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2007#3 - Custodians of Sustenance

Food is the stuff that sustains life, and those responsible for growing it, the farmers, are therefore custodians of sustenance. This may seem rather a grand title for such a down-to-earth pursuit, but perhaps if society viewed them in this way, their vocation might receive more respect and support. The fact is, that, particularly in richer countries, farmers make up a dwindling proportion of the populace, and non-farmers are increasingly ignorant about how food is produced. As a result, the importance of farming is in danger of being overlooked in politics and social discourse.

One influence that may help counteract this trend is a growing ecological consciousness, as people become aware of the vast array of inter-linking factors that influence all living beings. Farmers are custodians of a significant portion of these living beings, both plant and animal, and how farmers treat the creatures in their care can have major implications for the ecosystems which extend beyond their farms. This is a special case of the broader observation that right relations with all the kingdoms of nature are essential if humanity is to create a viable future for itself. The major linking role between humanity and nature that farmers perform puts them in a position of special responsibility. And yet farmers are also put under intense pressure by the newer ways of working created by industrialisation and an oil-based economy. The entire history of large-scale mechanised farming occupies less than 1% of the history of agriculture, so it should not be surprising that society is still adjusting to this change. One possible end-point of such a trend would see the end of farming as a self-employed activity, with farmers becoming corporate employees.

In any case, it appears unlikely that we will return to the "good old days" of subsistence family farms, when people consumed the fruits of their labour, and therefore took more care in the work of production. 'Responsible’ farming/husbandry is increasingly a group activity, as opposed to the old days of one family working alone on the land. Since we are moving from one Age to the next, confusion is a natural occurrence. Humanity is in the process of sorting through what is useable from the old methods, as new group approaches consistent with the Aquarian Age are introduced. This will take some time, and some farmers will succeed and others will fail. However, with gains in educational attainment, individuals will have more occupational choices, some involving working the land, some not. And while not everyone needs to work the land, we may well wonder what would be gained if urban populations had a deepened awareness of the growing process, of the seasonal rhythms of farming, and of the complexities of different soil types and terrains. And beneath all the complexities of form, the one energy of Life itself pulses through all creatures, uniting them in eternal cycles of birth, growth, death—and re-birth into new and more adequate forms. This underlying energy emphasises the importance of sharing the bounty of nature fairly, and of treating all beings with respect, both areas where modern farming, as part of an industrialised economy, still has far to go. And as consumers and citizens, none of us can evade our own place within the chain of responsibility for these issues.

In the articles which follow, we reflect on some of these issues in more detail: there are no easy, pat answers to such a complex matter, but we hope that they stimulate our readers to reflect on how the energy of goodwill can and should make an impact.

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In search of a new agrarianism

A look at how the industrialised farming system is in need of reform.

From gate to plate

An examination of the issue of food trade in the context of "food miles".

Co-workers' initiatives

Two projects we've recently learned of.