Friday, February 26, 2010

Wendell and Ken

I am a farmer, and I fear that my words will sound rustic and plain when I try to speak about our world situation. It is complex, experts say, and dangerous too, no fit subject for a tiller of the soil. And yet I have watched things grow, bear fruit and die under many circumstances and have come to believe
that the health of my little garden and the health of this
world bear a relationship stronger than analogical. -Ken King, found writing

Wendell Berry and Ken King never met; it's uncertain if Ken even read any of Berry's writing. Yet both men, deep thinkers and lifelong "tillers of the soil," drew a resonant guidance from living and working in tune with nature's cycles. Berry published many thoughtful volumes of poetry and essays; Ken has left us provocative snippets. Each man, in his own way, expresses a wisdom inextricably tied to the "simple" act of working the land, and succeeding when working with nature.

Berry's concern, in his essay, Life is a Miracle, is with the "modern superstition": an infallible belief in a scientific, and therefore mechanistic, ability to describe and understand the world. Ken King would have agreed, that " treat life as mechanical or predictable or understandable is to reduce it. Now, almost suddenly, it is becoming clear that to reduce life to the scope of our understanding (whatever 'model' we use) is inevitably to enslave it, make property of it, and put it up for sale." *

Berry goes on:

By almost any standard, it seems to me, the reclassification of the world from creature to machine must involve at least a perilous reduction of moral
complexity. So must the shift in our attitude toward the creation from reverence to understanding. So must the shift in our perceived relationship to nature from that of steward to that of absolute owner, manager, and engineer. So must even our permutation of 'holy' to 'holistic.' *

And finally:

In suffering [life] and rejoicing in it as it is, we know that we do not and
cannot understand it completely. We know, moreover, that we do not wish to have it appropriated by somebody's claim to have understood it. Though we have life, it is beyond us. We do not know how we have it, or why. We do not know what is going to happen to it, or us. It is not predictable; though we can destroy it, we cannot make it. It cannot, except by reduction and grave risk of damage, be controlled. It is, as Blake said, holy. To think otherwise is to enslave life, and to make, not humanity, but a few humans its predictable inept masters.

We need a new Emancipation Proclamation, not for a specific race or species, but for life itself... *

Okay, Mr. Berry, you have it! Ken King was similarly concerned by the manipulation of natural forces, ostensibly in the name of scientific research, that threatened to pauper the natural world for the profit of a few. Ken didn't use a quill (or a computer), and although not modeled on the Emancipation Proclamation, Mr. Berry would no doubt be a signer to the:

Declaration of Interdependence

When in the course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to transcend political boundaries and assume among the powers of Earth the true status of co-creators, conscious enlightened aspects of Gaia, a decent respect for the Dharma of human experience requires that they describe the basis for this new awareness.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all beings are equally creative, that they endow and are endowed with certain inalienable rights and responsibilities, that among these are Life, Freedom and Love for all creation; that to express these sublime traits they bond together as self-governing entities with compassion, wisdom and joy, that any other bonds or institutions which are not conducive to these ends may, and should be, firmly renounced.

Prudence indeed will dictate that laws and governments are not always wrong and evil, but when a long train of corrption, insensitivity and greed, all pointing to one end, evinces a design to reduce human life to mere mechanical response at best, to threaten all life with extinction at worst, it is the right, it is the duty, to throw off such a government.

Such has been the patient suffering of humans, of Gaia herself. We therefore, Representatives of the Living Universe, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the World for the rectitude of our intentions, and by the authority of our love for one another and for all conscious life, solemnly declare and publish and celebrate that we are free though interdependent beings, that we are absolved from any allegiance to obsolete cultural, racial or ethnic bias, and that all such prejudices are dissolved; that as enlightened, free and interdependent beings we have the responsibility and full power to express our mutual love and gratitude and to do all other things that true participants in Creation should do.

And for the support of this Declaration and with the firm reliance on the strength of Truth we mutually pledge to each other and to all Creation our bodies, our minds and our inherent divinity. **

No, Wendell and Ken never met. But as they dug their hands into the soil, and looked up at the sky, felt the breeze and listened to the birds singing - they were connected. And if they had met, the conversation may have moved to socio-political concerns, but more likely they would have traded garden stories, shared favorite tomato varieties, and walked the land together.

*from Life is a Miracle, an essay against modern superstition, by Wendell Berry, 2000

**Declaration of Interdependence, by Ken King, first published in The New Gaia, 1996

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Looking back, looking forward

Ken King, founder of Frog Holler Farm, passed away last year. A deeply thoughtful man, Ken left essays, fragments, poems behind - most unpublished - and many inspirational. Here is the introduction to what was apparently the start of a book. As Cathy and Ken & Cathy's sons - Billy, Kenny and Edwin - contemplate this new season without Ken's physical presence, these words provide a reminder of the basic ideals that always informed Ken's vision and actions; they also provide guidance for the choices that lie ahead.

Untitled, by Ken King

It is the last day of 2003. The seed catalogs have arrived, and tomorrow morning I will begin to look them over. As the process begins of contemplating the upcoming gardening year, the basic question always arises: Apart from the relative successes and failures of past years - good crops, poor crops, good or bad soil management, right or wrong seed selections, smart or not-so-smart marketing of plants and produce - apart from the purely technical assessment of the Frog Holler operation, how are we really doing?

This question is more often than not brought up by one or another of my boys, who are quite naturally looking at our lives and work at Frog Holler in terms of a sustainability that goes beyond the common notion. Is this work - are these rhythms and routines - is this state of mind - is the life of an organic market gardener as we have created and experienced it, something that we want to continue and to pass on to other generations? If so, how can we do this; if not, how must we change and adapt?

We were talking about the upcoming season and the matter of extra help. Apart from some of the neighbors who comprise a loosely knit but dependable and efficient part-time crew, should we advertise for extra help?

Oldest son Billy's take was this: What is it exactly that we might need more of, that we would be looking for with more help? What defines the size and shape of our operation? Money? Responsibility to customers? Personal challenge? Or is it, as Billy often tries to express, mostly a sense of balance and even ease that can so easily elude someone in the typically most demanding and least rewarding occupation of market gardening.

I could put it another way: On one hand, we have the ideal of living close to the land, growing organic food with love and care for the earth and the people; and on the other hand we have the demands and stresses and imbalances of modern-day life. Without the ideal we are lost spiritually; without concern for material realities, we could well be lost financially. These two considerations have to spell compromise.

The purpose of this book is to lead you through a typical organic market gardening season at Frog Holler Farm - but in doing so, not to mislead you into thinking that all the answers and solutions have been found. From the very beginning there have been dilemmas to face and compromises to make. Success is sustainability and this sustainability must be in terms of the physical environment, the demands of modern life, and also emotional balance. If the fertility of the soil runs out or is dependent upon non-renewable resources, then the farming cannot be considered sustainable. If the money runs out, the situation is obvious; and if the "good life" does not in fact feel good, it will in one way or another be unsustainable too.

Holler Fest 2016
August 26-28