The land was everything
You better have plenty of magic markers and colorful tabs as you read Victor Davis Hanson’s The Land Was Everything (The Free Press, N.Y., 2000) because every page is plum full of quotables of accurate observation of what farming was and is today.
Take for example, “Hard work on the land produced a stable citizenry and a beautiful countryside,” — page 28, or “Cheap food, cheap housing, cheap transport can also give us cheap people,” — page 32.
The reader must ask who are these “cheap” people? They are the ones who now lecture to the farmer, “You did a fine enough job here with what you had, with your picturesque little towns and farms: but now step aside and let us show you what can be done when you have real money and more than enough people to finish what you started,” — page 28.
On the other hand, Hanson defines the farmers as the only ones who are not cheap, the ones who arrived and are arriving “under the aegis of liberty to enact without coercion their own particular philosophy of the growing of food,” — page 28.
That philosophy of growing food touches all life according to Hanson. He has taken his own experience as a 7th generation raisin rancher in the San Joaquin Valley of California and followed it to the end. Or so it seems. This is not a pretty book about tranquil back 40’s or serene lowing cattle; it rather addresses the demise of the family farm and the attempt to prop it up with faulty romantic images, perverse technologies and engineered solutions from universities. It is a brutally realistic view of what concrete can do to civilization and what unbridled greed can extract from culture. Hanson writes that culture, after all, is the product of the soil, and without this cultivation of the soil life becomes a living hell. “Hell will not be the blacktopping of American, but the sort of blacktopping of America, the situation in which he cannot distinguish farmland from the suburbs,” — page 158.
And what Hanson knows is that in our abundance, we have in this country created a monster believing we can control the beast that threatens to override us at any minute whether it is an unwanted mall or manure spoilage or polluted aquifer or the misguided sense that what the farmer produces comes from plastic and not cellulose which is always nearer to the wild than it is to man. And when the human factor is removed, the wild takes over and technology cannot retard or even moderate the damage, for society has become stunned, lulled to a stupefying sleep believing it has arrived at the best possible human condition — indolence, sloth, and endless supply of stuff!
Read with caution this powerful paean to what was the foundation of democracy — the metrons, as the Greek called them, who balanced the natural and cultural. With 1 percent of the population propping up the 99 percent, the tipping point has been reached and the balanced breached. One can glean from this book in its rawest form what is at stake, an enlightened citizenry even, and fight harder still for what is richer, not cheaper.
Sylvia Zimmerman is the owner of Fulton Creek Jersey Cheese in Richwood. She holds two graduate degrees and, when not working on her farm or pursuing her interest in sustainable agriculture, writes her own blog.