As I continue to reflect on “Reclaiming the Miracle of Food and Farming”, I’ve been reading Jim Ewing’s new book (2011) Conscious Food: Sustainable Growth, Spiritual Eating. His writing opened up a whole new perspective for me on the historical links between war and agriculture, and of the feminine and agriculture. My audience at the CAFA conference (see earlier blog: https://farmviability.wordpress.com/2013/06/12/wordless-wednesday-3/) did not appreciate what I had to share! It is not a topic that I will spend much time on but it has some relevance to defining the future of agriculture, Ag3.0.
We seem to have forgotten that all life, goods and commerce once sprang from the farm, and that the sun rising each day to warm the soil that was to produce our food and provide us with good wholesome work, were the only gifts we needed. Perhaps, it was like Earth Day everyday, when land was seen as sacred, because it is the provider of our food.
Some young people in Transylvania are rediscovering this way of life. They are self-reliant farmers moving beyond their country’s history of communism and war. Good food is important to them and they do not want to become dependent on an industrial food system. In Europe, I was surprised by how much Europeans hold on so tightly to their history. It was like WWII was just over. We don’t experience that here in Canada. When we focus so much on wars (in Europe) and famous personalities (in the US), real meaning and meaningful work is obscured. So much of our old stories are controlling our present day attitudes.
So what does this have to do with agriculture and how did our food system get to where it is today? It may very well be that it was the invention of agriculture that caused us to become disconnected from food and the land. Nomadic cultures depended on males to hunt for food. When societies settled, an agrarian lifestyle began to emerge (around 8,000 BC) with a culture that had deep connections with the land, and where earth and soil were sacred.
The Invention of War
When males lost their role in a harvesting and hunting lifestyle pre-agrarian, they needed something else to do, and it is believed that this is when they invented war (Barbara Ehrenreich. 1997, 2011. Blood Rites: Origins and History of the Passions of War). In fairy tales, they hunted out beautiful princesses from other kingdoms and stole them away, creating a reason for war! But on a more serious note, in A Short History of War: The Evolution of Warfare and Weapons (Strategic Studies Institute, U.S. Army War College, Pennsylvania, 1992), Richard Gabriel and Karen Metz say that “the invention and spread of agriculture coupled with the domestication of animals in the fifth millennium BC are acknowledged as the developments that set the stage for the emergence of the first large-scale, complex urban societies.” Following that, the emergence of war is rooted in the development of these complex societies, because they were sustaining larger populations as a result of an efficient agricultural system that could provide the necessary resources. These societies then required the creation of state-governing institutions and an economic base which needed to be protected. “The standing army emerged as a permanent part of the social structure and was endowed with strong claims to social legitimacy. And it has been with us ever since.”
The creation of urban societies also resulted in a profound psychological change as people came together in larger communities which required them to refocus their allegiances away from the extended family, clan, and tribe, and toward a larger social entity, the state. This is also when religion emerged as well as war. The conduct of war became part of the social order so that people were able to survive the predatory behaviour of others. And from this point on and still today in many nations, the conduct of war became a normal part of our social existence.
In Western societies, war continues today, but in a different form. Many farmers practice the art of ‘killing’ as part of their agricultural practices, killing those organisms that contribute to making our food nutritious. In 146BC, Romans salted agriculture lands to destroy the enemy. Why do we continue such practices today on our own fields?
Agriculture, War and the Feminine
From the beginning of agriculture, the feminine was dominant. The earth was Mother, and there was a deep respect for Nature. Growing food from seed was viewed similarly to a mother nursing her child. From 3000 to 800 BC, the marriage of food, agriculture and Spirit was strong and was seen to be connected to female goddesses.
But this did not last. As military power took over, agriculture eventually became “a product of human will, not a spiritual collaboration” (Jim Ewing. 2011. Conscious Food: Sustainable Growth, Spiritual Eating, p.34). By 900 to 800 BC, the feminine started to be rejected, and during the period of Classical Greece, it went as far as seeing women as evil and of a separate race. In AD 325, Roman Emperor Constantine had all references to women as equal to men removed from the bible, silencing the female voice. In the Dead Sea Scrolls discovered in 1947, other pieces left out of the modern Bible were revealed, including the calling in of wind directions, along with agricultural feasts and festivals similar to Native American celebrations for first leaves of corn, green corn and ripe corn. To think that so many of Western civilization today are still thinking by these principles, without the feminine and all that this symbolizes; compassion, humility, nurturing. Jim Ewing questions whether it is as a result of this that so many of us “feel that emptiness within us, and reflected all around us, as a spiritual hunger that cannot be quenched” (p. 39).
The patriarchal states that evolved as explained above saw themselves as above Nature (unlike the matriarchal agrarian societies that saw themselves as part of Nature), dominating Nature. In these societies, food became a commodity used as a means of leveraging control. Today this is still evident with only a few corporations in North America controlling food while the government administers and helps them gain global control.
Perhaps, this early agrarian way of life is Agriculture O.0 and designates a period of time where ancient ways of growing food involved Spirit. It was an agrarian way of life where Spirit, food and soil were closely allied and since the connection was so fundamental, it went unquestioned (p. 29). These agrarian societies held spiritual ceremonies that were closely tied with the seasons, filled with appreciation and gratitude for the Creator, Earth and spirit messengers. In one community in Transylvania, the church is opened up twice a year to do the same (see earlier blog: https://farmviability.wordpress.com/2013/04/21/thank-you-for-our-food/). This way of life was often found in matrilineal societies, and so it is interesting that today, the number of women who are principle operators of a farm increased by 30 percent over the past 5 years (2007 US census on agriculture). Are we making a complete cycle back?
Women in Ag3.0
Women now run about 14 percent of the 2.2 million farms in the US. If women worldwide had the same access to resources that men have, global malnutrition could be reduced by up to 17 percent, says U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).
How might this change the practice of farming? Women naturally, are interested in nurturing life and have a conservation ethic. Women lead agricultural businesses:
- tend to be smaller and more diverse
- are often part of the organic and local food movements, with a big community component
- have mission statements that are more about offering healthy and flavourful foods than
the bottom line
These principles are at the foundation of Agriculture 3.0.