May 15, Saint Isadore, Patron of Farmers
When I was very young, I lived several weeks each summer with a farm family. Although all “plumbing” was outdoors and we had to pump water, with the exception of watching a chicken be killed I have only the happiest memories of these visits. On my return to the city the first summer, I asked my parents if we could start using cow milk instead of store milk. Duh!
While that ignorance seems impossible, I suspect the underlying disconnect is not uncommon for many whose food comes primarily from packages and fast food stores. And, what a loss! We miss the marvel, the awe, that Mary Oliver expresses in her poem “Beans Green and Yellow”:
it is mushrooms
gathered from dampness
under the pines;
I have known
the taste of the lamb
full of milk
and spring grass
it is beans green and yellow
and lettuce and basil
from my friend’s garden —
as though it were an ordinary thing,
we eat the blessed earth.
The Blessed Earth
Earth, soil, dirt, as St. Francis reminded us, “feeds us and rules us and produces various fruits with colored flowers and herbs.” The SHCJ mission statement calls us to help others believe that “God lives and acts in us and in our world” — soil included! Francis couldn’t have known that “Sister Earth, our Mother” can take between 500 to thousands of years for rock to become this precious membrane of life on our planet. Fortunately, Earth has had time for this.
A handful of healthy forest soil is home to interconnected life communities of up to 10 billion bacteria, about a million plump yeasts and fungi, and tens of thousands of other creatures!
For centuries farmers protected their soil by rotation, compost, etc. Now, however, loss of topsoil from various reasons threatens farmers (and thus eaters!) globally.
Soil was present when prehistoric animals roamed the Earth. Humans began to farm about 12,000 years ago. Farmers in what is now Mexico began breeding varieties of corn about 7,000 years ago. Worldwide, crops like potatoes, apples and rice each developed thousands of varieties depending on soil, light, and general growing conditions (think varieties of wine). This diversity protected the interests of farmers, soil, water, and climate — and all life that depended upon this nourishment. Until the advent of chemical fertilizers, pesticides, and other artificial agents, all food was grown organically.
In an April 18, 2015, posting, The Ecologist (http://www.theecologist.org/) stated that a profit-driven model of agriculture enriches corporations while impoverishing farmers by taking their land and water, depleting resources, and undermining sustainable livelihoods — not to mention adding to climate change. (Agribusiness is the world’s largest single source of greenhouse gases.)
“The real problem isn’t that we are, or will be, short of food in any aggregate sense, but that it is poorly distributed because of deep imbalances of power. Throwing vast amounts of money at large corporate models, and telling governments to put in place rules that focus solely on bolstering the ability of large institutions to grab huge tracts of land for industrial, often mono-culture farms, only deepens those power imbalances . . . .
Family farmers already produce 70% of the world’s food. Their sustainable methods increase crop yields over time, maintain the health of the soil, and sequester large amounts of carbon. Synthetic methods, on the other hand, plateau and then decrease yield, actively degrade soil and produce greenhouse gasses in enormous quantities.”
Agribusiness, GMOs, and mono-cropping are not the answer! Among other problems, the industrial model of farming forces farmers to be beholden to lenders for seeds, which has caused 300,000 suicides in India alone. To reverse the negative trends, the United Nations has designated 2015 the “Year of the Soil.”
Fortunately, community gardens, roof gardens, farmers’ markets, and coops are increasingly helping children and adults realize their connection with “the blessed [E]arth.” More and more shoppers are
buying organic and local produce. More and more are aware of the importance of caring not just for farmers and their farms, but for everything needed to sustain healthful crops for the present and the future. Some people are making compost from food scraps, vegetation, and newspaper. Some practice vermiculture (worm farming) to decompose waste and turn it into a rich soil.
Friday, May 15th, is the remembrance day for St. Isadore, patron of farmers. I suggest we not only remember farmers, but also re-member them! We food consumers can more consciously re-connect and honor the interconnections between and among those who labor in the fields, the soil, the water, and the climate that are so essentially interconnected, and the food we too-often buy packaged and sanitized, stripped of its origins. Let’s also connect with future generations of all life — human and all our biotic relations — who will be affected by our decisions about how farming is done.
Let’s celebrate on May 15th by gratefully eating meals of local and organic food — but let’s also use our political power to ask legislators to protect our family farms and warn us when food is genetically modified.
It is definitely not “an ordinary thing” to eat the blessed Earth! How might you participate in remembering?