.

Prior to the Second World War, approximately 70 percent of the U.S. population farmed; today it is about 1.8 percent. For a generation, there has been an unprecedented consolidation of agriculture, while, at the same time, a mass exodus away from the land and the natural world. But, as all things go, this cycle is changing. The ebb and flow has not only been in geography, career or interest in food production, but also a connection to nature. Add to this a deep concern about how our food is produced and the apparent loss of the democracy of our food to multinational agribusiness. There is nothing more important to our well-being, indeed our survival, as clean air, water and food.

Recently, I have seen a surge of interest among people living in urban areas in organic, veganic (stock-free) or other forms of agriculture. On the surface, these folks have a great yearning to grow food in a sustainable way, to provide clean food while being responsible stewards of the planet. There is also an awareness of the legacy we leave our children and their children’s children. Beyond this, I believe, is a deeper need, a need to find peace. As Will Tuttle, Ph.D., mentions in his book, The World Peace Diet, we live in a herding culture that is built not only upon the backs of animals but is rooted in the mythos of death and domination. We can see this mythos play out from our corporate office cubicles, to the anesthetization of society by the mass media, to our foreign policies.

Innately, we know that true peace begins within ourselves, and reconnecting to that which gives us life is one of the most profound connections we can make. To plant something that seems so insignificant as a seed, and to watch it germinate and grow, realizing the miracle that the knowledge of ages and everything the seed needs to know is held within it. At some level we identify with the seed and, eventually, come to see that we, too, have all we need within ourselves, but unlike the seed, we need to be reminded. Coming to this awareness is the miracle of life.

Animal agriculture blocks us from this experience. Yes, there is the witnessing of the miracle of birth with farm animals, but the tenderness and awe of the moment is fleeting. The harsh reality of viewing and treating farm animals as economic units takes hold and the true sanctity of life is corrupted. Working with the soil and nurturing plants connects us intimately with the mysteries of life, centers us, and gives us not only satisfaction, but creates peace. Plant-based agriculture, farming and gardening is an act of co-creation, a way of caring for the air, water, soil and ourselves without participating in suffering. Working with the soil and plants teaches us some very basic lessons. Our behaviors, attitudes and emotional states need weeding, watering and cultivation on a regular basis to realize our full potential. As with plants, we need to water and cultivate kindness and compassion within ourselves to be the peace we seek.

I think we can all agree that living in a consistent manner that reduces or eliminates any suffering brings peace of mind and therefore peace of self. This, I think, is the hope for our future.

Harold Brown
was raised on a cattle farm in Michigan and spent half of his life in agriculture. He gives regular public speaking engagements and coordinates a campaign to encourage farmers to adopt sustainable farming practices. Learn more at www.askfarmerbrown.org.

 


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