By Susan A. Schneider, Director of LL.M. Program in Agricultural & Food Law at Arkansas School of law and contributor to the Agricultural Law blog.
As our nation grieves the losses in Newtown, Connecticut, we struggle to understand. We see the faces of the children killed—true pictures of innocence—and wonder how something so terrible could have happened.
While much of the immediate press coverage has focused on limited gun control measures, President Obama described the problem as "complex" and called upon us to "look more closely at a culture that all-too-often glorifies guns and violence."
As always, I see a connection to agriculture and farm policy.
I am reminded of a quote from Wendell Berry from his Commencement address at Lindsey Wilson College in 2005:
The line that connects the bombing of civilian populations to the mountain removed by strip mining ... to the tortured prisoner seems to run pretty straight. We're living, it seems, in the culmination of a long warfare — warfare against human beings, other creatures and the Earth itself.
I grew up on a family farm that was "sustainable" before we knew enough to use that term. There was a respect for nature, a respect for the animals that we raised, an appreciation of the miracle of growing food, and a deep sense of community. That was just the way it was. While past agricultural policies have tended to view this model of agriculture as outmoded and inefficient, its resurgence through the sustainable agricultural communities offers us hope for the future—for our food system as well as for our broader society.
Sustainable agriculture offers the perfect model to help our nation turn away from a culture that "glorifies guns and violence." At its core, sustainable agriculture advocates for integration and connection—between farmers and the land, between farmers and consumers, between people and their food source. It stresses a harmony with nature and the recognition of our place within it.
But what about guns? Again, I look to my rural upbringing. Yes, there were guns in my home on the farm. But, I was taught that they were weapons used only for specific purposes. Hunting was a sport, but a sport with a very practical purpose: food for our family. Killing was not entertainment. Assault weapons? These were weapons of war, with no place or purpose on the farm.
Consider the connections to sustainable agriculture promoted by agricultural groups working with veterans of war. Rodale Institute has partnered with a local college to provide hands-on training in organic farming for veterans. Nationwide, the Farmer Veteran Coalition seeks "to create healthy and viable futures for America’s veterans by enlisting their help in building our green economy, rebuilding our rural communities, and securing a safe and healthy food supply for all." After the violence of war, veterans find purpose in connecting with the land and producing food sustainably.
As part of the national dialogue that stems from the horrific killings in Connecticut, I hope that we can all rise to see the interconnections. The solutions include but go far beyond sensible gun laws. We should look to the most central element of any society—how it produces its food—and ask ourselves whether we respect the natural processes of food production or do violence to them. Sustainable agriculture can help us find our way.
Professor Susan A. Schneider teaches agricultural and food law courses at the University of Arkansas School of Law and serves as the Director of the unique advanced legal degree program, the LL.M. Program in Agricultural & Food Law. Schneider was raised on a family farm in Minnesota and has devoted her legal career to work in agricultural and food law. Her private practice experience includes agricultural law work with firms in Arkansas, Minnesota, North Dakota, and Washington, D.C. as well as service as a staff attorney at Farmer's Legal Action Group Inc. (FLAG). She now serves on the FLAG Board of Directors. She is a past president of the American Agricultural Law Association (AALA) and was the recipient of the 2011 AALA Distinguished Service award. She is a frequent speaker at agricultural and food law conferences. Professor Schneider is a significant contributor to the Agricultural Law blog. Her twitter account @aglawllm is followed by many interested in agricultural and food law issues.