While sitting on a plot of recently plowed ground and observing the effects of land use, these thoughts came to me…about as fast as I could write them down. They seem to apply as equally to farming as they do to being a husband. In fact, the word “husband” has agricultural connotations, meaning, in part, manager, steward, or caretaker. Animal husbandry and soil husbandry are farming terms. In the following, the farmer can be considered to be the good husband, and the land or soil the wife.
This was especially meaningful to me as I recently came to realize how selfish I have been in my marriage, how I’ve been neglecting my wife and so have not only exposed her to damage but also have not helped her realize her full potential/productivity. I have now chosen to change, to truly be a husband to her, like the farmer described below.
A true farmer is a husband of the land. He has not chosen to farm this land arbitrarily. He has chosen it because it appeals to his unique interests, and because he sees a certain potential in it that perhaps no one else has seen and valued. For these reasons and for its inherent qualities, he loves it. He has carefully considered the commitment involved in binding himself to this land, is aware of his own limitations, and has not overextended himself by committing to a plot larger than he is capable of caretaking. He is looking for long term benefit over short term profit. He is in it for the long run. He is bound to and defined by his land.
He places the land in highest priority. He puts the land in order before satisfying his own wants. He facilitates the productivity of the land before, for example, building the home on it that he wants.
He observes the land constantly to see its response to the seasons, the plants growing in it, its use. When he goes out to observe his land, which he does several times a day, he travels quietly, humbly, and slowly. He is open to seeing the extraordinary that exists in the ordinary. He spends more time observing than he does “working,” and even when working is constantly observing. He is never too busy to stop, heed, and learn from the most humble aspect of the land. He submits himself to its wisdom. His observations are often active. He is constantly trying new plants, methods, tools, to better husband the land. This active observation continues as long as the farmer lives.
He knows that his prosperity is directly tied to the soil’s prosperity. Unlike many others, he never rapes, mines, or poisons, or conversely, builds facades on, or makes a showcase of, his land. He would rather die or go penniless than commit such things which to him would be crimes. He knows that his health comes from the land, so the health of the land is more important to him than his own. He never, ever, lets the soil stand devoid of growth, baked by the sun and washed away by the rain. He maintains a growing cover of protection and nourishment. He lets the land rest so that it is never overwhelmed.
He loves variety, and diversifies his approach more with time. His partnership with the land makes it richer and more productive than it could have been on its own.
He rejoices in harvest, regardless of its quantity. He bears through drought times without giving up. Farming is defined by continual ups and downs, and though it never results in riches, it is the source of intangible benefits that far exceed the worth of riches. The farmer is grateful for whatever the land produces, seeing every new thing as a wonder, and always in awe of the power of new life. He is the first to benefit from the produce, but does not hesitate to share with all.
He is not responsible for the quantity of the fruit, but he is responsible for maintaining the health of the soil.
He is aware that his land is like no other, even different from his closest neighbor’s, so he develops a constantly evolving technique that is unique to his land. He works with the moods of the land and climate, never forcing the land to meet his expectations, and planting and harvesting only when the land indicates it is ready. Perhaps his most descriptive title is “facilitator.” He works with what he has, respecting the natural limits of the climate in which he farms. He cultivates the preferences of the land; in addition to growing the crops that he believes are best for the land and for him, he honors and observes the “wild” plots where the land can show him new things.
He resists the temptation to use artificial, exotic, or energy intensive products and methods to which the land eagerly responds but which he knows are impossible to maintain in the long term.
There are aspects of the land that he does not understand. He will never understand much of it. Such a richly varied and complex thing the soil is. He knows that he lacks much of the necessary knowledge, and seeks to learn from those who have successfully worked with similar land. Yet the farmer ponders all new ideas, and tries only those that seem best suited for him and his land. He observes the methods that have been and are being used by the Maker and Sustainer of the land, and imitates them. He observes the methods used by past caretakers, and adopts the good while correcting the damage from the bad. He recognizes that it will take a very long time to reverse the effects of careless mistreatment.
There may be times when his best efforts at finding a solution have been in vain, and he is at a complete loss. At these times he resigns himself to simply continue his regular caretaking duties, and wait for resolution.
His land husbandry is an example to future generations of farmers. By his example, farming is seen as an honorable and desirable occupation, and land becomes something other than a commodity. “Lowly dirt” becomes “productive soil.”
He carefully selects and monitors any hired hands, holding himself responsible for the result of their work. He protects the land from intrusion and damage by those who do not know the land, but he welcomes those who honestly want to work and improve the land.
He seeks perfection, but realizes it is unattainable, so is willing to tolerate imperfections. He observes weeds and through them learns of the condition of the soil. He does not know the word “waste,” but finds a use for everything the land produces.
His defining virtues are patience, observation, and willingness to work. He is gentle and never demanding. He is content. He has little desire to travel and see other lands, for there are yet worlds of many descriptions, small or great, in his land that cry out for discovery. His knowledge of his land is more than anyone’s. His love for the land is evident. His pride in its virtues is well known. He is partner with, not master of, the land.