Feb 20, 2015

Community, Locality and Legacy

They stand before us each week at market, nervously twisting their hands and confessing to us their greatest longing.  They want to be goat farmers.  Their visions are of wrapping their hands around a teat filled with milk,  eating meals of crusty bread and cheese that they, themselves have made and watching with delight as a baby goat takes it's first faltering steps.  We know that should their dream become reality it will also include putting up fences and staying up late nights with a doe in labor, only to greet the morning with burying a baby too weak to ever see daylight.

They come burned out by graduate school, tired of the corporate grind or disillusioned by what they have come to see as the empty promises of a society built on capitalism.  They have invested years of their lives to jockeying and scrambling amongst the hordes for the elusive spot in the perfect school,  the raise or promotion that will deliver happiness, only to find themselves facing emptiness despite having reached that goal.  When they find themselves looking into that emptiness and asking "what now?" they look for the something to bring value and meaning to their lives.

We have a country but we don't have community.  Our roles in society are carefully defined; we have the service industry, a public service sector, manufacturing.  We are aware of where we stand in a society based on monetary value, what we do not have is an understanding of our intrinsic value on a human level.  We brush against people in transitory relationships; co-workers move on as circumstances change, we shop at stores with an ever-revolving supply of cashiers, we no longer have a doctor, we have a health plan.  Without relationship to shape our actions and interactions we rely on company policy and a dizzying assortment of governmental mandates such as HIPAA, HACCP, OSHA.  Where policy fails, we fall back to cost/benefit analysis.  We buy our tomatoes from the store that promises the best quality for the lowest price.  The store buys it's tomatoes from the farm that promises the greatest quantity for the lowest price with a seamless delivery system.  

Could we fathom a work environment allowing for nonchalant disregard for health and safety if the person working there was our child or our neighbor?  

Would we reduce the value of the callouses on our tomato farming-neighbor's hands if we saw them daily as they battle drought and too-short days?

We turn to rule and law to give form to a society that has lost it's soul.  

What our would-be farmers are looking for are not dirty and calloused hands or that elusive perfectly aged goat cheese.  What they are longing for is an intrinsic value to their very lives.  The reality is that modern society, and it's driving force, consumerism, is a "one night stand".  They want community, locality and legacy.   These are not found in rules, but in relationship, long term relationship.  This comes only when we plant ourselves deep within a community, putting down roots that can withstand drought and buffeting wind and frost.    

How do we know?  Because we have lived this transformation.  When we married, neither of us knew how to put down roots, we were sceptical of their value and yet the vague longing remained.  We bought a house in the city, declaring here we would live and die, these would be our roots.  We felt that the roots were truly the family, the house was simply where we planted.  When we did move to the country, it was in search of nothing more than increased space and freedom to play for our children.  What we discovered in the country was the timeless realization that man and land are inextricably linked.  We are working and moving in unison with a living breathing part of creation and it is humbling to be able to partake.  We realize that it is not simply the land that is being redeemed and brought to fruitfulness, the land itself is doing that same work in us.  We are putting down roots that are more than metaphoric in nature.  We are being grounded in work that has eternal value.  We were created to transform this part of creation and be transformed by the labor of doing so.  

In this transformation we have learned the undeniable inherent value of living and working in community with others who labor to bring forth food.  We have learned of the almost spiritual union that occurs between those who plant and those who eat--when the production of food has not been reduced to being a mere commodity.  We have learned that there is much in community relationship that feeds the soul and without feeding the soul as well as the body, people die, never having learned to live.  We moved to the country, to a way of living that was as foreign to us as if we had moved to another hemisphere.  We grew to trust and depend upon those for whom this was how life had always been.  We asked advice about topics that previously had been mere curiosities, such as when to plant peas and how to maintain a septic system.  Laughing, they corrected our mistakes and they guided us in ways we had no idea that we needed.  They gave advice and they shared in the joys and struggles of our little farm.  They also shared stories that became heartbreaking to me of the community in decades gone by...of the dairies in the county that once numbered well over a hundred, now reduced to a mere handful.  They spoke of the grain mills lost due to lack of business, the family farms sold and parceled due to a lack of interest in continuing the family heritage of farming.   We were seeing how vital farms are to communities as we heard of once strong communities being incrementally swept away by each generation's tide of migration to the city.

We considered the migration that had been made to the city.  The city had held out promises of hope and new beginnings, of innovation and excitement.  What the city had delivered instead was a devaluing of the very things that make us human.  Now we see, each week, a growing groundswell of disillusionment and a desire to return to a life more substantively lived.

Can a migration away from the city return that which has been lost?  Can community be restored and a people regain their soul?

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