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CHAPTER 10 Agriculture and Community Culture What are the ties between agriculture and community culture? What is the relationship between small farms and small towns? Phil Abrahamson 's family has been farming the highlands above the Root River for generations. He told me about his purebred Angus herd and about his great-grandfather, his grandfather, and his father, the last two of them Angus men. We sat in the solid farmhouse, built at the end of the nineteenth century, and talked about his community and his church as well as the farm business. I marveled at the way this small, frugal farm had affected his industry, and at the fact that its progeny had been featured in artificial insemination stud catalogs. Phil has one tractor fifty-seven years old, currently being overhauled, and another over thirty. There are some newer as well. Just as I was getting in the car to leave, Phil made some of the ties between agriculture and community culture very explicit: "I have to run into town this afternoon.Wedo a lot of our shopping locally. I shop the local hardware store in Lanesboro, and implement dealers there and in the little towns right around here.We'vealways done it that way, been doing it that way since the farm first started. We bank in town. We have these relationships that go way back. It all works together. It's the wayyou help make things go." It's no wonder that they say that if seven farms, operating in that spirit, go under, a retail store in a nearby town has to close. The farm and the town are parts of an integrated system. Unfortunately, not enough folks see it that way; since I talked to Phil, the implement dealers have It All Works Together, or It Doesn't Work at All disappeared, and the locally owned hardware store and the Ford dealership in Lanesboro have closed. Yet Phil continues to shop as close to home as possible. IN A NESTED UNIVERSE Everything exists inside a system larger than itself. There is an ecology for everything. In the world of sustainability, so much larger than the world of biology, ecology is not only a scientific concept but an appropriate metaphor for the myriad relationships of our human experience, and even for the ideas wehold. Thus sustainability is a concept that comprises many interrelated ideas, an ecosystem that includes many species of thought. One of its primary ideas is, simply, that everything is related. That idea is related to two more: that you cannot do any one thing, and that what we do in this place reverberates through and affects every place. And those ideas, in turn, are related to the idea that everything needs to be treated with respect. If I have respect for any part of creation, then self-interest might act as a brake on destructive behavior toward it, because everything is related to me. One outcome of this line of thought is this: If I am disrespectful toward anything, I reveal my disrespect for myself. If any one of those ideas becomes unhealthy through my failure to observe it, then the habitat for sustainability becomes unhealthy and unsustainable—and I myself become unsustainable sooner rather than later. Therefore, if we have any self-respect, we show it best through our respect for everything else. This is true in every sphere of life, not just the environment. It applies to economics, a system in which the wealthy impoverish the poor and are, in turn, impoverished by their poverty. Lack of respect for the poor is one indication of our lack of respect for ourselves, an admission that we are not people of enough character to take care of our own. Yet a universe in which "we are all related," as the old Lakota song has it, is one in which rich and poor are relatives, and what kind of a family does not see to itsrelatives? There is also an ecology of agriculture. Farmers are a species in an environmental, economic, social, psychological, and spiritual ecosystem that includes all the species from soil microorganisms, creatures small and large, and plants to neighbors, nearby towns, institutions like schools and churches and merchants, and large urban areas, as well as wilder174 Agriculture and Community Culture ness, geological formations, and light from distant stars. The water we depend on for agriculture and sustenance is related to it all too, never quite contained, even in the quiet sloughs...


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