The phenomenon of increasing numbers of people relocating to a home in the country with a few acres to raise their own food is driven by more than economic concerns. It is a deeply spiritual movement reflecting the spirit and character of people raised with the Western principles of hard work, independence and self-sufficiency. Though these principles have diminished immensely over the last few generations, but they have not died out.
Photo by Heather Hummel Photography
(Click on the photographs to enlarge)
My father felt that imperative in the 1960s and moved our family from a nice suburban neighborhood to a 100-plus-year old farmhouse in northern Vermont. There, over a several year period, we built a small family farm, raising animals and vegetables to feed our family. The work was hard and demanding, but it was honest and character-forming.
A few years ago I experienced the tug to return to turning the dirt, planting a seed, and harvesting food. Fortunately, one doesn’t have to relocate to reconnect with that spirit of hard work and independence. Even with a small backyard I was able to make use of resources that allowed me to dig in the soil and participate in the ancient spirit of Western man - farming. Ok, I use buckets and raised beds, not much of a farming operation. But I still feel the connection.
Many of us do. More of us need to.
During the time of the American Revolution some 95% of our citizens were farmers. They were a hardy, robust, self-sufficient lot. It is from their spirit of independence that the spirit of independence became a national movement. It wasn’t always good or fair (think of the Indians and slaves, both white and black), but that spirit of independence was the driving force behind the movement that became our country.
In a lecture, The Craft of the Historian, author Michael Hoffman said, “The foundation of western community and culture are in the countryside. Raising food from the land ... (much of what farmers do) is all for one goal: to remain on the ancestral land growing food. And the West’s reply to that is, has always been up until our time, that was an invincible argument, because of the greater good which that agricultural ideal held up.” (Produced by Independent History and Research Co, 1988).
The greater good the agricultural ideal (farming) held up was hard work, family solidarity and independence. Independence didn’t mean the farmer never needed help, because farmers have long been known to go the aid of each other, especially when an injury kept one of their fellows from the field. Their independence was more of resisting governmental and cultural trends that worked against their calling to the land. Hoffman says, “The farmer is rooted to the land, and by that very rootedness he is the sign of contradiction to an affluent, leisured, rootless America.”
Photo by Amy Free Photography
There is something spiritual about the land and the work. The ancient Israelite farmer, Naboth, felt that. When approached by King Ahab to sell his family farm Naboth said, “The Lord forbid that I should give you the inheritance of my fathers.” Naboth could likely have demanded whatever price he wanted for his farm. He could have made enough money to buy another farm with more land, and still have enough left to live in luxury for the rest of his life. But that wasn’t for Naboth. His farm wasn’t just about profits, it was about identity and heritage. His farm was the “inheritance of my fathers.” His dad got his hands dirty in that soil, as did his grandfather and great grandfather. He hoped his sons and grandsons would do the same. Read I Kings 21 to see the tragic ending of this story, tragic because a greedy and materialistically driven king, disconnected from the land, didn’t understand the very real and spiritual connection between God, land, and character building in an individual and a family.
The farm. We need it for our country. We need it for our churches, our families, our youth. One of God’s great blessings to us is the farm. Pray, and work, for it’s continued success. And, if nothing more than for the fun of it, plant a garden this spring, and you may discover motives deeper than the pleasure of it propel you on.