Community Is the Key To It All: Moving Agriculture Forward
By Erika Veidis
“All I wanted were five simple things: rice, beans, a horse, a goat, and a house,” Blain Snipstal, visionary Maryland farmer, social activist, and keynote speaker at the National Conference on Domestic Fair Trade, reflects. “And I’m now on a journey around the world to get those five simple things.”
Snipstal hated his foray into agriculture, which began with an internship at a small nursery. He laughs: “I didn’t want anything to do with it.” But shortly after this first experience, something clicked. He woke up one day and suddenly realized that he wanted and needed to farm. What started out as an intuitive heart connection evolved into a conscious, intellectual one – “I realized the variety of ways that agriculture can allow us to become better people and better caretakers of the land.”
Our agricultural system suffers from a loss of connection – from the food that we eat, from the land, from one another. The commoditization of food through industrial agriculture has fundamentally changed our relationships with both the harvest and the harvesters. And Snipstal, through what he calls “peasant farming,” is on a mission to change that.
“The very nature of our system is designed to destroy the people who work on the land and who were once caretakers of that land,” Snipstal comments, talking about the most dominant issues in our food system today. “It’s designed to deplete the very base that it needs to make a profit.”
The depletion of resources – water, soil, energy, labor – is unsustainable; but, in our current system, so is the opposite. Food cheapened by subsidies and industrial farming makes smaller scale, mindful farming uneconomical. “We have to address the space left open by the industrial model,” Snipstal agrees, citing hunger and poverty. “But we can’t address these issues because we [the farmers] are experiencing them ourselves.”
It’s a tangled web. So how do we move forward? According to Snipstal, it’s through community. “Community is the key to it all,” he says, “whether it’s farmers organizing to purchase food and supplies, or sharing equipment, or collectively purchasing farm fresh products.” Or, on an even more elementary level, “it’s being intentional about how we speak to one another.” The hope is that the appreciation and mindfulness cultivated in our relationships begin to show up in our consumption patterns as well.
“I’m not going for ‘shock and awe,’” Snipstal says. While doomsday statistics and apocalyptic calls to action can be evocative, Snipstal understands that untangling our complicated agricultural web is remarkably straightforward.
When we only see brightly lit grocery aisles and cleverly crafted packaging, it’s easy to forget the soil and the hands that harvested their contents. It’s easy to forget that the price of the apple includes the wage of its picker. It’s easy to forget, to disregard, to ignore, and to perpetuate the depletion of nutritional quality, resources, and farmers’ livelihoods. At once banally and profoundly simple, healing our food system requires connecting to one another, to our farmers, and to our land.