One of my hopes for our American culture is to elevate land stewardship and ecology to the level of our most revered professions.
As the sense of difficulty and economic pressure farmers feel has continued to build, the median age of farmers is creeping up and up and up, suicides are up and up and up, bank defaults are up and up and up. Children in agricultural families are often encouraged to leave agriculture for industry, entertainment or information technology. Those trades deserve reverence in their own right, but elevating them so far above the role of land steward is something we should mull over.
Land stewards are gatekeepers whose actions affect our air quality, our water quality, the nutrient density of our food, and the amount and types of strong chemical substance which will eventually (as their initial form or as metabolites) find their way into the streams and rivers we play in, the groundwater we drink, the oceans we live near, and into our bodies to reside there until we return to the dust from whence we came. That is a great deal of power which affects the general well being of a culture, yet we act (by our system of assigning value in careers) as if these stewards and managers are really just practical people doing practical work of middling consequence and are easily replaced.
One of the interesting phenomena in agriculture is the younger average age of those engaged in regenerative, organic and small scale agriculture. I believe this is because it offers hope for a career that feels like it is making a difference for the broader community and world, but also because it is infused with the dignity of a highly technical trade with a large burden on delicate and intimate knowledge of the ecology involved and the biological as well as mechanical concerns of each day’s action. This dignity is the sort of pressure attracting energetic people who want to make their mark and do their part.
No matter conventional or organic I believe land stewards, the people who care for the physical and ecological wealth that undergirds every other part of our civilization (our soil, our air and our water) should be asked to continue innovating, continue pushing boundaries, continue to grow closer to the communities served and seek their good, not only in the products produced, but in clean air, clean water, healthy soil and in a landscape so beautiful as to inspire our budding poets to revel in its verdant and immodest beauty.
As temperatures drop to 27 tonight, it is just another day in spring; the joys can never be separated from the pains easily. So out we go to continue growing closer to the plants, the animals and the soil that we steward in hopes we will delight our fellow man, and have some return for our efforts, and in the end to live in a more beautiful and productive landscape.