The Ressourcement of Catholic Agrarianism

Not a picture of our future farm, but quite bucolic!

Longtime readers of this blog will remember my interest in various agricultural practices: gardening, beekeeping, chickens, goats, grape vines, etc. All of these interests have stemmed from a deeper desire to want to live a life that, at least in part, is closely intertwined with the land.

Direction

While I’m not (yet) ready to write a manifesto, I’ve been reading lots of books lately on agrarianism and specifically, Catholic agrarianism. And these books have been providing philosophical fuel for the deep desires that have been in my heart for some time.

All that is a fancy way of saying that I want to own some land and raise plants and animals on it.

I’m not quitting my day job though. Truth is I have everything to learn about growing crops, animal husbandry, and horse-sense, knowing only the little I have taught myself in the past five years. So I’m not betting the barn, so to say, on farming. But I would like nothing better than to raise much of our own food, live frugally and wholely, be able to foster and cultivate the land we have, improving it and the environment at the same time.

Ressourcement

Along the way, I’ll eventually ditch my smart phone and “data plan,” buy less fast food, and find ways to live that are more economical (say, heating our home with a wood stove). We even plan to farm without tractors, instead using draft animals (ox, horses, and so on).

But an objection could arise: are we trying to turn back the clock? Trying to live in the past? Become Luddites? Fossils? Have we fallen for the trap of seeing past ages through rose-colored glasses, passing over the hardships and difficulties of those times?

And the short answer to those questions is, no. The longer answer is ressourcement. Ressourcement is the wonderful word, coined by Charles Peguy, that means “a return to the sources.” It was specifically used leading up to the Second Vatican Council to provide a deeper understanding of the Church’s sacred Tradition.

Ressourcement in the context of Tradition means: “return to the origins, or more often an advance to the present day, starting from the origins.” (see Yves Congar’s The Meaning of Tradition for a whole book on this subject).

The new Catholic agrarian movement is a ressourcement to the rich heritage of two millennia of Christian agricultural life: think villages with monasteries and churches at their center, skilled trades (often within families), farming and the raising of animals, true community.

We want to go ad fontes, to use the term of the Protestant Reformers, back to the sources, but not just to study them in first century isolation, but to follow them forward along the stream of human agrarian tradition to the present. So I’ll be keeping my Kindle and computer, but learning how to more wisely adopt technology to keep my work and life at a human pace and level.

I see this as part and parcel of a whole Catholic life. Viewed as a castle, apologetics is standing up on the walls, defending it from the ramparts and crenellations. But you can’t live your life always on the defensive, or even always fighting. You have to go into the castle (or out to your fields) and tend the sheep and crops, along with your family, and go and worship at the monastery with the monks, living your life in a full and beautiful way. The most powerful evangelism in my opinion.

So, all this to say, don’t be surprised if you see more posts in the coming months and years about this subject. I hope it becomes our life. And if it is something good, which I have a hunch is so, I will hope that you will consider these ideas for your own family.

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16 Responses to The Ressourcement of Catholic Agrarianism

  1. Amy says:

    Do you own the book “Back to Basics”? I forgot to show it to you while you were here. I think you would enjoy it immensely. Many back-to-the-earth type subjects, many of which you can learn and practice even while living in suburbia. It also touches lightly on things such as building efficient homes and using animals to farm your land.

    And wherever we decide to stake our claim, remember, I don’t like the cold! ;-)

    • Devin Rose says:

      Amy,

      Yes we actually were just reading that book yesterday! We bought a few years back during one of our agrarian kicks. I’ve been examining the sections on wood stoves and masonry fireplaces.

      We’ll let you know where we are heading and at this time it is not that cold a place. :)

  2. This post expresses our own desires perfectly! I hope you don’t mind but I linked to it on my own blog post this morning. “Ressourcement” is the perfect term to describe this movement…by the way, you mention books on Catholic agrarianism, would you mind sharing a few titles? Up to this point its a topic that we are intuitively drawn to, but would love to learn more.
    God Bless You,
    Nicole

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  4. Devin Rose says:

    Awesome! Hopefully we can stay in touch about these things and learn from each other.

