Farm Women United
Theology of Agriculture
The Catholic Light
from the Diocese of Scranton
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Agriculture with a Human Face!
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AGRICULTURE with a HUMAN FACE I
A Value System to Sustain an Agricultural Rural People
The Most Reverend George H. Speltz
Rishop George H. Speltz (bishop of the diocese of St. Cloud, Minnesota,
from 1968-1987) has always been an ardent advocate of a kind of agriculture that cares about the gifts of land and water and gives a just return to those who farm that land. He continues to speak out on this issue. Bishop Speltz was one of the bishops who took an active role in the development of the Midwest bishops' statement Strangers and Guests, issued May 1, 1980. He was one of five bishops responsible for the U.S. Bishops' pastoral Economic Justice for All. It was Bishop Speltz, who with patient persistence, convinced the bishops to include a section on agriculture in this important statement on the economy.
Publishing a study these days on the human face of agriculture, when obvi. ously this way of life has already gone in another direction, requires some encouragement.
I wish to acknowledge the support I have received from Sr. Owen Lindblad, OSB, of the College of St. Benedict, St. Joseph, Minnesota who helped me in editing this study, and from St. Mary Mark Tacheny, SSND, who in her many years with the Minnesota Catholic Conference has estab. lished her expertise in agriculture. She has volunteered to work with Sandra A. LaBlanc of the National Catholic Rural Life Conference who consented to have it published. My thanks also to Lemay Bechtold for her constant support of what this study advocates.
Many monographs and books have been written in behalf of rural people. The present study is undertaken after a lifetime interest in the people on the land whom I hold in genuine respect and whose special contribution to the well-being of America I have always appreciated.
My interest began during my student years at Saint Paul Seminary where Monsignor Ligurti, the charismatic Executive Secretary of the National Catholic Rural Life Conference often came to speak to students. With his encouragement, after I sincerely hope that ordination I did a doctoral study in economic the reader will not dismiss philosophy at the Catholic University of America the position taken by this on the place of rural life in a well-ordered society. study as naive, as an ideal Since then, the Conference's strong advocacy on whose time has passed. behalf of rural people has kept my interest alive.
It is a difficult ideal, yes, In 1980, as one of the Catholic bishops of
but one very much in the U.S. Heartland, I participated in the prep.
keeping with human dignity aration of Strangers and Guests, a statement on land issues in the agricultural Heartland of America. and the needs of the human The present study has in mind particularly the heart. In the end, this ideal same Heartland. More recently, as a member of must prevail. the writing committee for the U.S. Catholic Bishops' pastoral, Economic Justice For All (1986), my special concern was to keep before the committee the importance of agriculture in the economy and, more particularly, the key role of the family farm both in the economy and as an overall stabilizing force in society.
Now after these many years in the rural apostolate, I wish to summa rize some of the conclusions I have reached, hoping that wisdom may be
found in them. I have often pondered why the rural way of life, with its undoubted human and economic importance, finds itself with an ever di minished place in America. This is regrettable. Economic solutions to this problem have not reversed the trend. The decline continues.
In the analysis of Vaclav Havel, president of the Czech Republic and a respected observer on the world scene, the problem is spiritual, a loss of values:
"The economic advances of Euro-American civilization, based on advances in scientific and technical knowledge, have altered humankind's value system."
This advancement has affected all life, including business, industry and agriculture. In agreement with President Havel's analysis, the present study will focus on five foundational values deemed necessary for a vital rural culture.
I sincerely hope that the reader will not dismiss the position taken by this study as naive, as an ideal whose time has passed. It is a difficult ideal, yes, but one very much in keeping with human dignity and the needs of the human heart. In the end, this ideal must prevail.
I recognize that rural people do not live on an island, that they share the materialistic values of the day. It will be difficult for them to live by different values than those of the wider society about them. Yet, may we not hope that rural people, living as they do, close to nature in an environment conducive to reflection, will have a positive influence in restoring "humankind's value system" and, in doing so, give agriculture a more "human face." For this change of heart to be effected, it would require in ordinary circumstances the help of religion and of the sacred liturgy.
In their Economic Justice For All pastoral, the U.S. Catholic Bishops have noted with concern the substantial decline in the number of its citizens cultivating the land:
"The U.S. farm system included nearly 7 million owner-operators in 1935. By 1983 the number of U.S. farms had declined to 2.4 million, and only 3 percent of the population was engaged in producing food. (n.219)*
The expectation is that this trend will continue. The Pastoral sees this as "the loss of a valued way of life, the decline of many rural communities and the increased concentration of land ownership." (n.220) It calls attention to the technological developments and economic factors that have aggravated this trend, for example, large-scale technology and capital-intensive agriculture.
A respected leader and author in American agriculture, Marty Strange, in his book, Family Farming: A New Economic Vision, concurs with this analysis. Regretfully, noting this decline, he attributes it to the industrial izing of American agriculture, a trend accelerated by the boom of the 1970s and the bust of the 1980s, as a replacement for family farming. He finds the contemporary U.S. society, while remaining superficially loyal to the ideal of family farming, has become culturally and politically committed to the outlook of industrial agribusiness with its economic virtues of efficiency, productivity and competition. (pp. 36-39)
As to the economic causes for the decline in family farming, there appears to be general agreement between the thinking of the U.S. Bishops and the reflections of Marty Strange who further refers to these economic
virtues of efficiency, productivity and competition as "the chilling values of industrial agriculture."
