by Dan Kauffman

Harvesting is a time for celebrating the earth’s joys and abundance.  It is a time of fresh tastes, beautiful flowers and an overflow of fruits and roots.  During it one reaps the benefits of months of hard labor.  It is like a child finally waking up on Christmas morning after weeks of waiting.  But what if the harvest isn’t there?  What if something unexpected happens and all your hard work went for naught?  I think, in that case, that farming can be a lot like most of life where nothing is promised and what often happens is not what one had hoped for in the first place; and yet sometimes, like a dandelion growing through a crack in the pavement, comes a glimmer of hope for the future. 

We are taught that things happen in a linear fashion and that one action causes another.  And we tend to have certain expectations and presuppositions about what is and what isn’t.  The season long work of tending a crop, however, challenges that view.  Sometimes, you carefully water and cultivate (after plowing, tilling, etc.) only to find out after it’s too late that your seed had gone bad.  Or, sometimes, the rains don’t come, and there isn’t enough time or energy to water by hand.  Similarly, tragedies in life happen unexpectedly and without warning.  A car wreck happens, a storm hits, wars break out, famine is rampant, and the tide of justice continually seems to be overwhelmed by hatred and evil.  So, how can one view death and pain through agrarian eyes?

I think that death and pain must be re-examined and re-defined.  In nature, nothing ever really dies.  A tree rots into the mold only to provide sustenance for millions of living creatures.  A rabbit gets snatched to feed a den of hungry fox cubs.  Death leads to life which leads to death.  Without death there is no life.  Our very existence utterly depends on the death of plants and animals; the vegetables we eat are the roots of some plants, the fruits of others and still the leaves of others.  The animals we keep sacrifice something of themselves in order for us to be sustained by them.   Our clothing comes from plants that are no longer alive.  The coal we heat with comes from former plant and animal matter.  The wood that we construct with comes from formerly living beings.  Though I should here mention that I do believe that symbiotic relationships can exist for the mutual benefit of animal, plant and human.  The death of living beings gives life to other living beings.  And so, death must not be feared for it is the inevitable path of life. 

This isn’t to say that we don’t mourn death and rage against evil.  Rather, I am suggesting that we don’t give them so much power.  We do this by re-interpreting events in the light of what nature teaches us about death.  For death brings life and life is born only from death.  The peak oil crisis in Cuba in the early 90s is an example of what I’m exploring.  The oil supplies Cuba was obtaining from the USSR were severely depleted as a result of the fall of the Soviet Union.  As a result, Cubans had to re-think how they sustained their lives.  In short, they re-imagined how to practice agriculture without oil.  And so the devastating loss of oil imports led to rampant hunger and poverty but also to community collaboration and sustainable farming methods.  Hope was born from tragedy in Cuba.  Death and life; they are mysteriously intertwined and are not far from one another.

And so in this world there will be pain, evil, and death.  But there is also laughter, love, beauty, joy and life.  Though death ends one thing it is life from death which contains the power to continually sustain us, both literally and figuratively.  It is beauty in the midst of pain and joy in the midst of struggle which gives meaning to our existence and helps us to see the world with hopeful eyes.  Life reminds us that it is because of death that we exist.  And death teaches us that it is not the end, but only a path to bring about new life.

The field which does not produce, then, is a reminder to us of our own frailty.  It reminds us that we are small and meek in the world.  But it also teaches us important lessons about renewal and work.  It might take a few years to renew the soil and build the infrastructure.  It might take more work than originally anticipated, but we also know that our work thus far has not been in vain.  For whatever work we did in the field this year has both gone to improve the soil, but more importantly to expand our knowledge and deepen our resolve.  We come to see that out of death comes life.

 Dan Kauffman is from Chillicothe, Ohio and graduated from Ohio University in 2006 after studying Philosophy and Spanish. He loves his wife Heidi and enjoys gardening, baking bread, and playing strategy games.

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