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Our Sacred "No"

This morning as I was pouring maple syrup on my waffles, I thought of a Facebook friend of mine in Iowa who not only has beehives, but maple trees which she taps for syrup. Her next-door neighbor recently leveled all of his remaining maple trees in order to plant more rows of corn on his farm. The price of corn is at an all-time high, due to last-year’s drought and due to increased demand, in part for ethanol production. A cruel irony abounds as many small farmers, not just huge corporate agribusinesses, convert all their remaining land to crops of corn.

It's interesting that this farmer cut down many trees that he could have tapped for another crop to sell: maple syrup. There were doubtless other things he could have done to increase the profit from his farm, besides cutting all the remaining trees from his land. Perhaps the saddest part of this story is that by clearing away the last stands of trees on his property, this farmer unwittingly committed an act of violence against himself, by his own hand.

There really seems to be no end in sight to the raping and pillaging of our lands to yield commodities, no end to this desperate mining of every resource we have in order to convert something else, something more, into money.

We keep bees, and I'm holding the number of hives we keep at two, as any more than that could create an imbalance on our land and outstrip the ability of the bees to find good forage in our area.

In ancient times, honey was considered sacred, and therefore, never sold. Because honey was too sacred to sell, it was gifted instead, as are all things that we receive in life that are truly valuable: the gift of life itself, love, friendship, laughter, breath, sunshine, rain, and soil, to name but a few.

It's hard to make a living in this society. More often than not, we have to make a killing: choose between money or life. We are asked to do deadening things to make our money, we are asked to wreak violence on the land of ourselves, our families and our lands, in order to eke out what we call a “living.” Can we indeed fashion a life from so much death, violence, and destruction? Can we ever be whole as a people if we have to chop down all of our own trees in order to make a living? Is the price ever too high?

At every turn in this process of starting our small farm, I am presented with a choice between doing a whole lot of something in order to make money, or doing less of many things, in order to mimic nature and nurture more variety, balance, and beauty on our land. It's not easy to choose the latter. Even our tax code favors making a killing on the land, pressing more bees, more chickens, more of the same kind of berry into our small acreage, that we might have a crop or two to sell for profit, and even then, it’s a pittance.

A well-rounded variety, a healthful approach to the land, isn’t what is encouraged by our tax code: profit is. Because profit is what generates revenue, not clean water and air, friable soil, wooded areas, or pollinators. And yet, these are precisely the things that we must nurture and encourage if we are to heal our planet and our bodies, much less survive as a species.

Knowing the pressures that we all face to make money, cutting down all the maple trees to grow more corn looks still looks like a failure of imagination to me. But whose failure of imagination isn’t entirely clear. The axe-happy farmer is only a symptom of a larger dis-ease, one that has knocked a good many, if not all of us, out of balance.

Perhaps we would all think more imaginatively if we didn't feel that our backs were up against a wall. It's hard to enter the process of trial-and-error so crucial to creative imagination when you feel your survival is at stake. How do we prepare the soil, or create the conditions in which the seeds of the imagination can be planted and have time to bear fruit? This is a question of a whole people, not just of a single family in Iowa.

When that man was tearing up his land, he was also tearing himself apart, all in order to make a living. Perhaps the first answer, the first step towards change, isn't imagination, but having the courage to say “no.” No, this costs too much. No, there must be a better way. Until we say no, we will continue tearing our lands, and our bodies, and our spirits asunder.

Perhaps instead, summoning our sacred power to say “No. This is not for sale,” as with honey in ancient days, we can move past our fearful reflex of violence, start imagining new ways of making a living, and begin to plant new stands of life-giving lives, together.

Comments

Replied

Very ironic timing as we were just talking about this yesterday on a lil road trip. I was day dreaming and hubby said whatcha thinking and I said can you imagine what it would look like IF every single farmer farmed every square inch. Can you imagine what it would look like to have no trees along fence rows, no thickets, no timber here and there..just nothing but field after field. Can you imagine what it would do to all the different species and habitats??
I'm so very thankful for friends like you that DO get that...I worry there's not enough folks like us to help balance it out but we mustn't give up.

For the record, I DO know many wonderful farmers that do care for their land and money is not the bottom line for them BUT at this time we are out numbered..look forward to the day where we out number them!

Replied

A friend of mine posted a link to this blog entry on FaceBook, and I happened upon it and read it earlier today (2/17/13). I then found myself in continued thought about what it conveys throughout the day, and even still my thoughts keep returning to these statements. I read it again just now, and I realized as I read the final 3 paragraphs again, how perfectly this message, it's importance and universal relevance was written. I'm adding my comment here to ask, if this blog entry and/or it's writer ever finds itself in print? And if not, it needs to be. I would like permission to forward it to my local news paper (Dallas, TX) as a suggested oped to be printed. I'm sure there are countless Ag magazines/websites etc. that would also love to have these words as they're written here, to share with their readership.

Replied

How my heart hurts at the signs of failure especially here where there once was such opportunity. I don't have any land anymore, but try in a town rental to continue t grow,tend, preserve food,and educate any who will listen about balance and responsibility to future generations. Prayer helps me.

Replied

As a beekeeping instructor and beekeeper for 40 + years I can assure you that the land around you will not be overloaded with more than two bee hives. There are many things that bloom that we never see or notice but the bees search them all out. If you are wanting more than two hives you can do so without concern. If two is all you want (or need) then stay with two. Two good producing hives will provide most families with more honey than they can consume in a year at any rate.

Replied

I appreciate your experience and your thoughts about introducing more hives, Gerald. Will not dismiss the idea out-of-hand. Thank you!

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Thank you for this beautifully worded essay - I love the idea of constructively saying "no", especially when our actions are saying "yes" to a better way. I'll be talking about this with fellow volunteers this weekend when we dig in Austin's first community food trail. BTW - hello from Austin (and another WHS alum)!

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Beautiful essay & very much appreciated.



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