Farm Philosophy

Large fluffed flakes are falling, melting as they touch down on wet grass. A grey sky hangs low. A chill fills the air, smarting against bare skin and sinking deeper too. We have heard rumors that winter will come early and hard, but it is only October! Days ago it was a sunny sixty! We have been working up wood to warm our stove, but will we have enough to last through April?

This weekend, anticipating a hard frost, we pulled up the remaining tomato stalks, plucking off every fruit, hard green to rosing red, and settled them in color coded baskets around the kitchen to ripen as they will. We picked a final crop of the red raspberries, and boiled them into jelly. We picked more apples, making sauces and crisps. In some ways, the end of the harvest was a relief. We will soon be finished with the processing! But the warmth of the thought is tamped by the chill—will there be enough to last?

Of course, there won’t be enough—food or fuel. Even with our Daisy dependence (Oct 15), we produce a mere fraction of what our family of six needs to eat in a year. The wood stove only heats half of the house. To fill the gaps, we will truck to the local supermarket and spend hundreds of dollars a week. We will call the local oil company to fill our tank with fuel. So really, we need not worry at all whether we can last the winter. Right?

So why the chill?
Before humans were farmers, we were hunting and gathering, moving from place to place as we followed the herds and the harvest. We observed the cycles of the seasons, of seeds, roots, and fruits, of birth and death. At some point, around 10,000 BCE, the gatherers, supposedly women, began participating in those cycles, planting their own crops in close and clustered areas, trapping and taming small animals for eggs, milk, and meat. Farming as a practice took hold, drawing more of the community into its sphere. Hunting was no longer as necessary. Neither was movement. The hunters started staying home to protect the food stores—and their producers.

Why this shift? It is not obvious. Farming is labor intensive. Plowing, planting, tending, harvesting, and storing take more time and energy to produce the same amount of food as hunting and gathering. Anthropologists estimate that the hunter-gathering clans had a leisurely life relative to the farmers. In three weeks, a gatherer could collect enough grain from a field of wild wheat to last a year.

Even so, farming has its advantages. With a bit more effort, a small piece of land can yield a much larger crop, supporting a crowd of people who can stay where they are and build permanent dwellings. Farming enabled towns and cities to sprout, and with them came the challenges of communal living that spurred humans to develop new strategies for governing, exchanging goods and services, managing resources, instilling values, building relationships, and documenting all of it.

The advent of agriculture enabled the dawning of culture. As a portion of laborers worked full time to fund the food supply, others could begin to begin to think and feel and act as if they existed independent from the forces of nature. Mind over body.

It is an irony of history: farming enabled our distance from nature. It contributed in a significant way to the complicated process through which humans began imagining themselves as individuals, rational agents, whose freedom is a freedom from the body, over the body, to be master of the body—free to consume what the bodies of others provide for them.

Dropped into the wilderness, however, the truth would be revealed. We are forever dependent for our every living moment on the cycles of air, water, earth, and fire, of plants and animals and elements that nourish our flesh. We may be able to imagine we have no bodies, but that imagining does not make it so.

Hence the chill. We are vulnerable amidst our abundance.

So it occurs to me, as a philosopher, here on the farm. If my aim is to offer an alternative to the mind over body ways of being that dominate western culture, then focusing on an individual and her or his desires, as I have done on these pages since January, is only the beginning. I must extend my discussion of What a Body Knows, to revisit and reimagine the relationships to each other and the natural world that our mind over body philosophies and religions express. What better place to do so than on a farm? With my family?

I am learning what our farming practices to date have enabled us to forget: in everything we do, we are always already participating in the earth’s rhythms of bodily becoming. We owe it to ourselves to do so consciously.

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