Monday, October 31, 2011

Agrarian Dilemmas: The Community

If the Catholic Land Movement (CLM) is to succeed, it is essential that we recognize that the smallest possible unit for success in such an endeavour is the community. The success of one family homesteading is limited by the capacity of work and skills that one family encompasses. The greater the number of families and individuals, the greater the number of skills and goods produced. Here also a greater possibility for an authentic Catholic culture is realized. One family can accomplish much, but their accomplishments will be limited to their family. They will never experience a wider Catholic culture except in their own parish life, and this will be dependent on the vigour and dynamic of that specific parish. It is in this light that we must examine the possibility of  moving forward with the CLM.

I am in the preparation phase of moving my family to a farm in the middle of nowhere in southern Kansas. It was with hesitancy that we made this decision, but we eventually discerned this as the will of God for our family, at least for now. It will allow us to hone our farming skills that we already possess, and expand our repertoire of skills as well. Hopefully, it will be a farm where we can teach other Catholics some of these skills and act as a springboard into the farming lifestyle. Yet, I believe it is in the community that hope for the CLM can be realized. The difficulty lies in finding those with the courage, resilience, and skill to take on a task such as this. The question also remains with regard to location. A location with an established orthodox group of Catholic faithful seems a given. To start from scratch seems an almost impossible fantasy. So it remains my hope that my family and I will be able to train others in farming skills as well as introducing them to an authentically Catholic life. Hopefully, I can break down the idealistic fantasies in others that I began with myself. The grindstone of reality hit hard this summer as work in 113 degree heat often turned to drudgery. The reality of watching an entire planting of crops whither under the burden of an unrelenting drought was enough to shake me out of my fantasy and drop me squarely into reality. It is my hope, however, that I can offer a vision that is beautiful, as well as real, to others of like mind without using the same grindstone that at times nearly broke me.

Community is the smallest unit of an agrarian ideal. The family alone on the land still depends highly upon the structures of an industrialized society. Even the Amish are not truly self-sufficient, but rather purchase most all of the basic needs of life from the local Wal-Mart. Few are there that have the skills to work a loom or who use a mill for the grinding of their own grain. For the ideal of Distributism to work, there must exist a community in which it can function. This is a reality that we who seek this kind of a life must confront. We can either lead a mixed life with one foot in the world with our family on the land, or we can make the sacrifices with others to bring forth a society that is better not only for ourselves but for others as well.



7kids6dice1gamerdad said...

I can certainly appreciate your thoughts on this matter. These are not like the ones that I have considered in recent days. We, too, are making our preparations for a move to the country, however, due to forces beyond my control, this move date gets pushed further and further out. During this time I look forward to each new post you have regarding your experiences with your particular Catholic Land Movement. God bless.

7kids6dice1gamerdad said...

I meant 'not unlike'. :)

Yeoman said...

I don't know that community is the most basic unit in the agrarian ideal. In the classic American sense, this was not universally true, and the individual farm family was, at least in some sectors of the country, the basic unit. This was the case in the rural South, for example, up until some point in the late 1890s, or even to some extent beyond that.

Which doesn't mean that I disagree with what you have noted. What is easy to forget about agrarianism is that at one time there was much more "yeomanry" in town, as well as the cities. One thing that is really operating against family life, and the ability to support a family today, is that it has become practically impossible, by design, to support a family by creating a family business. All the small grocery stores, appliance stores, etc., that once provided the economic backbone of the town are gone in favor of the Walmarts, Sam's Clubs and so on. The urban yeomanry, so to speak, has been destroyed. In this sense, the farm yeomanry, which is hurting to say the least, may be a remaining exception to the rule.

So, what I think this suggests is that we need to also think about what sort of greater economy we support. I've gotten to where I will not go into a Walmart, which is a corporate entity that survives only because of the legal fiction that it's a "person" in the eyes of the law, if there's any other option. And at some point, if we wish to survive, we're going to have to start suggesting that laws be changed to favor small businesses and retail outlets over massive corporate giants, so that there can be an urban yeomanry once again.

Put another way, not everyone should have to dream of being a farmer to live a small, self supported, family lifestyle. But right now, that dream, farming or urban, is dead in this country for most.

On another one of your points, you raise interesting issues about the religious community and agriculture. I've noticed here that its been an easy matter for remote ranch families to become church-less just due to distance from town, and the lack of fellow religious. And after a generation, if they attend church, it just happens to be a local one that's handy to their location. I've seen several families that I know descend from Catholic originators that are now church-less or loosely Protestant for that reason.