Where these virtues or rather, more accurately, material valuesmare in control, human values easily become subordinate to economic factors, to the demands of capital and technology, and to societal pressures reflecting this emphasis on the economic. This leaves the farmer little freedom to follow any course other than that of industrial agriculture. The farmer is not free to practice the art of husbandry (agriculture) as judged right for the production of good food and the conservation of natural resources.
Many economists will respond that this trend is inevitable-the price of technological development for optimum productivity and that to attempt to subordinate these material values to moral values, as this study purports to do, is a romanticism that society Many economists will respond cannot afford. that this trend is inevitable
This thinking, however, is properly called the price of technological
economic determinism which is recognized as development for optimum
a cardinal principle of Marxist materialist productivity and that to
thought. We would hope that with this system attempt to subordinate these
being officially abandoned in Central and East. material values to moral values, as this study purports
ern Europe, the thinking behind it would like. to do, is a romanticism that
wise be reviewed in the United States. Such society cannot afford.
thought strips men and women of any claim
to a spiritual nature with its corresponding claim to human values and rights. It leaves no grounds for human dignity and worth. Persons become objects, cogs in a system.
It is this thinking that the Second Vatican Council had in mind when it spoke of the contemporary world's preoccupation with economics:
"Many people, especially in economically advanced areas, seem to be hypnotized, as it were, by economics so that almost their entire personal and social life is permeated with a certain economic outlook. These people can be found both in nations which favor a collective economy as well as in others. (The Church in the Modern World, n.63)"
· With the demise of Marxist communism, it would seem that the time has come to look beyond the technological and purely economic as determining how the rural economy will go, and to ask how it ought to go so that it may better serve people and put on a more human face. Granted the powerful influence of technology, public policy must recognize the moral,
spiritual and religious factors that shape our society and direct it to the fullest attainable human good. Failing to do so, the free market system, or more particularly Western capitalism, with which Central and Eastern Europe are now casting their lot and their hopes, may in turn, prove to be a disillusionment for these newly liberated peoples.
One may ask whether there is an alternative between Western free market capitalism and Marxist communism to provide for the material needs of life without detriment to life's spiritual values. An Asian seminar held in Hong Kong, March 12-21, 1992, Co-sponsored by the Asian Center for the Progress of Peoples with the demise of Marxist and the Jesuit-sponsored Center of Concern, communism, it would seem Washington, phrased the problem this way that the time has come to look
beyond the technological and "How far is it possible to take up purely economic as determining the tools and strategies of Western how the rural economy will go, modernity without being taken up
and to ask how it ought to go into its culture? (Jim Hug, S.J., Center
so that it may better serve of Concern Focus, Issue #107,
people and put on a more September 1992)"
Among the problems they saw were some about which this study is concerned: land speculation, environmental degradation, uncertainty about the future, an increasing gap between the rich and the poor, the rapid rise of consumerist values and a crisis of family life as traditional values are eroded. In the analysis by this seminar:
*The rapid pace of modernization is undermining traditional agrarian cultures and leaving people with few cultural supports capable of effectively dealing with the fast and far-reaching global changes. (op.cit.)"
As a structure to support traditional values and culture, the seminar proposed that there be a shift from the capitalist model of production for profit to production for life, a decentralizationist approach. The seminar recognized, as we do, the difficulty of arresting this trend toward urbanization.
It is the position of this study that in order to bring about a reversal of this trend there must be clarification of the moral, spiritual and religious values, values that are needed to give form to a rural culture capable of withstanding and shaping the technological and materialistic forces of the day so that they will serve a truly human purpose. One must have faith that
if the values are clear and relevant to the socio-political realities of our day, a gradual change will be brought about in our culture with better balance between rural and urban. In his most recent major social encyclical, Centesimus Annus, Pope John Paul II has underscored the importance of values for society:
"The Church has constantly repeated that the person and society need not only material goods but spiritual and religious values as well. (n.61)"
In this study, therefore, we seek a .common moral vision, a wisdom based on the Judeo-Christian perspective and on human reason needed to sustáin an agricultural people, a synthesis of reason and revelation. The U.S. Bishops' pastoral, Economic Justice For All, has tried to do this for the entire U.S. economy; this study is concerned with our agricultural/rural people whom the pastoral treated in the section, Food and Agriculture.
A Common Moral Vision: Values
If rural people are to be sustained in their important way of life, they must have the support of a just political and economic environment; but they must also be empowered from within by deeply felt convictions about their way of life and its spiritual underpinnings. They must have a common moral vision, an acceptance of rural values to sustain them.
This study will consider principally the following values: a communal ethic corresponding to the social nature of man; a strong family ethic; reverence for the natural environment; If rural people are to be .:::. reverence for the work of the farmer;
sustained in their importanti acceptance of a lifestyle of moderation and
way of life, they must have the gospel simplicity.
support of a just political and :
economic environment; but they A. A Communal Ethic
must also be empowered from If an agricultural people is to remain strong, it within by deeply felt convictions must have a communal outlook. It cannot exist about their way of life and its as a fragmented, loose association of spiritual underpinnings. They individuals, each one independently seeking must have a common moral his/her well-being. It must recognize that the vision, an acceptance of rural individual good of each cannot be obtained values to sustain them. apart from the common good, which in turn, is determined by the true individual good. This individual good is in turn determined by the nature of man/woman with their God-given rights. Pope Pius XI in his encyclical against the totalitarian philosophy of the Nazi Government explains this delicate balance between the common good and that of the individual:
"The true public (common) good is finally determined and recognized by the nature of man, with his harmonious coordination of personal rights and social obligations, as well as by the purpose of the community which in turn is conditioned by the same human nature."
