Measuring Up to Mother Nature

This article was written by Ken King, Frog Holler's founder. Although Ken passed away in 2009, his vision continues to inform and guide.

Measuring Up to Mother Nature, by Ken King
(First written in 1980, republished for the People's Food Coop "Connection," January 1990)

(PFC Connection Editor’s Note: The following essay originally appeared in the January 1980 issue of The Alchemist, a now-defunct local Ann Arbor publication whose content and design could be described as falling somewhere between The Observer and The Agenda, two current area publications. Ken King is a local organic grower who has had a long working
relationship with PFC. He and his family have artistic interests as well – some of you may remember them performing at the last PFC meeting along with other musicians.

Although first published ten years ago this month, the following could easily seem to have been written within the last few weeks. Ken’s statements are as appropriate at the beginning of this decade as they were at the start of the last. There is some similarity in focus and tone to “Chief Seattle’s Reply”, the 1854 essay reprinted in the November Connection; one noteworthy difference is that Ken sees in us a modest but growing social and ecological awareness which Chief Seattle could not find among the European settlers of his day.)

It is the end of another year and of another decade, a traditional time to reflect on activities of
the past and to renew our dreams for the future; and to contemplate that ever-present human
obligation to carry the spark of creation through time. Nowhere is this more vital than in the field
of agriculture. Food is humankind’s material link with the earth and farming is its basic education
and first occupation.

Nature has been our teacher. She has not squandered Her inheritance but has maintained and
increased her wealth with every year. Satisfied with every moment and yet always active,
constantly renewing Herself and protecting and cherishing Her offspring, She is the model for
responsible human behavior. Throughout history, people’s ability to incorporate Nature’s ways
into their own endeavors has been the mark of the strength and endurance of their cultures. We
might take stock of ourselves in part this new year by seeing how we are measuring up to the
ideals set by our first teacher.

Nature displays balance and moderation. Things are not created to excess or consumed to
depletion, but tend to mix freely and evenly through time and space. There are relatively high
concentrations here and low ones there, but the pervading theme is that of diversification.
Over the past decades we have experienced a trend towards bigness and specialization both in
agriculture and in urban institutions. There has been an increasing isolation between producers
and consumers. Small diversified farms and businesses have fallen as victims to the fanatic
emphasis on yearly production of commodities, even at the expense of balance and stability.
Huge monocultures are inducing gross local deficiencies of soil nutrients, massive infestations
of harmful insects and disease, and unnatural local accumulations of toxic wastes. We cannot
always leave everything in its completely natural state, but we must learn that the thoughtless
manipulating of Nature’s economy is sowing the seeds of disaster for present and future

We might also observe that Nature’s activities are cyclical and self-contained. There is neither an
outside source of raw materials for production nor a reservoir of permanently discarded wastes,
but there is a constant renewing from within. Again, both on farms and in cities, the trend has
been toward production at the expense of that wholeness and integrity that is a prerequisite for a
healthy, sustained activity. Our undertakings are producing a torrent in which our limited supplies
of natural resources are being carried through our farms, factories and homes into our lakes and
streams with no hope for useful recovery. Gas and oil, chemically produced sprays and fertilizers,
textiles and even synthetic foods are being consumed at an enormous rate. We have gotten the
idea that we can somehow stand outside of Nature and turn the crank of production and we are

only beginning to learn that Nature is subtly turning the crank on us – large quantities of toxic
materials are showing up in our food and water and in the air we breathe and are being linked to
the diseases of civilization. As producers, we are finding less and less with which to produce, and
as consumers, we are being consumed by our own wastes.

There is an inherent beauty and harmony in Nature. This cannot be understood objectively; it is
not a finite idea but it has been comprehended throughout time in the sensitivity of human beings.
In past times farmers, though often quite poor in respect to material wealth, were healthy, happy
and rooted in their occupations because farms were not only storehouses of life-sustaining skills
and resources but sanctuaries of beauty and contentment. Now many farms are so specialized
and intense in their activities that they are no longer able to provide wholesome, balanced
environments which would attract and hold creative people.

There has been a mass exodus of young people from farms to cities, and the cities themselves
have often grown and apparently thrived with a callous indifference to the beauty of nature. Trees
have fallen, hills have been leveled, streams driven underground and birds and animals chased
from their habitats. How far can this go? We believe that “Beauty is Truth, Truth Beauty” is more
than poetic fancy; it recognizes the identity of beauty and life, and when this recognition fades
from the heart of humankind, so will fade the vitality of civilization.

Would Nature let this happen? She is a stern teacher as we are learning and in the coming decade
we may be facing some even more rigid lessons. Energy and food shortages, pollution, disease
and general moral decay may certainly be factors in the near future. Agribusiness, industry and
even whole municipalities are beginning to struggle under increasing economic pressures. The
whole American economy is faltering and no one can really say how and when it will improve.
But we hope for the re-emergence of small businesses, farms and communities as a social and
economic force. We believe that diversified organic farms can provide a stable, rich environment
for people of all ages and capabilities and that strong and creative people on farms and in cities
can learn to work together in harmony with Nature. Consumers are beginning to support small
farms, stores and co-ops, and these in turn are showing a real concern for the consumers’ needs.
Urban gardens and gardening projects are becoming practical. There is a growing interest in
alternative energy sources and energy-saving technology. Ecology-minded folks are fighting
against pollution, recycling wastes and planting trees and flowers. We believe that these types of
activities will thrive in the next decade.

It’s a New Year. It is not just farmers who must question how well they have maintained the
spark of creation in the activities of the past year; not just farmers who, looking out over snow-
blown fields of stubble, begin to yearn for the warmth and activity of coming Spring; not just
farmers who will soon feel in their hearts the mystery of Nature’s finest lesson which is the gift
of birth and renewal. From the creations of past years let us keep what is useful. From the dust
of discarded ways and ideas let us renew our commitments to the life and well-being of future
generations. And let us be sensitive to the wisdom and ever-present beauty of Nature which
surrounds us, permeates us, and instructs us. HAPPY NEW YEAR!


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