Sustainable food and farming part VII: Why do I care?

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A few weeks ago, I began to blog on Sustainable Food and Farming.  In my first post I asked if “sustainable agriculture was sustainable” and suggested that only an ecological approach (rather than a mechanistic approach) to farming would likely be sustainable.  The next  few posts explored the “rules” of ecology: 1) use current solar income; 2) cycle everything;  3) enhance biological diversity, and how these rules apply to both farming and life in general.

Now, we are trying to put it all together as part of a framework which will help us not only to understand how farms might be managed in a more sustainable manner, but also how we might find meaning and purpose in our lives.  In this post, I explore the question “why do I care about this work?”   A tall order, indeed!

In my last post, I asked if there was a way of looking at the world that was non-mechanistic and that helped make sense out of our lives.  This next video clip presents a systems view of life using the same characters as those who presented the mechanistic “clockwork universe” from my previous blog post.

I wrote in an earlier post, “there is nothing more practical than a good theory.”  I believe this to be true.  The “lens” through which we view the world colors our perspective.  The dominant mechanistic lens provides an incomplete view of the world.  The systems view that Sonya describes helps me to understand sustainability, the web of life, and even my own relationship to my family, community, the earth and beyond.  Lets explore this more deeply.

universeetcA few weeks ago, I shared the idea that living systems existed as subsystems within larger systems.  That is, the individual is a subsystem within a population of individuals, which itself is a subsystem within a community, and then of an ecosystem, which is a subsystem of the biosphere etc.  If we continue to work with this model of a natural hierarchy (as opposed to a human constructed hierarchy, like the military, the corporation, the church, and the university), I believe we can begin to understand our place on the planet.

Lets first look “inward” a bit and imagine our own bodies as subsystems within systems.  In this “body system”, there are subsystems such as the heart, liver, circulatory system etc.   Within the “heart system” there is a valve, and other parts that are subsystems within the organ that is the heart.  In this model, we might imagine that the less complex subsystems provide “function” to the more complex subsystems.  Further we might imagine that the more complex subsystems “provide” purpose to the less complex. Lets examine this idea.

The human heart in the picture above is a subsystem which contains smaller and less complex (but totally necessary) subsystems within, such as the valves, atrium, ventricles, aorta, etc..  But the heart itself is also a subsystem that exists within a large system, we’ll call the human body.

The body is also a system and the relationship of the heart to the body follows the relationship of all components within living systems.  That is, the heart “looks to the body for purpose” and the body “looks to the heart for function.”   That is, the more complex subsystem provides purpose in this relationship and the less complex subsystem offers function.  This is one of the great truths that emerges from the study of living systems.  Cool, huh?

If we continue the story, the body (the individual self) looks to the family or larger community for purpose.  The larger community looks to individuals for function.  That is, all community work is done by people.  And further…..

A community of people look to the larger ecosystem for purpose.  That is, those of us who have a strong sense of place, find our purpose in sustaining and caring for that place – including the other people in that place.  Herein lies our human purpose (at least for me).

This set of relationships helps me to answer the question “why do I care about sustainable food and farming” by exploring  the bigger and more interesting question, “why am I here?

For me, the study and practice of sustainable food and farming is a way in which I can serve a power greater than myself.  That power (or system) may be at any level of complexity (family system, community system, earth system etc.).  In this context, I know who I am and why I am here.  I am here in this lifetime to serve  power greater than myself. *

When I embed this understanding within the living systems natural hierarchy, I can see “myself” as an individual “body self” residing within a family self, within a community self, within an eco-self, within a universal self, and perhaps even within a divine self.  At each level of “self”, we can look up for purpose and down for function.divineself


So, why do I care about sustainable food and farming – because it serves my own self-interest at multiple levels of self.   That’s why I care about sustainable food and farming.  How about you?

  • Why do you study or practice sustainable food and farming?

  • What is your purpose in this life?

Please comment below.  I am really interested in your own thoughts…..


I’d appreciate it if you would share this post with your friends.  And for more ideas, videos and challenges along these lines, please join my Facebook Group; Just Food Now.


* While I believe that “service” is my primary motivation today, this was not always the case.  Earlier in my life I was driven my baser motives of prestige, perceived power and money, mixed with a fair bit of scientific curiosity.  While I”m sure those baser motivations still reside within me, they are no longer dominant.  Fortunately, the curiosity remains.

4 thoughts on “Sustainable food and farming part VII: Why do I care?

    Lauren Scheuer said:
    October 24, 2010 at 12:06 am

    Thank you for this post — I have never thought deeply on this topic, but I do feel deeply about it. When I see a mushroom on the ground, I imagine the entire mushroom plant that spreads below the surface for possibly an acre. When I dig a hole in the garden, I see the disruption of a rich system just below the surface. Gaia theory sees the earth as a living breathing being, and your discussion of systems fits right into that. Beautiful.


    familyfarmer2 said:
    October 24, 2010 at 9:56 pm

    While i appreciate your larger view, my concern about sustainable farming is at the ground level, as I see what the EPA is doing as it tightens its expectations and the FDA as it attempts to control food safety (small farms are not exempt from either of these- look at the new EPA dust rules and try driving a dirt road or combining any corn, and the last farm the FDA shut down was a small cheese farm. Then the animal rights people tell me there is no way to raise hogs or chickens humanely. Yes – Gene Baur of the Farm Animal Sanctuary told me that. And beef cattle are only humane until you try to find a way to slaughter them. Then add on top of this that some sustainability advocates want to take away my options to use technology that works on my farm, I do not see how we are going to feed the current population let alone the growing world and i just want to make sure my children can farm this farm in the future so they know where there food is coming from, because our food production is being driven to China…


    Jason Silverman said:
    October 25, 2010 at 7:17 am

    You know, this really paints the picture the way it applies to me, but mainly because I'm trying to break into the niche of sustainable food and farming without anything (such as a farm) already at stake. I figure the pressures must be very different when you're trying to work with what you already have, instead of imagining where to start. With that said, I still think it's important to keep the whole picture in perspective. It may not be possible to feed the world without heavy industry, but the world itself is only so heavily populated BECAUSE of heavy industry. In my opinion, this is because many people barely look above the "family self", or even the "myself" level you outlined, and seek to better themselves without considering the greater impact. I know it's easy to make generalizations here, but the pattern seems pretty undeniable.

    Anywho, thanks for sharing this, and I'll pass it along!


    Sarah Berquist said:
    November 1, 2010 at 7:15 am

    What a comprehensive and holistic expression of our purpose! Thank you for sharing this John.
    My experiences in agriculture connect me to myself, my community, and the Earth. Working with the rhythms of nature, reminds me to keep breathing and to see and appreciate the beauty in this world. Even in the most stressful of times, a simple deep breath is my saving grace. But it is in those stressful times when it can be hardest to remember to take that breath; that breath that will reconnect your mind and body and help you find your center.
    I am infinitely grateful to be a part of a community that works together to serve a greater purpose. I seek connections to other humans with the same interests, and as a community we seek connections to a higher being, a greater, spiritual self.
    For me, there is no greater joy than eating food that I, or someone in my immediate community, has grown. I can taste the love, the gratitude, and nutrition in every bite. I am here to share the bounty of this beautiful Earth, and support others trying to do the same.
    I feel so privileged to have access to such a useful tool, this essay above, that empowers me to articulate my goals and purpose.

    With great gratitude and a smile,
    Sarah Berquist


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