Then the pope continues,
"The community is willed by the Creator as the means to the full development of individual and social attainments, which the individual, in give and take, has to employ to his own good and that of others." (Pope Pius XI, Mit Brennender Sorge n.1183 in Principles for Peace, NCWC, Washington. 1943)
This carefully delineated relationship of the individual good to the common good has its first application to the political community; but it is also applicable to smaller communities, like associations of farmers and rural communities. It is against the above principles that the tendency to inordinate
individualism in America must be judged, This study will consider principally
where personal rights are pursued with the following values: a communal ethic corresponding to the social
little reference to social obligations. This
individualism, as Robert Bellah has nature of man; a strong family ethic; reverence for the natural
pointed out in Habits of the Heart, "lies at environment; reverence for the
the very core of American culture." (p140) work of the farmer; acceptance of a lifestyle of moderation
1. Philosophical Tradition and gospel simplicity.
In the classical tradition of Rome and
Greece, human beings are social by their :. very nature. They realize their dignity, achieve their potential, not alone,
but in community. They need church, school, farm organizations, rural towns, and socialization in order to reach their full stature. Like any other human being, the farmer must respect his/her neighbor, fellow farmer, and the people of the rural community with whom he/she lives and works. In a word, rural people must live in solidarity with each other.
2. The Judeo-Christian Tradition
Not only is this human need for community attested to by human reason as found in the ancient classical tradition, but it is an important teaching of the Judeo-Christian tradition found in the Bible. In this religious
tradition, we are a people of the covenant, even as were the people of Israel, whom God cared for, led out of Egypt, and with whom God entered into covenant on Mount Sinai. (Book of Exodus cc. 19-24) The legal codes, including the Decalogue, given to them on that occasion, far from being an arbitrary restriction on the life of the people, made life in community possible. (Economic Justice For All, U.S. Bishops' Pastoral, 0.36) Such, for example, were the laws protecting property, respect for neighbor, special concern for the vulnerable members of the community, for example, widows, orphans, the poor, and strangers of the land:
"You shall not molest or oppress an alien, for you were once aliens yourselves in the land of Egypt. You shall not wrong any widow or orphan. (Exodus 22:20ft)"
The people were summoned to respect the land as God's gift, and lest the land be taken out of the hands of God's people, it was stated as an ideal, if not always practiced, that every fiftieth year a jubilee be proclaimed when property be restored to the original owners. (Leviticus 25:8-17. Quoted in Economic Justice For All, n.36) Ownership Hop
"There is always a social
carried with it communal responsibilities. This Old Testament understanding of the
mortgage on all private property,
in order that goods may serve
communal obligations attached to private
the general purpose that *
ownership has become part of the Catholic God gave them is. Christian understanding. The Midwest Catholic Bishops' Statement on Land Issues (May 1, 1980), Strangers and Guests, summarizes this teaching which follows the thoughts of Thomas Aquinas and the Second Vatican Council (n. 56).
Thomas Aquinas wrote that people "ought to possess external things not as their own but as common, so that they are ready to communicate them to others in their need." (S.T., II, 2,9.66). The Second Vatican Council, following the same tradition, stated that "God intended the earth and all it contains for the use of every human being and people," and that created goods are to be regarded as common property in the sense that they are to benefit not only their owners but others as well. (Gaudium et Spes, n.69) Pope John Paul II, in unmistakable language, reaffirmed this teaching in an address in Mexico in 1979, stating that there is always a social mortgage on all private property, in order that goods may serve the general purpose that God gave them," The Church's teaching on this subject can be stated succinctly: *Private property with community of use."
Under the influence of philosophers such as John Locke (1632-1704) upon our nation's founders, the Catholic tradition was departed from and an individualistic concept of property found its way into American law. As a consequence, the responsibilities of ownership heretofore regarded as an obligation in social justice were very much relegated to the background.
When Jesus came into human history, He brought to the world a new reign of God and God's justice. At the beginning of His public ministry at Nazareth, in the words of the prophet Isaiah, Jesus declared the nature of that reign:
The spirit of the Lord is upon me:
therefore he has anointed me. He has sent me to bring glad tidings
to the poor, to proclaim liberty to captives . . . (Luke 4:18)
Jesus came not to supplant but to perfect the old covenant. Like Israel before them, Christians continue to be God's covenant partners, to live as a covenanted community of Jesus' disciples. Their values are to be the values of the Gospel with regard to poverty, riches and practical love and concern
for neighbor. Jesus' law of love would per The beatitudes leave no place fect the law of Sinai of the old covenant. for narrow individualism. They It called the people to do freely in Chris envision a society based on tian love what the old covenant legislated. Christian love.
These Gospel values reach a lofty
point in the great Sermon on the Mount. Each of the beatitudes in its own way extols the Gospel values. The peace makers, in their concern that relationships between persons be just and right, exemplify a practical love for neighbor. The beatitudes leave no place for narrow individualism. They envision a communitarian society based on Christian love. The spirit of Jesus' teaching counters individualism at every tum. Those are blessed and experience true bliss, who do not unduly project themselves and their interests, but seek the good of others, the common good.
After our experience of the totalitarian state in the Nazi and atheistic Communist regimes we should understand that the common good is not a separate good of the state, but a good that is defined in terms of the individual good of each person, for example, that good which truly perfects each person but not at the expense of any person.
