We recently had a class on the History of Agriculture which was based on two books, Guns, Germs and Steel by Jared Diamond and Ishmael by Daniel Quinn. There was so really good discussion which inspired me to read Ishmael. Then I met some guys from The Illogical Spoon who are Christian Anarcho-primitivists (look it up on google!!). All this has me tossing a lot of ideas around about how we view agriculture and what the real goal is of what we’re doing at the farm. So let me try and unload some of this on you and see what you think.
A Brief History of Agriculture
Agriculture is a relatively recent phenomenon in the history of the world. It’s important to keep this in mind as we think about it. For us it seems that it has simply always been this way. We have always been in settled communities where we grow our food and raise domesticated livestock. For almost 450,000 years, the majority of humanity’s existence, this was not the case.
Before the rise of agriculture (ca 8500 BCE in the Fertile Crescent) we were primarily hunter-gatherers. So we had to follow our meat around on foot and forage for greens, shrooms and other edible plants. This way of life is pretty light on the land. People basically lived in relationship with the world around them. Populations rose and fell with droughts and rains just like the rest of the ecosystem.
Somewhere along the way someone decided it would be a good idea if they could somehow have more food than they needed… just in case. Voila! Agriculture is born. It was a slow process to move from hunter-gatherer to the settled agriculture we know and love. Nevertheless that has been the trajectory of the modern world for thousands of years now.
When we view agriculture, particularly our current crises, in this broader scope, many questions arise. Our fearless leader, Neil, told us how he originally wanted to get into farming to get back to nature. After reading and realizing more about the history of agriculture he wondered, “Is farming a natural process?” In class this seemed to raise a difficult question, “How much do we see ourselves as part of the ecosystem and how much are we apart from it?” This is not so easy to answer.
On the one hand we want to recognize our own interdependence on nature and the role that we play in the larger ecosystem. On the other hand it is disingenuous to suggest that we play the same kind of role in the ecosystem as say aardvarks, algae or bears. We are the only creatures, as far as I can tell, who have the ability to manipulate their environment the way that we do.
This hasn’t even begun to unpack the question of whether this is a good or bad thing. Which is why (as usual) this is going to become a multi-part series in which we explore these questions about agriculture, history and our relationship to the natural world.
Part II: Takers or Leavers coming soon…