What I like about MOTHER EARTH NEWS FAIRS is that they encourage an active, participatory human presence in nature. Too many environmentalists think that human activity or presence is incompatible with environmentalism.
As a result, we say we’re going away to “commune with nature” or we think we have to go somewhere like a state park to be an environmentalist. Agricultural conservation easements routinely deny housing and commerce that make farms viable economic enterprises. A dairy is fine as long as the milk doesn’t get bottled on the farm – bottling milk is manufacturing and that would be inappropriate on a farm.
This kind of parsing environmental activities begs the question: “Where is nature?” I would suggest that nature is in us, around us. It cannot be segregated from our beings. That means every moment we are either nourishing the earth or hurting the earth.
The notion that going on an African photo safari is somehow more environmentally embracing than purchasing raw milk through a herd share indicates ecological apartheid. I remember well speaking to a statewide Nature Conservancy banquet several years ago and applauding them for their map designating special places that needed to be preserved. But those special places were tiny islands in a sea of privately owned land.
I challenged the members to realize that ultimately those islands can’t be preserved without healthy surroundings. Buying local food, visiting local farms, knowing farmers – building a relational, participatory understanding with that land and its food is ultimately more important than isolating a couple of special places, as if their future could be segregated from the surrounding womb.
Our culture, as an extension of the Greco-Roman linear reductionist compartmentalized fragmented systematized individualized parts-oriented mindset is beset by this cardinal sin of disconnection. Even the environmentalist movement suffers this malady. Farmland preservationists abhor more people on farms. That would mean development and commerce in an otherwise pristine landscape.
But loving the land, knowing how to massage it, takes more farmers, not fewer. It takes more imbedded butchers, bakers, and candlestick makers, not fewer. It takes human participation, visceral interaction, with our nest. If we are to build our nest, we must move some things around. Build some intern housing. Put in a pond. Offer day camps to increase food/farm awareness in our young people. Offer on-farm educational seminars, cooking schools, butchering centers, canneries, spinning, and fabric weaving – the host of food and fiber value added enterprises that defined domestic farmstead economies.
Those integrated, imbedded commercial activities were appropriately scaled prior to cheap fuel and mass mechanization. Their scale was held in check by the sheer logistical encumbrance of draft power transportation. Many of us realize that a return to this rural commercial scale, known often as localization, is the key to re-connecting with our ecological umbilical. It’s the key to placing more land lovers on the land. It’s the key to rural economic viability, and ultimately the key to balancing the wealth of rural and urban sectors.
MOTHER EARTH NEWS FAIRS take an extremely pro-active environmental stance. The seminars and workshops offered do not preach extricating humans from the earth as a way to preserve it. Instead, the idea is to place windmills all over rural America, solar panels on your barn roof. Countless artisans demonstrate value added skills like spinning, food preserving, and building with earth friendly materials. A new building on a farm nestled appropriately with a minimum of industrial materials is completely different than the energy-intensive stick-built homes in the average development.
That historical preservationists look askance at passive solariums on the south side of old homes is deplorable. These prudish committees should be ashamed. Our mandate must be to use what we know and this fortunate petroleum blip to invest in an earth-friendly existence. That will necessarily mean injecting ourselves into nature. It means we will need to be as passionate about planting a garden and building a solarium as we are about keeping up with the latest belly button piercing in Hollywood celebrity culture. Or with the latest ecological travesty half way around the world.
Where we are as a culture is the culmination, the sum total, of billions of decisions we’ve made. We will get out of our morass the same way. That will take each of us plunging deeply into this nest, our ecological womb, and participating actively, viscerally, and passionately. We are nature. Nature is us. We humans don’t and can’t live in some existential segregated sphere apart from nature. Either we’re part of the solution or we’re part of the problem. A MOTHER EARTH NEWS FAIR is a great way to be part of the solution.
Joel Salatin will present keynotes at both 2012 MOTHER EARTH NEWS FAIRS.