It is this vision that underlies the conviction expressed at the very beginning of the Economic Justice For All pastoral that "human dignity can
be realized and perfected only in community." (n.28) The human person is not only sacred; he/she is deeply social. The obligation to love one's neighbor carries with it a social commitment to the common good.
Present-day individualistic attitudes and practices among farmers fall far short of the biblical teachings on covenant and community. This outlook weakens farm organizations, disposes farmers to go it alone at the expense of their neighbors and the wider rural community. It is an almost insurmountable obstacle in the way of
It (excessive individualism)
successful agricultural programs such as co
is an almost insurmountable
ops, collective bargaining, farm organ:
obstacle in the way of successful
ization coalitions and the soil conservation
agricultural programs such as
movements. It leads to large-scale
· Co-ops, collective bargaining,
ownership and production with the
farm organization coalitions and
consequent weakening of the family-farm
the soil conservation movements.
the soil consen
system and of the rural community.
Of all the values needed to sustain a vital agriculture and vital rural
communities, none is more important than a strong sense of community.
B. A Strong Family Ethic In the food and agriculture section of the U.S. Bishops' Economic Justice For All pastoral, the bishops take the position that “moderate-sized farms operated by families on a full-time basis should be preserved and their economic vitality protected." (n.233) 'This recommendation was made with the conviction that the family farm allows for good agriculture: efficient production of food and fiber with care of the soil and the environment. Moreover, as the name suggests, this manner of farming is conducive to strong family life.
This has long been part of Catholic social teaching. Pius Xll concisely summarized the values coming to the family and to society from life on the land:
"Only that stability which is rooted in one's holding makes of the family the vital and most perfect and fecund cell of society, joining up in a brilliant manner in progressive cohesion the present and future generations. (Pentecostal Address, 1941)"
Families that have enjoyed such continuity on the same farm-century farms where family traditions have been handed down for generations have good reason to rejoice. They have been stable families and have strengthened their rural communities. It is this stability and security that
the campesinos of Central America, for example, desire above all else. All they ask is a few hectares (one hectare equals 2.47 acres) of land for their families.
In a recent pastoral letter, the Guatemalan Bishops have underscored this point. They write that the cry for the land by depressed campesinos is "undoubtedly the strongest, most dramatic and most desperate cry heard in Guatemala. It bursts forth from millions of Guatemalan hearts, yearning not only to possess the land, but to be possessed by it... It is a cry from the 'People of Corn' who on the one hand identify with furrows, sowing and harvest, and who on the other hand, find themselves expelled from the land by an unjust and primitive system." (The Cry For land, Pastoral Letter, the Guatemalan Bishops' Conference, February 1988)
To be possessed by the land: this is a striking phrase, little understood in the United States where land is regarded as a mere commodity to be bought, sold or exploited. The phrase indicates the closeness of the campesino fami lies to the soil. In the words of Pius XII, they yearn for the "stability which is rooted in ownership of a little land." This stability of ownership for the campesino families provides a degree of security, food, and a place to live.
In 1980, in another Latin American pastoral, the Brazilian Bishops picture the devastating effect upon those uprooted from the land who migrate to the large cities for work. Here they become part of "the marginalized mass of people who live in sub-human conditions in slums, squatter towns, clandestine settiements and ghettos.... These uprooted people become insecure as they break their social ties, and are severed from their points of cultural, social and religious reference. They are dispersed and lose their identity." (Brazilian Bishops, February 1980 Statement at ltaicí).
What has happened in Brazil could happen in the United States. Indeed, it has already happened. One can go to the poverty areas of our large cities and find many small former farmers, sharecroppers, who have left the land and migrated to the poverty areas of our large cities because there was no place for them in the narrow, purely economic calculations of those directing the course of agriculture toward ever larger scale production that has come to be called agribusiness. Though our welfare system has softened the blow suffered by the displaced small farmers and not so small farmers who have been reduced to bankruptcy, it has not restored their dignity as human beings who through their work need to feel that they have a place in society.
Confronted by today's many social problems, and the mounting costs of welfare and rehabilitation programs, leaders are recognizing that it is imperative that the family be restored as a functioning unit in society, that it
truly be a healthy cell in the social body. Where that cell does not function, social disorder inevitably results.
The distinguished scholar, Christopher Dawson, writing during the World War Il period, calls attention to the significant role played by the family in medieval times in its relation to the good order of the state:
"The base of the social edifice was constituted by the family as the primary social and economic unity. Beneath and upholding justice-the Law of the city there was economics-the Law of the household." (Judgment of the Nations, N.Y.: Sheed and Ward, 1942, p. 189)
In Medieval times, the family played an important role in achieving order within the state because ownership of property and production of goods were closely bound up with the family as a primary unit of society. In that period of history, economics was known as the science of household management. It was the Law of the household to use Dawson's term. Before the advent of industrial capitalism, economics was centered in the household.
Wendell Berry points out how far the modern home has moved away from this economic role of the family. The modern household, he writes, "has set itself increasingly aside from production and preparation and become more and more a place for consumption of food produced and prepared elsewhere." (Wendell Berry, The Unsettling of America, p. 51) He sees this as having many detrimental effects on the family and on the wider society, a thesis he develops at length in his book. This dysfunctional family no longer upholds the social edifice; it fails as a principle of good order in the state.
