To Survive In Farming, Try Taoism 



I thought I had made a tremendous discovery a few years ago.  It came to me one day when I was hoeing (hoes are great think machines). I decided, all of a sudden, that the world was eternal. It had no beginning and won’t end. That was a frightening idea because it went against all that I had been taught in science or religion. Every effect was to supposed to have a cause. But the idea of a world without beginning or end resolved the major philosophical contradictions and mystifications clambering around in my mind so I decided to go with it. The funny part is that I believed my hoe and I were the first to come up with this idea. I had no notion, until a year or so later, that this was the basis of a philosophical system that dated back thousands of years— Taoism. My hoe and I were way behind the times. We didn’t even know how to the pronounce the word correctly.

As with any new discovery, I then began to see Taoism popping up everywhere. There’s even a new gardening book out by Carol Deppe, titled The Tao of Vegetable Gardening. But it was not until last week when I read a post by William Edelen who writes “The Contrary Minister” on the Ukiah Blog that is the companion to this one, that I realized just how appropriate Taoism is for farmers. We are either gnashing teeth for lack of rain or going out of our minds because it won’t quit raining.  No matter how hard we work or how clever we are, we do not have as much influence over farming as my hoe has.

In a recent blog, the Contrary Minister says he is a Taoist. No wonder I have enjoyed what he writes. But up to now, I had not known much about what a modern Taoist thinks beyond contemplating the awesome notion that the material universe just might be forever. According to him, a happy life is all about accepting the world as it is. He wasn’t addressing farmers particularly, but what he says is especially appropriate for us. He compares life to a flowing river. When the river meets an irresistible object, it simply flows around it. Humans should do the same. Don’t curse the boulder blocking your path. Don’t shatter yourself to mental anguish trying to shatter it. Just quietly flow around it. In other words don’t be a control freak. Says  Edelen: “No matter how  much structure we create in our lives, there will ALWAYS be things we can’t control and if we let them, these things can be a huge sense of anger, stress and frustration.”

Well, okay, Taoism sounds a little like a fancy justification for laziness.  But that’s what all of us go-getters need, or at least our hearts do: a dose of laziness. Farmers and gardeners are by nature control freaks. We get a lot of satisfaction out of taking a small piece of this earth and turning it into our notion of loveliness and order. We reject all arguments about how chaos rules nature. Not on our farms; not in our gardens. We will have order. We will have straight rows. We will obliterate every threatening weed, bug or animal from our domain. Our fences will never sag. Our machines never squeak or rust. No thorny brush will sully our fence lines. No blade of grass will grow taller on our lawns than the other blades of grass.

Good luck.

One of my control freak friends used to even try to keep his trash looking neat. He would bend the wires from his hay bales into neat little folds and then stack them, like cordwood, at the edge of his junk pile back in the woods.

An incident I once observed in a hay field became my favorite control freak story. A young farmer from a family of extreme control freaks was raking hay. A sharp wind came up. As fast as he rolled the swaths into windrows, as fast as the wind blew them apart. He kept going faster, trying to put the windrows back in their proper places quicker than the wind blew them into disarray.  He was shouting and cussing. By God, he would show who was boss. Had he thought a little bit, a brisk wind like that probably meant rain was on the way, and it would be better to wait anyway. Rain on the unraked swaths would dry away quicker than from rolled up windrows. But no, he would not go with the flow or with the blow. He’d fight to the bitter end. It took him about twenty minutes before he finally began to understand that he was not really in control.

I never did learn to go with the flow. I just got old and had to.


A new title for you, Gene. The Contrary Accidental Taoist Farmer! My ascent to a Taoist state of mind is what allowed me to survive the death of my first wife. Learning that life and death occurs beyond my control was a brutal but beneficial lesson to learn. I am told that it has made me a better person. I just hope to not disappoint my those folk.

Meanwhile, unlocked cars at the Post Office mysteriously fill up with zucchini. Enjoy the bounty our soil provides.

Marsha- Queen of Buzzard's Glory SE Ohio down by Salt Fork July 30, 2015 at 10:15 am

Well said as always, sir. As a fellow old fart (and yes, there’s human urine in my compost pile), I have found that Sir Francis Bacon said it best…. “Nature, to be commanded, must be obeyed.” And sometimes, that great Mystery just zigs when I zag. I do what I can. I recycle, and “Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without.” That’s so I’m not as big a part of the problems as I would be … but otherwise… I strive to RELAX about it all in this weird world.

Your last line reminds me of a quote I heard recently about another eastern philosophy: “Aging is mandatory Buddhism.”

I do believe in going with the flow. However, since the rabbits have eaten and killed my 28 Brussels sprout plants and 150 ft. of pole beans I am now going to lay a bolder down for the rabbits to flow around. It is called a fence. This will surely calm my nerves.

Okay, Gene, we are going to try really hard to incorporate that line of thought as we battle the horse nettle that is taking over our sheep permanent pasture.

I guess I’m a natural born Taoist,weeds don’t bother me much even find that mowing a field of hay with no weeds to be very dull.Actually symetrical things drive me crazy or really the people that want things symetrical I guess.Always have enjoyed mowing hay this time of year that hasn’t been cut yet all sorts of interesting plants.Just the other day as I was over in an old pasture field making hay there was a long Cedar fence row with lots of thistles growing out from the fence row and I could only cut so close because of the fallen limbs.Anyway while sitting there in the shade taking a break and drinking some nice cold ice water I noticed at how many animals were making use of the thistles several different types of birds,bees and all sorts of insects.So I say Live and let Live a true Taoist at Heart(LOL)

I normally strive to maintain reasonably straight and clean crop rows. But after last month’s heavy rains, we flooded out about an acre and a half of vegetables. I decided to cut my losses and focus on the parts of the field that I knew could be saved and left the flooded out part for when I’d have the time to disc it in and get the field ready to replant. Needless to say, I had enough on my plate and procrastinated. So the weeds in the formerly flooded part grew tall and thick. And what did I find amidst the agricultural maelstrom? Vegetables happily growing. Sure. 80% was drowned out, but that other 20% could care less that it’s next door neighbor was now curly dock or pigweed or any number of rampant grasses. Granted, when people drive by I let them think we’re farming the orderly part and some crazy stranger has let the “other” field go to weed, but I don’t mind harvesting the vegetables from the messy side. I just may need a machete to get to them.

Oh my goodness, this was so so good, I laughed out loud!! Wonderful writing, so true. I saw your last post on, great.
Not just farmers and gardeners, suburbanites are perhaps the worst control freaks, walking around every evening with their little monstanto spray bottle just in case some little weed popped up some place.
This does make me think of Masanobu Fukuoka and One Straw Revolution.

Excellent Book !

On the subject(s) of farming, taoism, and laziness, Gene should read a great book called “All Flesh Is Grass: The Pleasures and Promises of Pasture Farming” 🙂

great job at articulating what i’ve started to suspect (thinking with my splitting maul). your last line really says a mouthful, and gives me hope for my future!

A Really Small Farm July 29, 2015 at 8:28 am

A world with no beginning, no end, no boundaries helped led me to stop worrying about ultimate causation and moved me towards a calmer state. Realizing, too, that things happen around us that have nothing to do with us keeps me, usually, from getting overly excited. Today’s wind knocking over my corn? Just the wind, not an attack on my being. Tomorrow I’ll take some moldy hay and prop up the tipped over plants.

Your last sentence pretty much sums up the answer to the whole lesson. I’m going to just flow.

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