    Here are books we have, from Catholic specific to general small farming:

    Flee to the Fields

    A series of essays by the founders of the Catholic Land Movement in England in the early 1900s.

    The Servile State

    By Hilaire Belloc–bought this one for Kindle, only $0.99. You could also read on computer via free Kindle app for PC or Mac.

    Apostolic Farming

    By Catherine de Hueck Doherty, whom I know you already know about. Short little book but like all her writings beautiful.

    General farming, cottage/family farming:

    You Can Farm

    By Joel Salatin, the leader of the small family farm movement. Great practical book that covers all aspects of deciding to farm. He’s an Evangelical Christian.

    The Contrary Farmer

    By Gene Logsdon, a once Catholic now atheist(?) who nonetheless has great ideas about making a go of it with a cottage farm and a supplemental side income.

    The Unsettling of America

    By Wendell Berry, a series of essays on agriculture and the problem with America’s industrial agribusiness transformation.

    That should get you started in the right direction. There are a ton more covering each of the topics from Catholic to secular agrarianism but these provide a representative swath.

    God bless!
    Devin

  5. Katie Rose says:

    Well said, husband! I am certainly in agreement with you that we don’t want to eschew certain modern technologies just for the sake of living in the past. I wouldn’t want to live in the year 1000 (by the way, that is another great book to recommend to our readers–“The Year 1000″) with an open latrine pit at our back door, body lice, and death in childbirth; I would already be dead twice if not for well-trained OBs.

    With that said, however, you do a great job, dear one, articulating our desire to reclaim the good that has been lost. Something wonderful and vital and very powerful happened in Christendom during the centuries before 1500AD. (Okay, good things happened after 1500, but the fracturing began in that century, with the Protestant Schism and Industrial Revolution). A marvelous synergy erupted from the tenets of Christian revelation, lived most fully in the Catholic Church, and the energy of the strong young peoples of Western Europe, a dynamism that imprinted its character upon most of the world, from courts of law to surgical medicine to the concept of individual human dignity.

    And, as you say so well, that is just what we want to recapture. We want to live a life that gives us room for work, true work that is dignified and beautiful. We want to become saints through cooperating with Divine Providence in rendering all things unto Christ, from the way we sow our wheat to the way we bake our bread and the way we dress our vines, whose grapes we will press into wine that can become the very Blood of our Lord. We hope to live on earth packed full of heaven. Oh, I have so very much to say about this, as do you, but we trust that Our Lord will show us how it ought to unfold as we take each step.

    For now, it is nap time, and the house is quiet, so I am off to reading about all things wifely/household economic/farming and working on my handicraft of embroidering a sweet baby item.

  6. Wendi says:

    We moved “back to the land” about eight years ago. While I love my flush toilets, my washing machine, and my internet, we heat with wood and raise most of our own food.

    The best advice I can give you is to tackle one new skill at a time and gain as much hands on experience as you can BEFORE moving.

    The follies during our first year would make an entertaining book, and the Green Acres theme song was heard often.

    Having said all that…I wouldn’t trade my lifestyle for anything.

  7. Great stuff, Devin! It’s funny, I was just thinking yesterday (although I wasn’t able to tease a blog post out of it) that much of what’s wrong today results from our disconnect from our agrarian, small-town past, especially in public education, but continuing through to the degradation of the extended family and loss of sense of the community as something integral and necessary to human life. If you’ve read The Servile State, then you’ve probably already read other distributist stuff, especially by Chesterton. I’m beginning to think that if we don’t consciously and deliberately start moving towards such a ressourcement and a distributist economy, then events in the next twenty-five to fifty years will eventually force our hands.

