Independence vs. Interdependence

I have a deep appreciation for people who recognize that the modern illusion of human independence is just that – an illusion. Throughout history, humans have always been dependent on each other—community and kin—as well as the surrounding eco-system for survival. But as life became easier due to industrial and technological advancements, we became more independent—and many of us are at least a little bit obsessed with the idea of being our own person apart from others. That in itself may be ok, but I have come to agree with Stephen Covey’s words in his The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People where he says: Independence is the paradigm of II can do it; I am responsible, I am self-reliant, can choose. Interpendence is the paradigm of wewe can do it; we can cooperate; we can combine talents and abilities and create something greater together…. A little later in the same chapter he writes: Life is, by nature, highly interpendent. To try to achieve maximum effectiveness through independence is like trying to play tennis with a golf club—the tool is not suited to the reality. Interdependence is a far more mature, more advanced concept. I don’t know about you, but I find that fascinating..         

But as usual, I would like to turn this discussion to the food arena. How does it apply? Number one, due to the industrialization of human food within the last fifty to seventy five years – not the least of which is the emergence of a food processing industry who brought a great many convenience foods into existence, distributing them to every local grocery and supermarket. Foods that traditionally were sourced directly from local farms and home gardens now come from nameless, faceless entities (often with little resemblance to it’s raw form ) and conjure a fantasy of not only human independence from the natural elements man has always relied on for sustenance, but also the false resemblance of food security. Modern society tends to forget that food and farming is inextricably linked, regardless whether it comes from the supermarket in a plastic package, or from the garden in the back yard.

That man would no longer be bound – yes, helplessly dependent – to the natural elements of soil, air, and water is one of the biggest myths (should I say lies) of all time. In his writings, Joel Salatin often refers to our interaction with the earth and our dependence on its fruits as our ”ecological umbilical.” At I first read that term I thought it to be too strong, but I’ve changed my mind. Our dependence on the earth and it’s natural elements is not unlike the utter reliance of an unborn baby on the continuation of nutrients through the umbilical connection with its mother. In the foreword of Forest Pritchard’s excellent book, Gaining Ground, Joel penned these words; We cannot escape our responsibilities to, nor our interactions with, soil, air, and water – the basic ingredients in the farmer’s alchemy….. Unlike other vocations that are arguably more or less necessary, farming is basic to human existence. Because it is at the root of civilization, it has the greatest capacity to either heal or hurt humankind’s planetary nest. As co-stewards of this great creation, we all owe future generations the benefit of knowing something about farming, food production, and land care. Few intellectual journeys could be this necessary and far-reaching. Isn’t that an irrefutable truth?

As the farmer population continues to decline – largely due to either age or bankruptcy – it becomes more obvious than ever how dependent society is on agriculture. Agricultural statistics indicate reason for concern for the farmer population, although it’s a little known concern in greater society. One of the most abnormal aspects of modern America is the fact that many regions are literally food deserts, meaning there’s no food being raised in the vicinity. This is true not only in cities and urban areas, but in many rural areas as well. To be sure, rural areas may have farms – even active working farms, but they are usually in the commodity business and are not raising actual food for local sale. Whether they have corn, soybeans, wheat, or hay in the fields, it’s a commodity that goes for animal feed. They may have hogs, dairy cows, beef steers, or a barn full of chickens, but there’s no food to be obtained from the farm. By and large, food comes from the grocery store or supermarket, not from farms. This is an indicator of the stronghold the processing industry and food distributors have on our food supply.

As farm income streams progressively become influenced—and controlled—by corporate food processors and abattoirs in the last few decades, options for beginning farmers are increasingly limited. Today most farmers contract with a grain, meat, or dairy processor, and are nothing more than commodity producers—and feudal serfs who dances to a corporate whistle. Corporations like Cargill, ADM (Archer Midland Daniels), Tyson, and Purdue control the majority of raw materials entering the food production stream. Rural farming communities throughout the United States have dwindled to near ghost towns, and farmers are less than 2 percent of the American population. Most farm commodities are subsidized with your and my tax dollars, to support less-than-sustainable commodity markets. And yet everybody eats without giving it a thought. How does that figure?

To end on a positive note, I believe options always exist other than succumbing to status quo systems. Throughout history, people—individuals—have always teamed up to instigate change. And they still do.  Like small-scale food producers who take the path of lunatics, and are driven to a different system by producing real food for real people in the local community. That’s us. And more importantly, people who are sick (literally) and tired of being victims of Big Food and their unpronounceable ingredients, empty claims and glitzy labels, and tasteless pseudo-food, and opt out of the victim mentality to find real-time food producing farms in their region. That’s you. Frankly, I am awed by folks like you. This food partnership is the crux of interdependence. Small-scale food producers like us cannot be independent, no more than members of today’s society are independent in food acquisition. The old adage states it well; No man is an island. To me, the folks who recognize the reality of this responsibility—and leverage it—portray quite well the irrefutable law of interdependent community. And that’s the View from the Country.

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