Category Archive: Farm and Garden
From a 1930 letter to Arthur Greeves, in which Lewis is speaking about his friend Alan Griffiths (later known as Dom Bede Griffiths), who lived in a commune with two friends:
There is certainly something attractive about the idea of living as far as may be on the produce of the land about you: to see in every walk the pasture where your mutton grazed when it was sheep, the gardens where your vegetables grew, the mill where your flour was ground, and the workshop where your chairs were sawn â€”Â and to feel that bit of country actually and literally in your veins.
Tolkien once remarked to me that the feeling about home must have been quite different in the days when a family had fed on the produce of the same few miles of country for six generations, and that perhaps this was why they saw nymphs in the fountains and dryads in the wood â€”Â they were not mistaken for there was in a sense a real (not metaphorical) connection between them and the countryside.Â What had been earth and air & later corn, and later still bread, really was in them.Â We of course who live on a standardised international diet (you may have had Canadian flour, English meat, Scotch oatmeal, African oranges & Australian wine to day) are really artificial beings and have no connection (save in sentiment) with any place on earth.Â We are synthetic men, uprooted.Â The strength of the hills is not ours. â€”Â Collected Letters 1:908-909.
Never mind the stuff about nymphs and dryads.Â I’m not entirely sure I understand Tolkien’s argument, for that matter.Â And what Lewis says at the end seems exaggerated to me, too.Â Still, I understand the attraction of the life he depicts and I appreciate what he says about a long connection between people and place.Â Shades of Wendell Berry!
By the way, one of the surprises, for me, of Lewis’s letters (and also of his diary, which overlaps with some of the years in this first volume of letters) was the discovery that Lewis, bookish as he certainly was, was not exclusively bookish.Â Again and again, you find him washing dishes, cleaning out the hen run, digging out stumps around his house, cutting wood, and, in short, engaging in manual labor with great vigor and enjoyment.Â Furthermore, far from being the sort of bachelor who has little familiarity with the life of a bustling household, Lewis was thoroughly acquainted with domestic life and spent a fair bit of time helping Mrs. Moore, the lady he lived with,Â clean the house and do other chores, including teaching and, to a large degree, raising her daughter through her teens.
In short, Lewis has turned out to be much more well-rounded than I had previously thought.
The relationship between the farm and the city, the rural and the urban, is more complex than I had supposed.Â Contrary farmer Gene Logdson points out one aspect of that relationship that often goes overlooked:
… the proving ground for real change in farming has almost always been the garden.Â Commercial farmers are good at improving their existing technologies, but rarely do they initiate pivotal new practices because they are financially strapped to the mass market and can’t afford to risk the possible profit loss of changing horses in mid-field.Â New agricultural ideas come from gardens where financial profit is not a necessary goal; generally these gardens are city gardens.Â Fresh new ideas in any institutionalized activity (and nothing is more institutionalized than agriculture except religion and education) almost always come from the outside.Â Writes Jane Jacobs in her provocative 1969 book, The Economy of Citites: “Modern productive agriculture has been reinvented by grace of hundreds of innovations that were exported from the cities to the countryside, transplanted to the countryside, or imitated in the countryside.”Â
For example, alfalfa was a medicinal plant in Paris a century before it became a farm cropÂ throughout Europe.Â Edward Faulkner wrote his revolutionary best-seller, Plowman’s Folly, based on experimentation he did in a garden near Elyria, Ohio, not on a farm.Â It was city gardeners, not farmers, who, with ample supplies of manure from livery stables and street sweepings, brought real sophistication and efficiency to the use of animal manures for food production, as is amply clear from books like Benjamin Albaugh’s The Gardenette or City Back Yard Gardening, published in 1915.Â It was urban influences, following the work of chemist Justus von Leibig in nineteenth-century Germany, that introduced to resisting farmers an agronomy based on chemicals.Â Today it is city gardeners, following scientists like Sir Albert Howard and Dr. Selman Waksman, who have introduced, again to resisting farmers, the notion of an agriculture based intentionally on biology.Â Leibig disproved the prevalent nineteenth-century notion that plants got all their food from humus.Â But in proving that plants “eat” minerals, not humus, Leibig went to the opposite extreme and demeaned the practical necessity of humus, and humus-derived nutrients, for a sustainable and efficient agriculture.
The whole organic farming movement, which now extends even to cotton, a crop once thought impossible to grow without toxic chemicals, was of course inspired by city gardeners. â€”Â Gene Logsdon, The Contrary Farmer, pp. 40-41.
Logsdon goes on, giving more examples.Â You will have noticed, of course, that his list of examples includes some things that haven’t been great developments.Â But good or bad, Logsdon says, many of the important developments in farming have been developed in and tested on gardens, urban gardens.Â