Tag Archives: farming

Kirk on Scott (not Star Trek)

Sir Walter Scott.

The public library has always been a boon to the impecunious reader. The utility that permits me to download e-books from my library is a particular blessing (not least in these days when Pestilence stalks the land). My library’s system is a little cumbersome, but less cumbersome than driving to the physical building, so I’ve got no gripe coming.

My main problem with my library’s e-book collection is selection. Mostly I read mysteries for light reading, and when I pull up “mystery” on the library site I always get the very same list of books. I don’t know if they’re arranged by popularity or date of acquisition, or some other criterion. But I have to page through screens and screens of listings before I find one that a) interests me, and b) isn’t being read by somebody else.

Last week I tried a new approach. Instead of looking for mysteries, I thought, why don’t I try one of those “important” books I’ve always heard I should read, but have never gotten around to? I’ll bet nobody’s waiting in line for those.

So, on a whim, I searched for Russell Kirk. Several books were available, and I selected The Conservative Mind.

Brilliant. Masterfully written. Illuminating.

And long. Dear, sweet jasmine tea, it’s a long book. I started it last week, and I’m not half way through yet. I complained a while back about the length of Walter Scott’s The Pirate, but that was an Amazon review compared to this.

The nice part is that my book-buying expenses have plummeted for the duration.

So… of what shall I blog until I finish this thing?

I think I shall discuss the reading as I go.

The first thing that struck me as potential blogging material was Mr. Kirk’s assessment of Sir Walter Scott, mentioned above.

In the Waverly novels, Scott makes the conservatism of Burke a living and a tender thing—in Edie Ochiltree, showing how the benefits and dignity of hierarchical society extend even to the beggar; in Balfour of Burley, illustrating the destructive spirit of reforming fanaticism; in Montrose among the clans, “the unbought grace of life”; in Monkbarns or the Baron of Bradwardine, the hamely goodness of the old-fashioned laird…. Delighting in variety like all the Romantics, repelled by the coarsening pleasure-and-pain principle of conduct, Scott clearly saw in Utilitarianism a system which would efface nationality, individuality, and all the beauty of the past. Utilitarianism was the surly apology for a hideous and rapacious industrialism.

(More after jump)

The Struggling Farmer

“This story is important to me because people in America aren’t aware that black farmers are still around,” Mr. Santiago said. “People don’t know what their struggles are and that they are still being discriminated against. For the most part, whether they are black or white, the farmers get pushed down and end up having to sell their properties because they can’t get loans. Small farms are denied because they don’t usually have any collateral to get a loan. Through my research I’ve learned if you’re looking for stolen black land, all you have to do is follow the lynching trail. That’s how it started to happen. Black farmers were killed for their land.”

I am not blind…

…to the irony of the fact that I’ve auditioned for a reality TV show almost exactly a year after posting this piece ridiculing the whole phenomenon. I’m not sure my lapse rises to the level of hypocrisy, but it’s uncomfortable. Still, doing a reality show isn’t actually an immoral act, and one expects an author to play the buffoon a bit, if it will sell some books. At least in our time.

I was all ready to write a scathing post about kids working on farms, when word came out that the Labor Department has quickly withdrawn its proposal to outlaw agricultural chores for children under 16.

But I am not one to be deterred by mere real world events.

I’m not going to rhapsodize about my childhood among the chickens and cows. If you’ve followed this blog, you’ve guessed that it wasn’t Little House on the Prairie for me. If I grew up to be a slacker and a layabout, it’s partly because my farm childhood was an unusual and dysfunctional one.

But I see the value of a proper farm childhood every day. The Bible school I work for is perhaps one of the purest pools of rural youth in our metropolitan area. Most of our students come from our historical center of gravity, northwestern Minnesota and eastern North Dakota, with a lot of farm kids from other places as well. We’re not immune to demographics, of course. We have lots of city kids. But if you’re looking for a kid who grew up getting up at 5:00 a.m. to milk the cows, our school is a good place to look.

And people do. Our students generally have little trouble finding part-time jobs to pay their way through school. The word is out in the western suburbs—AFLBS students are better workers than kids from, say, the University of Minnesota.

This is one thing that worries me about the future. Agriculture is changing, and in many ways the changes are good. Food is cheaper, which helps the poor, for one thing. But efficiency means bigger farms, which means fewer farm families.

Throughout the history of the republic, we’ve had an inexhaustible supply of farm kids who were sick to death of Ma and Pa and the cows and the pigs, and dreamed of a better life in the city. They’ve carried their farm-bred work ethic into the cities and helped to make American industry the envy of the world. When they went to war, they were objects of marvel to Europeans and South Sea Islanders. When they went into politics, they tended to be moderately honest, at least at first.

We’re losing that supply of farm kids. All the kids are city kids nowadays, even if they grew up in small towns.

It troubles me.

But then everything troubles me.