…the Intellectual Agrarian. It’s time for a new definition of farming—one other than the outdated farm which the younger generation sees as irrelevant, and leaves, heading for the city. We need a definition other than the modern industrial farm which is strapped to the latest technology and the latest subsidies, not to mention patented crops and performance that the industry requires.
Think of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson—men for whom farming was a noble vocation, a vocation which blended with their many purposes for their estates. They were the proverbial “Renaissance men” who had understanding and competence in a wide and important variety of pursuits. Their old Virginia estates were holistic places fulfilling diverse goals and influences. Research, education, hospitality, design, invention, statesmanship, and many other cultural accomplishments took place there. These men cared about their land and knew much about its husbandry. The working of the land was one of many facets in which they took interest, since it fit into their full-orbed vision for what was significant in life. For as far-seeing as Washington and Jefferson were, they still made effort to oversee their crops and herds—and in their mind the two areas were completely compatible, even complementary.
Hear the following quotes attributed to some of our country’s founders as well as one statesman from Britain:
"I think our governments will remain virtuous for many centuries; as long as they are chiefly agricultural." ~Thomas Jefferson
"I had rather be on my farm than be emperor of the world" ~George Washington
"I know of no pursuit in which more real and important services can be rendered to any country than by improving its agriculture, its breed of useful animals, and other branches of a husbandman's cares." ~George Washington
"Agriculture is our wisest pursuit, because it will in the end contribute most to real wealth, good morals, and happiness." ~Letter from Thomas Jefferson to George Washington (1787)
"Trade increases the wealth and glory of a country; but its real strength and stamina are to be looked for among the cultivators of the land." ~William Pitt
"There seem to be but three ways for a nation to acquire wealth. The first is by war, as the Romans did, in plundering their conquered neighbors. This is robbery. The second by commerce, which is generally cheating. The third by agriculture, the only honest way, wherein man receives a real increase of the seed thrown into the ground, in a kind of continual miracle, wrought by the hand of God in his favor, as a reward for his innocent life and his virtuous industry.” ~Benjamin Franklin [Hopefully his description of commerce was an exagerration; but even so, he has a good observation of agriculture.]
Today, it is time to revive the concept of the gentleman farmer, or, as Joel Salatin has said, the “intellectual agrarian.” Small farmers need not despair over an underappreciated, seemingly-forgotten occupation…nor be led about by industrial conglomerates telling them how many chickens per square foot to squeeze into their factories. Agrarianism is the most ancient and most necessary of vocations, and is inexhaustible in its potential for further study and improvement. Farming is a career for the capable and the visionary, and is nothing to be looked down upon.
Not a vocational farmer myself, I heartily appreciate the people who have been involved in growing the food I eat—especially the people I know personally. Undoubtedly, I understand that farming can be economically and physically trying, even almost impossible at times. I know this in theory, though not as experientially as some of my readers do. But the concept of the gentleman farmer…the Renaissance man…the intellectual agrarian….encourages me, and hopefully also the farmers among us, in the truth that profit lies in many areas. Farmers who do what they do while discipling their families can have no lack of fruit, as they all grow with and toward each other. Farmers who believe that their methods will steward the earth can have no lack of success, though one crop fails. The return of the gentleman agrarian is what our land needs: men and their families who will closely attend to their fields, spread their paradigm to many other people, and make their vocation into a springboard for building culture and building relationships.
Not everyone will be primarily a farmer, but everyone can appreciate farmers, grow a garden of their own, and integrate the various aspects of their lives into a complementary vision for their estate. More and more people are returning to the land and returning to work at home—or, at the very least, sincerely appreciating those who do. Washington and Jefferson believed that agriculture was a wise and virtuous calling, and I think they were right. They certainly gave us fine examples to emulate.