John Mureiko wrote a post this weekend, Makes Your Stomach Ache, that really spoke to me. John writes of the personal sense of loss he experienced at the devastating loss they suffered in their small vineyard. John said:
I know it may sound silly, but you truly do grow an emotional attachment
to your plants, and also your livestock. It really can be a painful
experience to see them sicken and ultimately die after hours and hours
of labor and care.
I get that, even as new as I am to the smaller scale farming world.
When a farmer who has 5000 acres of corn planted by machine, cultivated and sprayed by machine and harvested by machine loses 100 corn plants he either doesn't notice or he files a claim for crop insurance. When a factory farm with 10,000 hogs loses half a dozen piglets it is an acceptable loss. When a man with a small operation who knows all of his animals and every plant loses one, he knows it and feels it because he is personally invested in it. You remember planting it or seeing it born. We keep a journal in our home and record when our animals are bred or eggs go into the incubator so we know how it feels when a dog gets into your baby chicks after the wind blows the barn door open and slaughters dozens and dozens, wiping out that years batch. We know what it is like to have a baby lamb rejected by mom that was just never quite right but lived in our living room for two weeks until it finally succumbed. We know what it is like to wait for months in eager anticipation for the birth of a calf only to watch in growing dismay as it becomes apparent that the birth is not going the way you hoped and saving the cow only by the heroic and messy effort of my wife to deliver the stillborn calf. These losses are painful and real, something you can't quite experience the same way as the farm gets bigger and the animals become numbers on ear tags, turning them from pigs and calves and chicks into units of production that convert x pounds of feed to y units of meat. Of course you also cannot miss the real joy of watching a lamb grow into an adult sheep and having lambs of her own or a chick that becomes a broody hen with chicks of her own hiding under her wings or enjoying the fruit of your labor with a home grown turkey for Thanksgiving or bacon from a hog your raised on your own!
As I often do, when I think of farming I also think of the church. How similar they are and this notion of the intimacy of small scale farming versus the impersonal nature of industrial agriculture is very much like the difference between small, intimate fellowships of believers versus massive event driven "church" where x units of worship convert into y units of religious output. That is not to say that all small farms are perfect, there are many that are half-hearted and even cruel just as there are small fellowships that are anything but intimate and far from faithful. Nevertheless you cannot replicate the personal investment of a small farm with a massive agribusiness enterprise and you cannot replicate authentic interpersonal community with a staged religious event no matter how polished.
Anyway, read John's post and let me know if you see the connection I am trying to draw or if I am overreaching yet again.