Tag Archives: farming

A Farmer’s Kind of Comfort

My forebears, the generations before my grandparents, were farmers. I’m not entirely certain how successful these people were as farmers, but they listed themselves as such on the census reports. My grandfathers, born on farms, made an exit toward better economic pickings, eventually making their ways to Kansas City where two of their children met and became my parents.

Why did so many people in America, from the late 1800s and into the early decades of the 1900s make that farm-to-city move? Somewhere in the 1870s, the segment of the population working on farms moved below 50% for the first time. By 1940, as the Second World War drew near, that number dropped to 18%. And the reason is fairly clear. With increasing industrialization offering steady jobs and the relative certainty and comfort of urban life, the move seems sensible.

Think about it. If you work in a steel mill, as my maternal grandfather did, you don’t need to worry much about the weather. A drought will not ruin the steel. Blast furnaces, unlike hogs or cows, don’t die, and if one does go off line, it’s not the worker’s problem so much as the company’s. When the potatoes succumbed to a disease on the farm, that typically meant not having potatoes that year. In the city, unless the problem was catastrophic, it meant that you paid more for the spuds at the market.

City dwellers didn’t have to contend with long dirt roads. Coyotes mostly chased roadrunners in cartoons rather than eating the chickens. Water, sewer service, electricity, and phones came to the city far more quickly than to the country. To this day, the broadband Internet availability in rural areas is limited. Who wouldn’t want to move from the farm to the city?

Elijah presumably didn’t want to make that move. After serving as God’s emissary to bring about a terrific drought, Elijah had to make himself scarce lest the officials make him dead. In 1 Kings 17:2-4, he is told to “hide” in the Kerith Ravine to drink from its brook and eat what ravens brought.

As a result of the drought, Elijah had to move to town in 1 Kings 17:9. Couldn’t God have kept some water running in that stream for him? He could have done so, but I don’t think God wanted Elijah to get too comfortable.

Those who remain on the farm, who move from cities back to farms, or who just have a farmer mentality understand that comfort is not something that we should always desire. We might have to tend the animals in sub-zero weather. That’s just the truth.

Moving from our comfort zone is frightening but less so when we trust that God is directing our steps. Successful farmers have a self-reliant streak, but successful Christians couple that with a God-reliant streak. Put those together and a little discomfort is just–well–a little discomfort.

 

Embrace the Pigness of the Pig

This summer, Penny and I visited Polyface Farms, the home base of Joel Salatin, beyond-organic farmer to the stars. Alright, while Salatin might not do much hobnobbing with Hollywood A-listers, he has been in a good selection of movies. I’m convinced that there’s a law prohibiting anyone from producing a food- or agriculture-related documentary without inserting at least one snippet of Joel.

After leaving the farm that day, I grieved for part of my drive back into Staunton, Virginia, the city where we were staying. You see, the farm’s shop did not have any t-shirts reading “The marvelous pigness of pigs” in my size. The shopkeeper assured us that they’d be getting those in eventually, but we were heading home before that.

Only on the way home, as we made a fourteen-hour expedition from Staunton to our house, did I realize–thanks to Penny’s handy use of Google and decent cell reception in West Virginia–that my coveted t-shirt actually reflected the title of Joel’s latest book: The Marvelous Pigness of Pigs: Respecting and Caring for All God’s Creation.

Before reaching home, I had ordered a copy of the tome. Penny followed suit, requesting it from our library. We’ve been reading through it over the past several weeks.

After writing and speaking for decades as a voice for sustainable agriculture and clean foods, Salatin with this book has “come out” as a Christian. Honestly, I don’t think many people who had encountered him were terribly surprised, but in that book’s pages, he lays out the theological underpinnings for his agricultural practices.

Although I plan to take up some, if not all, of the individual chapters in days to come, I thought it would make sense to consider my own “pigness” or the pigness of my students. Do you have “theological underpinnings” for your profession? I ask, because I’m not entirely sure that I have them for my primary work as a college English teacher. Certainly I have not worked out that theology and its implications on day-to-day, semester-to-semester life as thoroughly as Salatin has in this book.

So your homework assignment, as you wait for the book to arrive, is to consider what it means to be a Christian car mechanic, HVAC technician, lawyer, financial planner, gym employee, banker, or whatever it is that you do with your time. Whether you enjoy the pigness of some bacon at the same time is entirely your own affair.