From GENE LOGSDON
A lot of attention is being given to urban farming and that is certainly good. But there is a somewhat broader view emerging under the impetus of garden farming. I call it the ascendancy of village farming. As far as I can find in history and archeology, as the hunting and gathering age gradually evolved into settled communities, farming was very much a village affair, not an individual family undertaking. People congregated into groups for mutual protection and for sharing the work load. Their garden farms were clustered around the outskirts of their villages. Among the many advantages, there were plenty of children and dogs running around, scaring wild animals away from the crops. Traditionally in Europe and especially Asia where even today the average size of farms is under five acres in some areas, farmers lived in villages and went out to their acres during the day. Immigrants who lived this integrated village farming life in Austria have told me how much more comfortable and enjoyable life was compared to what they found in America. In their homeland, farmers often worked in groups in the fields and then returned to town in the evenings, to community, and on porches, street corners, and in taverns, they talked to each other, shared ideas and events, tended to see both farm field and urban shop as one community united in work and play. In America they felt lonely on American farms.
But even here, there were close connections between farmers and villagers as I grew up. On Sunday morning, we country people went to church in our villages and after services, everyone stood around outside and talked sometimes for over an hour. We children played hide and seek among the legs of the grownups. And on Saturday night, everyone went to town and stood on street corners visiting with townspeople and each other until after midnight.
Automobiles remedied the isolation to some extent, and then electronics to a great extent, and the division between town and country is now fast disappearing. But mental attitudes, in this case of mutual alienation leading to distrust, are the last to go in the face of cultural change. The old isolation, especially in the open lands of North America, encouraged self-determination which is good, but also encouraged suspicion of cities, which is not good. And of course it worked the other way too. City people learned the value of mutual cooperation but tended to think their rural counterparts were ignorant. It is an oversimplification, I suppose, but I think one of the reasons we have red and blue states today is because farming here did not evolve out of communal village life like it did elsewhere in the world.
I’m sure it sounds ridiculous, but I like to think that the village represents the apex of human civilization. Village life is more secure and comfortable than the lonely ramparts of the outer countryside or the crowded nonentity of the big city. The world is littered with the ruins of great cities. The way to keep a nation vital and human is to keep it as a collection of villages spread out over the landscape. This new age of local garden farming is a way to do this. It is causing the return of the village as the center of human endeavor. People are coming together for that most basic need of all: good food. They are realizing that humans have a lot more in common than geographical, political, economic, and religious differences would imply. As they flock into farm markets, why, my goodness, they realize they can actually like people of different ideologies.
The cross-cultural benefits of local garden farming not only tie farm to village but village to city. The more different communities mingle, the more they grasp their commonality. It always amused me during the nine years I worked in big city Philadelphia, how a series of secretaries did not say, when I asked them, that they were from Philadelphia. Invariably they would give a place name that applied to a village that the city had swallowed up over the years.
We are all villagers at heart. I walked through the “Greek section” of Philly on my way to work because I loved the sweet rolls one of the family bakeries there made and sold. Because I was travelling one week, I missed my usual morning visit and when I returned the next week, the matron who always manned the cash register looked at me with mock displeasure and said, (remember in this city of seven million or so): “Where were you last week?”
To view local food as a workable, long range development, we have to see urban farms as twin sisters of village farms and the windswept acres of industrial farms as country cousins to village garden farms. I will bet you that in the farm markets of Baghdad you can find smiling Christians buying good food from smiling Muslims. And vice-versa.
P.S. I am totally overwhelmed with gratitude and happiness at the outpouring of good will that so many of you sent in to the blog last week. From the bottom of my heart, I thank you. I was particularly happy that you headlined Carol along with me. This operation would never have made it to first base without her.