Until recent years the strong rural family has been traditional in America. It has been a healthy cell in our society. It must be preserved and multiplied as a means of giving vitality and stability to the life of the nation. Hence, the alarming reduction in the number of farm families is a cause for concern. As noted earlier, since 1935 the number of owner-operators has been reduced from nearly 7 million to 2.4 million in 1983 with only 3 percent of the population engaged in producing food. (Economic Justice For All, n.219) A renewed appreciation for the value of rural family life must again be experienced by rural families if the rural way of life is to be sustained.
C. Reverence for the Environment In the January 2, 1989 issue of Time magazine which is entirely given over to the subject, “Endangered Earth," Vice President Albert Gore, the then
senator from Tennessee, an ardent and knowledgeable environmentalist, raises a provocative question: "Did God choose an appropriate technology when he gave human beings dominion over the earth?" The question is raised in he context of the debate in the 70s about appropriate technology. The reference appears to be Genesis 1:26:
"Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. Let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, the birds of the air, and the cattle, and over all the wild animals and all the creatures that crawl on the ground."
"Dominion" is the key word. God has entrusted to human beings the task of "keeping" the earth. This is a trust assigned to every generation in which men and women are called upon, not only to harvest the fruits of the earth, but to take care of the earth, to live in harmony with it, and to share its wealth with all the people even, according to Native American tradition, onto the seventh generation." Human beings are the earth's stewards, not its masters whose dominion is limited only by the limits of technology.
The entire Time report confirms the fact that the performance of human beings as stewards of the earth's resources has in many ways been disastrous. They have made an assault on creation," so that the earth appears in many ways to be a treasure in peril.
To be worthy stewards of the earth, human beings must be more than technocrats guided only by materialistic and economic considerations. They must be guided by ethical/religious values in their relationship to nature and their care of it. In the words of Pope John Paul II:
"... the dominion granted to man by the Creator is not an absolute power, nor can one speak of a freedom to 'use and misuse,' or dispose of things as one pleases ... When it comes to the natural world, we are subject not only to biological laws but also to moral ones, which cannot be violated with impunity." (Sollicitudo Rei Socialis, n.34)
This ethical dimension needs the religious virtue of reverence to moti vate it, that sense of awe, of admiration, of gratitude expressed in Psalm 104:
O Lord, my God, you are great indeed! You are clothed with majesty and glory, robed in light as with a cloak.
You have spread out the heavens like a tent-cloth; you have constructed your palace upon the waters, you travel on the wings of the wind, you make the winds your messengers, and flaming fire your ministers. You fixed the earth upon its foundation, not to be moved forever. (Psalm 104, v. 1-5)
The stability of the earth is a primary and fundamental promise of God, which assures us of God's faithfulness (under the sign of the rainbow in. Noah's day) for the sake of human life. Within this stability, the earth is a marvelous and harmonious dynamism, designed in God's wisdom for human needs:
How manifold are your works, O Lord. In wisdom you have wrought them all-the earth is full of your creatures. (Psalm 104, v 24) .
In the final analysis, it will be reverence for God and for the dignity of the human person and human needs that will guide men and women in their stewardship of the fragile earth with its intricate life systems-its ecology.
How then does this apply to the work of the farmer, to agriculture? The conservation of the earth depends much upon how the farmer uses technology-upon husbandry. This will depend, in tum, upon the pressures the system imposes upon the farmer, that system which now irresponsibly results in a substantial loss of top soil (1-2 bushels for every bushel of corn) due to slashing rains and strong winds (Wendell Berry, The Unsettling of America, p.11), the system that allows soil and foods to be poisoned by excessive use of chemicals, and underground streams of water and wells to be contaminated
Wendell Berry offers insightful comments. He puts the blame on what he calls "industrial agriculture built according to the single standard of productivity." This system tells nature what it wants and in various clever ways has taken what it wants. It deals with nature in a "dictatorial or totalitarian way." But at what price?
People are beginning to see that industrial agriculture with its heavy use of chemicals, does violence to the interior powers of the soil, to its myriad microscopic life, its intricate life systems, to its ecology.
The underlying defect of this system is its failure to respect the difference between the living (organic) and the non-living (inorganic). Industrial agriculture too often treats the soil like an inert object to which it does things
the factory paradigm, whereas the soil should be treated as a living subject having great interior resources to produce, to recuperate, to keep itself in balance. For this reason a farmer's occupation has been likened to that of a physician because both work with living things where health depends upon the curative powers of nature. The skilled physician is careful about the kind and amount of chemicals injected into the soil.
In summary, industrial agriculture-agribusiness--does violence to land, water and air-God's great gifts. It is short-sighted, an assault on cre
ation. It is a failure to appreciate what it is For this reason a farmer's
working with-the good earth. In a word, occupation has been likened it is irreverent and irresponsible. to that of a physician because
How we view our relationship to the both work with living things where earth will depend upon our theology of health depends upon the curative the land. Our reverence for the earth powers of nature. The skilled should not lead us into a renewed physician is careful about the kind deification of nature at the expense of and amount of pills prescribed; the God's transcendence. The Christian view skilled farmer is careful about the
of our relationship to the earth and all its kind and amount of chemicals
creatures is beautifully exemplified in St. injected into the soil.
Francis of Assisi. In his deeply religious
Hymn to the Sun, Francis greets sun and moon, earth and air, fire and water, and his own body, all the animals and plants as his brothers and sisters:
Blest be you, my Lord, with all your creatures,
especially my Lord and Brother Sun ... Praised be you, my Lord, for Brother Vind ...
for Sister Water ... for our sister and mother Earth which carries and feeds us ...
