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.
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.
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.