Our concern for the integrity of creation does not lessen our primary duty to protect human life, especially the family. In many countries to this day, the essential community of production is the family and their extended members. The family farm allows for the creative participation on the part of many members of the community, children and the elderly in particular, who in more industrial urban centers are now often marginalized in terms of their contribution to the well-being of the household.
Our devoted attention is directed to farmers who live on the land they work. That farmers and their families are tied to the land in a fundamental way is a seemingly obvious fact, but one that is easily overlooked in our increasingly industrialized and urban lifestyles and imaginations. Farmers engage in a distinctive endeavor where they are not at liberty to simply “pull up stakes and go” when things do not turn out according to their plans. They are invested in a place, and therefore a community, sometimes for several generations. Their expertise is not capable of easy transport from one set of circumstances to the next.
Contemporary circumstances make the reality of the family farm more difficult. Without retreating into an overly romantic view of the past, we can still say that the situation is a cause of grave concern for a number of reasons. Communities are depleted and unable to sustain themselves due to the lack of participating members and future generations. There is an ironic quality to rural communities; namely, that despite the remarkable tradition of abundance and productive efficiency, the communities themselves are struggling to survive. Again, the widespread endorsement of an industrial approach to what is fundamentally an organic reality contributes to the creation of these social contradictions.
In many countries of the world, those who worked the land had remarkable gifts of hospitality and sharing, due to their own understanding that the earth itself was a gift. Such traditions are not entirely dormant. Retrieving these habits of solidarity, even in industrialized societies, can be possible. The result is not only the production of wealth but the overcoming of individualism and selfishness. Agriculture is not immune to self-interested behavior and certainly the pressures of the market system press it so. We do not mean to suggest a return to farming as it use to be, as if there was some golden age of agriculture that we somehow left behind, but to retrieve those habits that made it possible for individual farms, agribusiness firms and society in general to grow what is good for the earth and to eat what is good to grow.
It is precisely due to their long-term commitment to a specific place and their value of stability that makes family farms successful. It is necessary, therefore, that prudent safeguards be put in place to protect family farms from the vagaries of market volatility. Farming is about patience and endurance, courage and hope, steadfastness and commitment, as it is an enterprise whose outcome is not always guaranteed. The success of farmers is essential to human flourishing and ought to be regarded with a spirit of encouragement and hope. Agricultural leaders are to take as their model the farmer described in The Letter of St. James, who is routinely patient before the Lord and His ways. “Behold, the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient over it until it receives the early and the late rain. You also be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand (James 5.7).” If committed to a spirit of Christian service and humility to one’s family, one’s neighbor (seen and unseen) and God, agricultural leadership can be a path of heroic sanctity.
[Continue to next section: In Summation]