All these Francis regarded as his fellow creatures under God whom he there fore treated with respect and reverence. He revered them because they were God's handiwork and because Jesus, by taking on our nature, touched all creatures with His divinity.
D. Reverence for Agricultural Work In the previous sections emphasis was given to the social values of community, family and environment. Now we turn to a value perfecting the individual human person more immediately-agricultural work. Over the decades,
indeed over the centuries, Catholic social thought has regularly called attention to this value. It has respected a farmer's work as an important factor in building up an authentic rural culture.
Granted that this kind of work is too often exhausting, unappreciated by society, Pope John XXIII praised the farmer's work as "most noble because it is undertaken, as it were, in the majestic temple of creation; because it often concerns the life of plants and animals, a life inexhaustible in its expression...." And, its product is of unquestionable importance in feeding the world. It is noteworthy that Abraham Lincoln singles out agriculture as that human occupation which more than any other opens a "wide field for the profitable and agreeable combination of labor and cultivated thought." (Milwaukee Address, September 30, 1859)
Agricultural labor is worthy of a person because it is of such a nature as to engage the whole person--the physical, intellectual, and volitional capacities—and for this reason it tires the whole person. A farmer's work challenges him/her as a planner, administrator and laborer requiring prudence, fortitude, and a broad range of knowledge and abilities, a claim that could not be made for workers on the communal farms of the Soviet Union where the planning was done by government offices. When the day is finished, the person is not divided; not tired in some one faculty or member and restless in the others that have all day been inhibited. In the words of Hilaire Belloc, the “peasant is filled with his occupation." (The Restoration of Property, p.111)
There is a recognition in our day that much of our factory and clerical work, in contrast to agriculture, because of its repetitiousness does not engage the whole person, leading to frustration and dissatisfaction on the part of those, for example, who work on the assembly line.
We are indebted to Wendell Berry, who has been called "the foremost advocate for rural culture in America," for his recognition of manual work, particularly agricultural work. To live is to work; he decries the modern separation of life and work which holds manual labor in low esteem. It favors capital-machine intensive production over a more labor-intensive production using appropriate technology which allows a wider scope for the worker's art and the possibilities of different materials with which to work, for example, the land with its diverse qualities and location. Clearly, capital intensive agriculture has a different value system that militates against an authentic rural culture and against a healthy wider culture of any nation. Vatican Council Il in its pastoral constitution, The Church Today, warns against such a distorted view of human labor:
"Just as human activity proceeds from man, so it must be ordered to man. For when a man works he not only alters things and society, he develops himself as well. He learns much, he cultivates his resources, he goes outside himself and beyond himself." (Pastoral, Constitution of Vatican II, N.35)
If the rural way of life is to be sustained, it must see agricultural work as eminently worthy of a farmer's time and effort. When this value is forgot ten, rural culture will be impoverished and with it the land.
E. A Lifestyle of Moderation and Simplicity To propose a lifestyle of moderation for rural people in our day is clearly to go against the prevailing culture of contemporary society which with good reason has been called a driven society, Economic factors are involved in this, principally the phenomenon of consumerism which prevails in affluent
nations and a highly centralized economy. If the rural way of life is to be
Agricultural/rural people are not immune sustained, it must see agricultural
from its influences. It is the position of work as eminently worthy of a
this study that an authentic rural culture farmer's time and effort. When
would need to counter the culture of our this value is forgotten, rural culture will be impoverished
day. Consumerism is one area in which it and with it the land.
should be countercultural.
Pope John Paul II, in his encyclical Centesimus Annus, which has received wide acceptance, points out the basic distortion of consumerism:
"It is not wrong to want to live better, what is wrong is a style of life which is presumed to be better when it is directed toward "having" rather than being," and which wants to have more not in order to be more but in order to spend life in enjoyment as an end in itself." (n.36)
The Pope finds such a life unworthy of human dignity. If the consum erist society is truly to live better, he continues, it must "create life-styles in which the quest for truth, beauty, goodness and communion with others for the sake of the common good are the factors which determine consumer choices, savings and investments." (n.36)
Consumerism accentuates the ecological problem, so important in the rural agenda. In their desire to have and to enjoy rather than to be and to grow, people consume the resources of the earth in an excessive and disor
dered way. "At the root of the senseless destruction of the natural environ ment lies an anthropological error." (op cit. n.37) People misread nature; misread the purpose of work. In their capacity to transform the earth, they forget that dominion over the earth is limited by God's purposes for the earth, which is given to satisfy only truly human needs for the present and all generations to come. In their distorted outlook, the only limit people seem to recognize is the limit of technology itself.
The agricultural/rural sphere is not insulated from the phenomenon of consumerism. It is exposed to the same advertising; it is influenced by the same spirit of the age; it is tempted to measure success more by having" than by "being."
A serious moral decision confronts family farmers. Will they measure their success by achieving a standard of living such as consumerism constantly parades before them; or will they be willing to live with more modest expectations, eschewing consumerism, in return for the values of independence, healthy and sustainable living and working conditions and the real possibilities of a stable and happy family life?
