Monday, January 07, 2013

The Land That Heals and a Challenge for Rural America

The Rodale Institute requested that some of the contributors to Agricultural Law serve as Guest Bloggers on their newly redesigned website and blog. The Rodale Institute is a nonprofit research farm in Kutztown, PA, and their a website features articles on organic and sustainable food and farming.  Their audience is described as being primarily made up of farmers (established and beginning), agricultural professionals, and “deep consumers.” I love that last category. It references people who "rather than going to the grocery story, visit local farms to buy for their families."  Looking at the website, I suspect there are quite a few other categories of visitors as well.  Theirs is a nationally-focused site with around 60,000-70,000 visits per month.

I did our first guest post for them, The Land That Heals, and it was published January 4, 2013 on the new Rodale website.  It addresses my reactions to the tragic events in Newtown, Connecticut.  I intended to just reprint it, but because I have continued to think about this difficult subject, I offer instead a revised post. The original post can still be found on the Rodale website as The Land that Heals.

A Challenge for Rural America

As our nation grieves the losses in Newtown, Connecticut, we struggle to understand. We see the faces of the children killed -  true pictures of innocence -  and wonder how something so terrible could have happened.

In his press briefing, President Obama announced the formation of a task force that would immediately begin to develop proposals to curb an "epidemic of gun violence." While much of the immediate press coverage has focused on limited gun control measures, the President described the problem as “complex” and called upon us to "look more closely at a culture that all-too-often glorifies guns and violence."

As always, I see a connection to agriculture and farm policy. I am reminded of a quote from Wendell Berry from his Commencement address at Lindsey Wilson College in 2005.
The line that connects the bombing of civilian populations to the mountain removed by strip mining ... to the tortured prisoner seems to run pretty straight. We're living, it seems, in the culmination of a long warfare — warfare against human beings, other creatures and the Earth itself.
I grew up on a family farm that was “sustainable” before we knew enough to use that term. There was a respect for nature, a respect for the animals that we raised, an appreciation of the miracle of growing food, and a deep sense of community. That was just the way it was. While past agricultural policies have tended to view this model of agriculture as outmoded and inefficient, its resurgence through the sustainable agricultural communities offers us hope for the future - for our food system as well as for our broader society.

Sustainable agriculture offers the perfect model to help our nation turn away from a culture that “glorifies guns and violence.”  At its core, sustainable agriculture advocates for integration and connection -  between farmers and the land, between farmers and consumers, between people and their food source. It stresses a harmony with nature and a recognition of our place within it.

But what about guns?  Again, I look to my rural upbringing. Yes, there were guns in my home on the farm. But, I was taught that they were weapons used only for specific purposes. Hunting was a sport, but a sport with a very practical purpose – food for our family. Killing was not entertainment. Assault weapons?  These were weapons of war, with no place or purpose on the farm.

The current debate on the violence in our society has already seemed to break down into the all-too familiar partisan divide, and it threatens as well to be reduced to an urban vs. rural battle.  I find the latter to be particularly tragic, as I love my rural community, and I worry about the changes I have seen.

The rural community that I grew up in was armed, but its weapons were shot guns, deer rifles, and 22 caliber rifles and pistols. My Dad signed me up for gun training, as he wanted me to both know how to use the guns we had in the house, but also to respect them.

My father and most others in our rural community would have considered people who wanted weapons like the assault weapon used to kill so many children in Newtown to be extreme and more than a little scary. Most people were proud of their guns, but they did not elevate them to a status symbol or focus on getting as many or as big a weapon as they could. Again, that would have seemed extreme and well, too violent.

Close knit communities generally knew who the people were that could not safely handle weapons, and their families, churches, schools, and yes, the government, helped to keep guns out of their hands.  There was no major movement saying that we all needed to have guns.

So what happened?  I don't know. But, I hope that we can ask that question and talk about it openly and honestly.  I hope that rural Americans will not just blindly heed the fear mongering that is being promoted by the gun manufacturers and their lead organization, the NRA. They have gotten rich by promoting fear.  I hope that rural Americans will have the courage and the wisdom to ask themselves why people want weapons that can fire 30 times in rapid succession. And why is their right to own one more important than the lives that might have been saved in Newtown without one?

I hope that it will be rural Americans that lead the country back to sensible gun ownership and away from the cult of violence that infects our country. Rural Americans, who I have always thought had a common sense about them, should just say, enough is enough.

Am I being totally unrealistic?  Well, it just might start with some of the members of the sustainable agriculture community.

Consider the Farmer Veteran Coalition.  This amazing coalition seeks “to create healthy and viable futures for America’s veterans by enlisting their help in building our green economy, rebuilding our rural communities, and securing a safe and healthy food supply for all.”  I don't know what their position is on all of this, but after the violence of war, veterans find purpose in connecting with the land and producing food sustainably.  Consider the Rodale Institute that had the courage to post my blog. There have to be others out there in rural America that are as uncomfortable with what has happened to us as I am.

In any case, I'd like to offer a special thanks to my father -  who taught me to respect guns and to work against violence.


Blogger Lindsay Razzaz said...

A beautiful, thoughtful entry, and a much-appreciated perspective. Thank you. Will share.

1/08/2013 9:41 AM  
Blogger Lindsay Razzaz said...

A beautiful, thoughtful entry, from a much-appreciated perspective. Thank you. Will share.

1/08/2013 9:41 AM  

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