News From the Farm | June 4, 2018

Economics, Theatre, Worth, Value…

Years ago, the book Small is Beautiful made a significant impression on many of our era. E.F. Schumacher wrote about the concept of scale and human relationships to work, the world, and vibrant human communities. His philosophy was centered on the thinking needed to achieve the maximum of social wellbeing with the minimum of consumption.  His keys to social organization focused on a balance of Justice, Harmony, Beauty, and Health as a counterbalance to the measurements commonly used to measure success—growth, scale, speed, displacing labor, and accumulation. That book and the thinking of Schumacher and others like him have been central to the organization of Full Belly. 

Schumacher wrote about the dignity of work and how meaningful work is at the heart of human self worth. He developed thoughts about Buddhist Economics – a balance between production and consumption on one hand, with restraint, wisdom, and human dignity on the other.

He wrote,  “The Buddhist point of view takes the function of work to be at least threefold: to give human beings a chance to utilize and develop their faculties; to enable people to overcome their ego-centeredness by joining with other people in a common task; and to bring forth the goods and services needed for a becoming existence…the consequences that flow from this view are endless.”

These ideas may seem out of step with the current dominant economic thinking where growth is the measurement/goal, and consumption the central purpose; where extracting and burning non-renewable resources is not seen as a debit to future generations: and where work is seen as best replaced by automation. He argued that we should choose both our tools and our measurements carefully. He also cautioned that too much information is consumptive– often gathered and utilized without knowledge and wisdom gained from experience and perspective.

The tools chosen to do work, what he calls the ‘intermediate technologies’ give rise to questions of scale and speed– asking “when is enough, enough?” His Buddhist economics questions modern measurements of  materialism as the good and asks to measure progress ‘not in a multiplication of wants but in the purification of human character.’ Engaging in good work lies at the heart of character. His thinking then calls to make choices about scale, what we learn, and the tools that we choose. Aristotle said, “educating the mind without educating the heart is no education at all.”

Schumacher argues that “Experience shows that whenever you can achieve smallness, simplicity, capital cheapness and non-violence, or indeed any of these objectives, new possibilities are created for people either singly or collectively, to help themselves, and that the patterns that result from such technologies are more humane, more ecological, less dependent on fossil fuels and closer to real human needs than the patterns (or lifestyles) created by technologies that go for gigantism, complexity, capital intensity, and violence.”

Again, perhaps these ideas are dated and quaint in this complex globalized dynamic world where trade is international, corporations are huge and increasingly more powerful, government is gargantuan and capital is seen as speech. But the prescription to think about valuing creativity, imagination, justice, beauty, ethical humane values, and non-violence as goals in the process of growing an economy may be worth building into our notions of success or progress. Scaling up creates a powerful capacity to manipulate information, but may in fact have no bearing on knowledge or wisdom.

Over the past 35 years, we have tried to build a farm where these principles are central to our decision-making.  Balancing the need to exist in a world where food is expected to be flawlessly pure, cosmetically perfect, cheap and affordable, with working in a manner where the resources on and around a farm are enhanced through the process of producing that food.  The impulse to grow food organically grew from a deeper philosophy and view of a planet in need of healing by conscientiously rethinking how we engage ourselves in the process of producing food.

In 1996, we developed the Farm’s ‘quality of life statement’. It read:

We at Full Belly Farm want a life that is inspired with work and play that makes each of us feel fulfilled, healthy, happy, and alive.

We want a life of work that we can believe in through its commitment to ecological, social, and economic sustainability.

We make time for our families, friends and ourselves that we may feel nurtured and encouraged in our life’s path

We look to inspire others through our efforts, as others who labor honestly and diligently inspire us.

We wish to leave our farm to our children and grandchildren in a healthy and vibrant state.

We wish to lend support to our neighbors and community in order to nurture the success of rural life.

We will strive for communication amongst ourselves that fosters a sense of well being for everyone with whom we have relationships.

We will base our relationships on trust, respect and dignity. We are honest and fair in all of our business practices.

We are humbled by nature’s complexity and honor our responsibility to be good stewards of the earth.

We honor the rural spirit of self-reliance and interdependence.

We honor the rich and diverse fabric from which our lives are woven, recognizing the importance of everyone’s roles.

We honor the individual character in each of us– our differences, our wisdom, and our creative expression.

We strive for economic stability and security and see that our viability from and is integral to the economic wellbeing of our community.

TS Elliot asked, “Where is the life we have lost in living? Where is the wisdom we have lost in Knowledge? Where is the Knowledge we have lost in Information?”

In a time when there is an almost ephemeral nature to the news cycle– we can be challenged with too much information– one day the abuse of data by facebook and the appropriation of personal data is news, and then replaced by drama of off-again on-again negotiations to make the “deal”… Tweets replace well-considered thoughts and well-structured collaboration. We can become lost in the news– too many things and dramas≠ loosing sight of the wise path.

Lao Tzu said, “I have 3 things to teach. Simplicity, Patience, Compassion. These are your three greatest treasures.”  He also said, “Nature does not hurry, yet everything is accomplished.”

Finally Schumacher adds, “while the materialist is mainly interested in goods, the Buddhist is mainly interested in liberation. But Buddhism is ‘The Middle Way’ and therefore in no way antagonistic to physical well-being. It is not wealth that stands in the way of liberation but the attachment to wealth; not the enjoyment of pleasurable things but the craving for them. The keynote of Buddhist Economics therefore, is simplicity and non-violence. From an economist’s point of view, the marvel of the Buddhist way of life is the utter rationality of its pattern—amazingly small means leading to extraordinarily satisfactory results.”

So in this late spring of 2018, plant your trees, buy locally from those who share your values, scale down, invest regionally for the world that you wish to live in. We are more powerful than we know as creators and agents of change for the good.

—Paul Muller