From The Farmer's Almanac e-newsletter, January 12, 2010: "In this winter season, we contemplate the words of this Almanac's founder, Robert B. Thomas . . .
“The cultivation of the earth ought ever to be esteemed as the most useful and necessary employment in life. The food and raiment by which all other orders of men are supported are derived from the earth. Agriculture is of consequence: the art which supports, supplies, and maintains all the rest.”
–Robert B. Thomas, 1796"
Yes, yes, indeed. Without food, humans can do nothing else. So why has such an important necessity gone from a simple need met by a flexible complex of social interactions and skillful practices, to a commercial process devoid of community and shared knowledge? Maybe part of the answer lies in the individualization of "home", however one might define it, individualized in the manner of ever more distinct residents; and homes disconnected from others in the surrounding area even though they may occur in cul-de-sac housing tracts. From front porch communities to backyard deck oases, most of us wouldn't know anymore how to cooperate on providing our common basic needs.
Imagine a home economics course with a lesson about the acquisition of food. Do you first think of a farmer harvesting the tomatoes you need? Or do you think of the piles of romas stacked in a grocery store display? Maybe you think of your backyard - tomatoes are one of the most popular food plants to grow at home (Top Ten Vegetables)! It's likely today, with the growth in desiring food from local producers/farmers that you think of a farmer's market. In any case, no matter how you buy your tomatoes, you will find a variable set of interpersonal relationships between people and tomatoes, as well as intrapersonal relationships with the skills to find or grow your own.
Maybe you can't grow a darn thing, and you imagine the grocery store tomatoes. That's okay. But can you imagine having a personal relationship with the people who put the tomatoes in your grocery store? Who harvested them? Were they paid fairly or was it done under a very common and current form of indebted slavery as happens all across - yes - the United States? When the tomato seeds were planted, did the farmer (or more often now known in corporate agribusiness today as "growers") think about how happy I would be with such a special food that he or she or they raised and cared for it like it was VITAL? Right now your thinking, ugh, why is my desire for a simple red tomato becoming so complex?
I like to ponder the question of whether or not people are vital. I also like to think that our social practices should reflect the vitalness of food. Simple. Simple food; simple sociality; made complex if only by our participation in the relationships of food and social practices. The earth can be cultivated in many an agricultural manner, but without cultivating the social part too, the most likely consequence is unstoppable toxic runoff.