  8. Augustine says:

    Dear Devin and Katie,

    I admire your yearning for a more wholesome family life. I think that you are well set to achieve this glorious goal which will surely be a sample of heavenly life amidst your family. I myself can’t but envy your opportunity at this moment of your lives, for I share many of the same yearnings, though with much less resolve and thus success.

    However, in my own pondering, I feel that it’s not so much a matter of restoring the appearances of a time when the faith truly informed family and community life. I’d argue that if the faith were to inform family and community life nowadays, life would still include tractors and smart phones.

    For instance, there’s a benedictine monastery in the Argentine pampas, a rather remote and vast area, which has found the Internet its mains of living, by providing translation and book editing services internationally, making the most of their skills in the modern world in a way that doesn’t hinder their way of life. Wouldn’t you say that this is a modern day version of monks copying manuscripts in the Middle Ages?

    I believe that if such a return to the sources is to succeed, it has to succeed in today’s world. Just like the Argentine monks would fail to provide for themselves, and thus fail to live out their calling, if they would try to copy manuscripts for a living, I’m afraid that using draft animals and smoke signals would not be able to provide either.

    I wrote briefly before that I realized that one thing that was lost soon after the Industrial Revolution was the family working together, especially children with their parents, but also the extended family. To restore this was perhaps quite difficult before the Internet, but now it’s rather feasible, at least to some extent. You yourself, Devin, work remotely via the Internet from your own home, when your children can enjoy their father’s presence in the home and witness your work ethic first-hand.

    But that’s just me, a middle-aged dude with perhaps too much baggage and inertia to change course so dramatically. I think that you guys are truly blessed in your current situation and are on the verge of showing us a new way of family life that is a continuity of that life when the faith informed social structures.

    PS: I just got a smart phone without a data plan, since I’m seldom away from a WiFi spot; actually it’s a $100 phone in a $100/year pre-paid plan (http://bit.ly/A4I1c1).

    • Devin Rose says:

      Augustine,

      Good stuff to ponder. Definitely it takes wisdom and understanding (gifts I’m working to grow in) to know how to balance and properly use technology. So I’ll likely have more to say on this as time passes.

      While my children can see me working, the work is disembodied: I’m sitting in front of the computer manipulating abstract (and to them incomprehensible) symbols. Also, this work is done in my “office” with the door shut, and not, say, outside with them where they could help in their little way and we could work together. So it’s not the ideal in my mind, but certainly there are good things about it, as you mention.

      The cell phone idea is cool. Will definitely check into that. I pay more than $100 per month for me and my wife’s plan.

      God bless,
      Devin

      • Augustine says:

        Devin, Kate,

        Try to catch this week’s “Faith & Culture”, where Mrs. Campbell interviews Allan Carlson of http://profam.org, when in the second half he talks about the possibility of reverting the splitting of the work place and of the home caused bu the Industrial Revolution nowadays.

        God bless.

  9. That is the wondeful thing about a life in Christ. We are free to take up any kind of life that we want to live. We are “free indeed”.

    I hope you find exactly what you are looking for.

  10. Nick says:

    Hi Devin,

    Though you touched upon this briefly, what you are espousing is not your ‘opinion’, but an actual living out of Catholic Social Teaching. Ideally, man is not to be totally dependent on ‘wages'; the State is actually supposed to see to it that he is enabled to have some level of self-sufficiency, which is ideally done in owning and cultivating land. The Church teaches that wages, as paid in the modern sense, are a form of slavery and contrary to Natural Law (i.e. Distributive Justice).

    This has nothing to do with nostalgia or ‘turning back the clock’, it’s Natural Law and the Gospel as enunciated in the Social Encyclicals of the Popes of the last 150 years.

  11. Brendan says:

    Hi Devin,

    I look forward to hearing more about this topic from you. In the meantime, have you read anything by Ellen Davis? Here is an interview she did with Krista Tippett and Wendell Berry…

    http://being.publicradio.org/programs/2010/land-life-poetry/

    Brendan