Just farming

Amish people are often looked upon as quaint cultural curiosities by those of us who are, well, not Amish. The idea of a horse and buggy on a country road makes for a fuzzy feeling. It is tempting to think something like this: “Is it just wonderful that some people still live in this old-fashioned way?” Or to remark, “I’ve heard that they hire people with tractors, but won’t own one. And some of them have propane refrigerators but won’t have electric ones; quite inconsistent.” We condescend to what we don’t understand.

The 1985 movie Witness appealed to many of my friends, especially for its scenes of a barn-raising. I also saw a TV crime show in which a number of Amish youth were heavily involved in immorality during their Rumspringa, a time in which teens are encouraged to choose baptism or else leave the community.  

A much more serious look at the Amish took place after the hostage-taking and mass murder committed against Amish schoolchildren by Charles Carl Roberts IV in 2006. The almost unbelievable response of the Amish community to such a horrendous crime was forgiveness. Suddenly it seemed that the Amish were more than just a curiosity. Perhaps they had something to offer us after all.

I first heard of Farming Magazine when I was reading Gene Logsdon’s book, All Flesh Is Grass. Or maybe it could have been in his paean to the value of manure, the title of which combines the word “holy” with by-product of animal intestines.
 
The editors of the magazine, produced in Mt. Hope, Ohio, are Amish. It is not an ethnic magazine nor a church magazine. Nor are the contributors all Amish, or evangelical Christian. The magazine is just what its title proclaims: a magazine about farming. Farming as a way of life. Farming as stewardship. Farming as producing crops, watching birds and building families. Farming as fellowship with neighbours. Farming as good food, presented with care and kindness.  

After I heard about the magazine, I immediately subscribed and eagerly opened the first issue. On the editorial page I found the creed of the magazine: “Farming Magazine celebrates the joys of farming well and living well on a small and ecologically conscious scale. It explores the intricate bonds connecting people, land and community and offers a hopeful vision for the future of farming in America. The magazine is created in the spirit of stewardship for the earth and regard for its inhabitants.” That certainly sounds like something right out of Genesis 1 and 2.  

A little further on I discovered some other unique characteristics of the magazine. First, it dedicates a few pages to poetry, rather unusual in a farming publication. It contains recipes, a section on beekeeping, logging the farm woodlot, etc. This is a magazine that has a coherent worldview, one that sees life lived in community with neighbours and the earth. It has a holistic view of life and does not limit the word “farming” to crop production on a massive scale. It is full of ads for equipment and services produced by very modern yet small businesses.  

More surprising to me was the statement that “We reserve the right to reject any advertising deemed unsuitable for this magazine, such as alcohol, tobacco and margarine.”  

In 2006, when people began to really pay attention to the Amish as a forgiving community, they may have missed something vital: Amish forgiveness is part of an entire community ideal. One cannot separate a peaceable life from a well-balanced home life, or from a rhythmic, seasonal farming year that encourages families to bird-watch, worship, work, trap muskrats and harvest grain or hay together. Compared to the rat-race lifestyle of people who farm large acreages, the Amish and their friends in Ohio manage to stay solvent, produce good crops, make good machines and confound the economic experts who have predicted the demise of their lifestyle for decades. Compared to this living witness to God’s call to a community lifestyle of stewardship, respect and enjoyment, our Canadian commitments to “the family farm” sound hollow to me.  

All this in a magazine that is overwhelmingly positive in tone. Maybe this comes from the editor, David Kline, and his family. In one of his books Kline asks, “Should we give up the kind of farming that has been proven to preserve communities and land and is ecologically and spiritually sound for a way that is culturally and environmentally harmful?”

Before dismissing a magazine that largely focuses on relatively small-scale, mixed farming as antiquated, we could subscribe to the magazine for a year and then ask ourselves the same question Kline asks. Maybe those of us who don’t live on a farm could ask ourselves “How does my way of life build community and respect the earth?”

Author

  • Curt Gesch and his wife lead the singing via Zoom for a combined service of small United Church congregations in central B.C. each Sunday morning. In the afternoon, they lead a Friends and Family Zoom worship from their home. If you'd like to join that service, please write Curt at moc.liamg@36hcsegc.

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