“When we mistake what we can know for all there is to know, a healthy appreciation of one’s ignorance in the face of a mystery like soil fertility gives way to the hubris that we can treat nature as a machine.” ~ Sir Albert Howard
Greetings! My name is Brenna and I am a 2012 intern with the UT Market Garden. I am also 18 weeks pregnant, which is totally irrelevant to this blog, unless this blog becomes emotional, and then it’s a little bit relevant.
My interest in agriculture was hosted by the normal array of issues that plague modern crop production. Things like food and health, animal welfare and community development all fostered within me a want to make the current system better. But this new intrigue, as true and provocative as it maybe, was in itself unsustaining because it seemed to work only in the form of ideals, rather then the practicality of application. How was I to apply my soap box of locality and stewardship when I knew nothing of soil health and fertility, let alone crop management. And so I find myself back in school, learning about such things.
Here’s the thing, I’m awful at science.
I always wonder how we can know what we know especially since what we’ve always known has been disproved by so much of what we know now. So science has gotten better, yes probably, but I struggle with it’s imperfections, and perhaps it’s absolution. I’m a huge Wendell Berry fan, I probably quote drop him at least once a day, unashamedly. Because of his criticisms of research institutions, namely large universities, my desire to come back to school was always tainted with his words. One quote especially, which I don’t have off hand, went something to the affect of “…and one day our farmers will work primarily from laboratories rather then fields.” And as I attend my classes, most being in labs without windows, or even plants for that matter, I wonder how much we’re actually accomplishing for the small farmer, or the tired land, or the communities that are slowly diminishing because the demise of the former.
There is a need for science, absolutely. But there is a need for awe, I do believe. To change our current culture in regards to ecological justice and land stewardship there’s going to have to be something that actually brings people outside. Things like classes and statistics and documentaries will make an impact, no doubt, but people forget those things over time. What people don’t forget are life experiences. One time, while in another country, I was sent on a mission to capture and kill a chicken so that a local woman could cook dinner for myself and her family. I will say, that after the chase and the tremendously clumsy kill, that that was the most reverent chicken and rice dish I’ve ever partaken in. We are able to live in a society that has the “luxury” of detachment. Most of us do not know the joys of an abundant season or the devastation of a famine or drought, the majority of us will never know true hunger nor have to really do anything other then go to the store to buy our food. As of now there are enough studies and articles out there about organics and healthy living that we as a people are able to make informed and educated decisions about what and what not to buy.
What lacks in a society that can know so much and yet have experienced so little is the profoundness and quiet mystery of the life beneath our feet. We buy into the idea of our entitled ownership of it all rather than merely another beneficiary of it’s fruits.
However I will say, after this rant, that science is helping me with this reverence. The complexities of soil fertility and the naturally occurring cycles of life and death and life out of death or truly fascinating. I’m thankful for my professors who are patient with students like me, and who give me hope that science and awe really can be integrated into something useful. I’m also grateful for this internship that provides first hand experience at growing food in better ways and application of all that we’re leaning. I’m excited to work alongside friends this season and to continue various conversations that have brought us all uniquely to this one garden.
Cheers to all,