The answer will depend very much on their spiritual and religious outlook, in a word upon their values. In the Judeo-Christian tradition, the expectations of family farmers will be held in check by the needs of their neighbor as was pointed out in the section on community. The ever-present temptation to greed aspiring to more land, possessions and comfort is clearly condemned by the prophets of the Old Testament:
Woe to you who join your house to house,
who connect field to field, Till no room remains and you are left
to dwell alone in the midst of the land. (Isaiah 5:8)
Then the same prophet warns that the land-grabbers who, in violation of social justice, acquire property will be impoverished and with them, the community:
Many houses shall be in ruins,
large ones and fine, with no one to live in them... Ten acres of vineyard
shall yield but one liquid measure. (vv.9-10)
As we reflect upon these words we think of the vacated farm home. steads in the agricultural areas of this country standing idle, or leveled to
make room for larger farms; and we think of the large tracts of land on huge estates in Central and South America neglected or uncultivated. We think of the impoverished campesinos of Nicaragua where "seventy-two percent of the land is owned by one percent of the people." (Ligourian, April 1993, p.13)
More recently, in connection with the revolt of the peasants of the state of Chiapas in southern Mexico, we read of the massive injustice in land distribution in that part of Central America where “20 familles in Chiapas monopolize the best land, exporting cattle to the United States, while 1,032,000 indigenous possess 823,000 hectares, less than a hectare a person."(Commonweal, NYC. NY, June 6, 1994, p.16)
Deprived of the security that ownership of land provides, the peasants are subject to a pay scale in which eighty percent of the agricultural work ers carn less than the minimum salary per day, under five dollars, resulting in eighty-eight percent of indigenous children having growth retardation from malnutrition." (Ibid.)
This maldistribution of the land has continued under the Salinas government which eliminated the constitutional protection against the private purchase of ejidio lands, opening the way to a "free marker" in land. Under the ejidio system, Indian communal ownership of land was reinforced, which made land ineligible for private sale. It is interesting to note that the 1994 Minnesota legislature passed a bill that weakened the Minnesota anti. corporation farm legislation which further weakens Minnesota's family farmers owning a moderate amount of land. Such action further weakens the vitality of rural communities. This is evidenced in a carefully researched and widely published study of two communities in the San Joaquim Valley of California: Arvin, surrounded by large corporation farms, a much weakened rural community; and Dinuba, surrounded by family farms, a prosperous, healthy community.
In the Christian scale of values, "having" is not given a high priority in the teaching of Christ. In the beatitudes, it is the little ones of the kingdom, the poor in spirit and the meek who are declared blessed. In the parable about the rich farmer who tore down his barns, though they were already filled with grain, so that he might build larger ones, Jesus warns against the amassing of possessions as the way to security and comfort. (Luke 12:18) The better way, Jesus teaches, is to trust in our heavenly Father who cares for the birds of the air and the lilies of the field. (Matthew 6:26-8) All this is not to suggest, of course, that the farmer should not sow or reap or work, but it is only to say that at a certain point after these things are done, the farmer
must leave some things-like the weather-to the providence of God. Nor is this to suggest that the ideal is an egalitarian society. Individual differences in ability, initiative, free human creativity, and social responsibility must be recognized, but not to the detriment of the coinmon good. Consistent with this recognition of individual differences, Catholic social thought accepts the profit motive (Cf Centisimus Annus for the pope's qualified acceptance of capitalism, n.42)
Having set forth some of the important values needed to sustain an agricultural/rural people, realistically we must ask the question: "What will be the role of government, its proper sphere of influence?" Clearly, values alone will not
Nor is this to suggest that the
ideal is an egalitarian society.
restore our declining rural population. At
Individual differences in ability,
the present time, government is heavily in volved in agriculture. It is expected that it
initiative, free human creativity,
and social responsibility must
will continue to play an important role. It
be recognized, but not to the
has the responsibility to ensure that people
detriment of the common good.
have adequate food security, that the land and environment be preserved for future generations, and that justice be secured for those who produce this most important product--the farmers.
The State must ald the farmer in securing a just price for the food products. This cannot be left entirely to unbridled competition and the forces of the market place-the laissez faire principle..
Unless the farmer is given fair prices for products, and is in other respects treated justly, he/she will be forced to compromise the values we have discussed, and resort to a system of agriculture that is driven by economic forces to the practical exclusion of values. Care of the land and environment, cooperation with neighbors, sacrificing for the sake of community, sacrificing temporary gain in support of a cooperative effort in marketing, will be luxuries the farmer feels he/she cannot afford. In a word, economic determinism will prevail, the logic of which is survival of the strongest, of those most highly capitalized.
To sustain agricultural people in any significant number they must be doubly empowered: from within by values such as have been discussed in this study, values which they will have interiorized and are willing to sacrifice for; and from without, namely economic empowerment through just prices and just treatment at the hands of government.
A related question must also be raised. In this age of great mobility and rapid, all-pervasive communication is a distinctive rural culture possible or, for that matter, desirable?
The Amish have answered both questions in the affirmative. They have given witness that it is possible for a selective, relatively small number of committed farmers of strong religious persuasion to live a life of dignity and independence in such a culture. By the use of horse and buggy, they have both symbolically and in fact actually reduced mobility; and by a selective use of technology that rejects those things that erode their religion, weaken community and the dignity of the individual, they have achieved a rural culture.
Peter Berger, in The Homeless Mind, has expressed admiration for the Amish value system with its questioning of the modern:
"If to be modern means... the unfettered pursuit of individualism ... if it means ultra convenience, if it means erosion of religion ... if it means that life's joys are to be found in consumerism and leisure then the Amish have surely not joined the modern world. But if it means a delight in craftsmanship... taming the detrimental effects of technology... safeguarding community identity ... then perhaps the Amish are leading the modern world." (Op. cit. p.252)
Richard C. Austin, in an essay entitled "Right for Life," published in Theology of the Land, (Liturgical Press, Collegeville, 1987) also recognizes the inherent goodness of the Amish way of life. He makes a helpful distinc tion. "The Amish are not perfect; they provide us with a witness but not a blueprint. They witness to the fact that it is still possible in America to farm while improving, not depleting, the land. They witness that it is possible to select among technologies on moral grounds and still farm efficiently and profitably." (p. 117)
We hope that the Amish will find a way of doing this, a way of using and enjoying the technological advances while avoiding the erosive effect that these can have on society. This will make their way of life more attractive, especially for their youth who can feel deprived of what the wider community is able to give them. If they are to realize the development and enrichment which in God's providence the community can offer, this must include the legitimate advances of today's world.
