This blog post is dark. I won’t sugar-coat it. But the point of exploring dark stories isn’t to instill us with fear, but to paint a picture of the enemy within our culture so that we can empower the counter-forces that are at our command.
As the story in Genesis goes, Eve bore two children: Cain, the farmer and Abel. the shepherd.
The shepherd lives close to nature: Abel cannot exist in a world where land is possessed. He moves as a herd over the land; depending on the generosity of nature. He is a nomad. He must of his own fortitude protect his herd from predators and poachers. He must ensure the vitality of the pastures he freely roams. His herd leaves fertility in its wake. He is a welcome guest in the wilderness and he knows better than to overstay his welcome.
The farmer settles, possesses his land and builds fences to keep the deer, the lion, and the thief at bay. When Cain tills the soil each spring, his blade disrupts it’s natural ecology. His crops are heavy feeders. So he must import fertility, bat guano scraped from caves. Covet thy nitrogen.
God asked for gifts. he preferred Abel’s gift to Cain’s, and Cain murdered his brother. God Cursed the Farmer. God said (paraphrasing) “you who till the soil, plant the seed, reap the grain, you who feeds his flock not on wild pastures but in barns with hay and grains from the field- your Way is doomed.”
Enter the first of two Lamechs.
Cain bore children and his children bore children and his great great great great grandson was named Lamech. Rabbinic interpretation of the original text describes a day when Lamech was out hunting with his son, Tubal-Cain. Tubal-Cain was a metalurgist, a weapon-maker and he who quote “spices the craft of Cain.” Lamech aims his arrow at a bush and kills not a beast but a man: Cain. Lamech, reailizing he’s killed his progenitor turns and murders his son.
The Craft of Cain, the farmer, was quite literally to Reap. To Till the land and Reap the grain. The reaper’s scythe is a tool that evolves, over generations, into a weapon of violence. Could it be that this weaponization of an agricultural tool is in fact the “spicing” of the craft of Cain credited to Tubal Cain? Tubal-Cain forged the Weapon out of the Tool, the Sword from the Scythe. And he ultimately died by it, by his father’s own hand.
If one follows the wound that Tubal-Cain’s armory carved through history, we arrive at a toolshed whose contents are unleashing great Violence on our planet today. These tools are the machines: the combines, enormous tillers, spreaders of poisons to kill and other poisons to “fertilize;” the splicing of genes to adapt crops to these poisons. In most of our farmed soil, annihilation of the soil food web, a loss of soil to exposure and erosion. Rains wash fertilizer into streamstransmuted into poison (insert link to Dead Zones). On a planetary level this has meant loss of groundwater, soil, biodiversity, loss of forest and prairie ecosystems, weather and climate disruption (e.g. the desertification of the Fertile Crescent) ocean dead zones, contamination of land, air, fresh and salt water. A very precarious place for 7 billion large warm-blooded mammals to survive. The weaponization of farming against our planet now approaches a new level of annihilation.
I hope this paints a picture of the enemy within- at least one version of that enemy. The enemy, though it may read like it, isn’t farming. I’m a farmer! Farms feed us, and good farmers can work with nature to create regenerative systems of unimaginable value. Likewise, the solution isn’t all of us becoming shepherds. While animals provide essential services in regenerative agriculture, the vast majority of food we eat needs to come from plants (and fungi!!).
We cannot make the necessary transition from annual monocultures to the many flavors of perennial polycultures by demonizing the system that is, at least for now, feeding us. Even if we could wave a magic wand and buy up the megafarms and plant food forests, we would starve before the fruits drop.
The way we turn this story around is by following a slow, methodical path, rooted in deep respect for Mother Nature and a desire to create beauty and opportunity through generous work. We need more farmers- millions of farmers. There’s no way around it, we needs hands in the soil. Human hands, working together. When necessary, we’ll wield a scythe. Otherwise
Thank you for reading. This was a tough one. I can’t wait to share more stories with you- stories about ecology, and the real Opportunities that lie before us.
We’d love to hear from you- comments are open!