Organic Farming as Non-Violent Resistance

[Giving Up Violence for Lent]

Guest Post: Sarah & Ben Halbleib Hanson

Our friends, Sarah and Ben Halbleib Hanson, add a bit of their story to our series on Giving Up Violence for Lent. They confront the systems of violence that are destroying the land that gives us life, and point us to alternative ways of living at peace with the world.

common harvest_0192We are organic vegetable farmers. At least, that’s what we tell people when they ask what “we do.” But we are cheating that title of all that it encompasses when we subject it to merely our job title. It is our way of life. It shapes our worldview, how we spend our money, what food we consume, what companies we support, and what we value.

When we married two and a half years ago, farming was not even a thought in our minds. We lived in Minneapolis, had good jobs, belonged to a church family, yet we were uninspired, felt trapped, stuck somewhere we did not want to be. We wanted more. Not in the way culture defines more, with a better paying job, a bigger house, and more things to consume. Rather, we wanted to be part of something larger than ourselves. We wanted to be part of bringing about beauty. We wanted to help educate and bring justice where it is needed. We wanted to do something we believe is good and true and right. The answer for us was organic farming.

So here we are with plants on our minds, sketches of crop plans in notebooks, seed catalogs with dog-eared pages strewn all around, and the sight of snow slowly melting away to spring. Our second growing season looming before us.

On the surface it may not seem like we are actively resisting violence, but let me assure you, we are. The violence done to this earth is paramount. It may not be intentional, it may not be seen as violence, and the results may not appear for years after the violence is done. But, pieces of this world we live in are beat up, raped, and killed every single day. One very clear example we resist against is the use of chemicals on this precious land.

This past summer we worked on a vegetable Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farm in Osceola, WI called Common Harvest. It was a warm June day; we were in the field with hoes, conquering the pestering weeds by hand as a large tanker truck full of chemicals rumbled past on its way to a corn field down the road. Within one hour this truck returned, emptied of its life-stealing liquid contents. We knew that somewhere it was sitting on the soil, being ingested by bees flying overhead, being felt by the frogs finding shade amongst the foliage, running off into the nearby stream, drifting through the air we all breathe. We know it happens, but that afternoon it became real.

About a month later, on our hands and knees we pulled weeds that were tenaciously choking out the entire pepper field. With each removal of quack grass and pigweed and purslane, we gave room for these food bearing plants to breathe and receive energy from the sun. As we moved down a row, a number of Wood and Leopard and Spring Peeper Frogs hopped over our hands and red bellied snakes slithered by. We quizzed one another on the call of the birds making themselves known, Sora Rails and Brown-Headed Cowbirds and Red Winged Blackbirds. Unfortunately we were distracted by the noise of a large tractor making its way through the field next to us. Before long we saw this farmer with sprayers attached, spreading a toxic concoction over his entire crop of soybeans.

Seeder

With a slight breeze blowing our direction, we vacated the peppers so to not inhale any of the harmful drift. As we walked to the other side of the farm, we passed the field of beans planted with the 25-year old walk-behind seeder and the kale we hand-straw-mulched to help suppress weeds and the ideal wetland habitat between us and the soybean field being sprayed. We marveled at the beauty of this land and the diversity that existed within it. We saw literally tons and tons of food that was growing as a result of our physical labor and care taken for each individual plant. We thought about the frogs and the snakes and the birds and the bees that were just trying to live and were now being threatened. We thought about the soil holding an abundance of life that was being murdered.

We were angry. Angry that in a majority of America, this is the system of farming our government supports – where the land has been stripped of its topsoil and life and ability to absorb water. This lifeless, nutrient-void soil is unable to give anything to help the planted seeds grow, thus synthetic fertilizers are applied to assist growth and synthetic herbicides and pesticides are sprayed to rid the invasive, unwanted weeds and pests. But a crop cannot grow under these conditions unless genetic modification adapts the seeds to resist the harmful chemicals and super-pests, not to mention the man-induced drought-like conditions. It is an ugly system that is a result of trying to repair the mistakes already made.

We were sad. Sad this is the system, where the relationship between mankind and land has been greatly distorted and is in desperate need of reconciliation. Violence has existed long enough. We have robbed the land by stealing its multitude of resources, not adding anything back; shamed it by stripping its diversity of clothing and exchanged it for a uniform of monoculture crops; mocked it by industrializing farming; raped it by ripping it over and over to our own gratification. This abuse and destruction has all been done at the hand of personal gain. Selfish greed for financial profit drives the desire for higher yields, productivity and advanced technology. It must stop.

We believe the answer to this broken relationship is education, we all must be aware of the harm being down to our land every single day by the American farm system. We believe the answer is asking hard questions, pushing against the ugliness we see in order to bring about beautiful transformation. We believe our nation needs to support and encourage more and more small farmers to return to the land and begin sourcing food to their local economies. We all can be part of changing the system, each person in different ways. For us, the answer is getting our hands dirty, being good stewards of the land, raising food responsibly, and proving that it is possible and necessary to mend the broken relationship between man and land.

 

 

Ben_Sarah

Sarah & Ben Halbleib Hanson are aspiring vegetable farmers currently working on a farm in Osceola, WI called Foxtail Farm. Their dream is to have their own land, farm it well and grow real, good food. You can see more photos of their beautiful farming on Becca’s Day in the Life post, and read more about their adventures on their blog Harvest this Field.

 

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