Within the limits of this study, the values discussed have been restricted to five that have been judged basic: community solidarity; a strong family ethic; reverence for the natural environment; a proper appreciation by the farmer of the dignity of his/her work; and, finally, the acceptance of a lifestyle of mod eration and simplicity. The first three values are widely recognized in current literature and discussion; the last two, which are more countercultural, even prophetic, receive little attention. One hopes that this renewed interest in the first three important values will lead to a renewed appreciation of the latter two that so directly affect the person of the farmer and are deemed necessary to sustain the land and the natural environment, so a true human culture is necessary to sustain a rural people.
What is at stake is a way of life which the Church and the nation, beginning with Thomas Jefferson and our nation's Founders, have always regarded as an important sector of America. Despite the efforts of the Church and other advocates of rural life to solve the economic problems of the farmer, the flight from the land continues. If this trend is to be arrested it would seem that something on the level of the human spirit is needed, a spiritual renaissance. Recently, Vaclav Havel, president of the Czechoslovakia Republic, stated very clearly before the U.S. Congress what this spiritual renewal must be. He not only suggests what is needed but why, namely to counter a technological materialistic mentality that has gradually altered humankind's value system. He finds the following to be the deeper reasons underlying this spiritual malady of the Western world:
"The economic advances of Euro-American civilization, based on advances in scientific and technical knowledge, have gradually altered
humankind's value systems. Respect for the metaphysical horizons of the human being is largely pushed aside to make room for a new deity: the ideal of the perpetual growth of production and consump. tion." (Vaclav Havel, reported in foreign Affairs, March 1994)
He calls for a renewed spirit of sacrifice, explaining: “By that I do not mean, of course, merely sacrifice in the form of fallen soldiers. I have in mind, rather, a willingness to sacrifice for the common interest something of one's own particular interests, including even the quest for larger and larger domestic production and consumption." (Ibid.)
It is encouraging to find this eminent statesman and scholar's analysis of the malaise of the Western world to be in agreement with this study, namely, society's inordinate preoccupation with production and consump tion, its uncritical acceptance of technology, its hypnosis by economics, with all of these material values pursued with little regard for the values and rights of the human spirit. In President Havel's words, “The metaphysical (moral) horizons of the human beings have been lowered. He is challenging the Euro-American nations to undertake nothing less than a spiritual renewal, a deep cultural change.
Clearly, this cultural change will find little support in the prevailing culture of America and represents a formidable challenge.
. On the economic level it will be opposed by powerful forces shaping agriculture. The giant conglomerates, dealing in food at all levels, to men. tion one notorious example, must not be allowed to determine agricultural policy at the expense of rural families, communities and the land. This will require tough economic reforms.
I urge farmers themselves--family farmers, the people of the land 10 unite in the fight for their own survival. In his well-known encyclical letter, Mater et Magistra, Pope John XXIII writes that “in rural affairs, the powerful agents and protagonists of economic improvement and cultural betterment, or of social advance, should be the persons personally involved, namely, the farmers themselves." (n. 144)
Minnesota Groundswell, a grassroots organization of farmers and rural people, in its June 1994 Newsletter, recognizes this obligation and in down. to-earth terms details what they must do:
"We learn to work together, to help each other. We learn to fight for our rights as farmers, learn how to become a part of forming laws that govern our lives, have input, make calls, write letters, and speak up when things are not right. We make it our business to
become involved in all aspects of life: run for local offices, join farm organizations, and learn to make those who represent us in those offices and farm organizations, accountable." (Office in Wanda, Minnesota, 56294)
As Executive Director of the Land Stewardship Project, Ron Kroese made the following statement before a sub-committee of the U.S. Congress on July 14, 1993:
"The perspective the Land Stewardship Project brings to this committee is that the movement toward sustainability in agricul. ture représents a profound shift from the values that have driven agriculture since World War II. Success in this new paradigm of sustainability is measured in terms of health rather than growth health of the land, health of the family, health of the community. Optimal production within the recognized constraints of the ecosystem is valued over maximum production. Technological advances are not automatically equated with progress, nor is the wisdom from the past automatically considered passé. Neighborliness and a reasonable livelihood are treasured above the acquisition of wealth and power. To paraphrase Kentucky farmer and author Wendell Berry, a good farmer would rather have a neighbor than his neighbor's land."
Other organizations, in particular, the National Catholic Rural Life Conference, have for many years joined their voices with those of the farm. ers in their efforts to secure justice and an honored place in our society. To these organizations, to the many farmers who have exemplified the best in the rural way of life, and to those from all walks of life who have supported and encouraged them, the nation owes enduring gratitude.
The rural way of life is a good way of life. It is an important part of
America the Beautiful:
"O beautiful for spacious skies,
For amber waves of grain,
For purple mountain majesties
Above the fruited plain!"
And it has been a bastion of freedom, individual and economic, in this "sweet land of liberty."
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