The land that heals

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.

2 Responses to “The land that heals”

  1. Greg Bowman

    Explore this truth for a weekend: “Farming that Heals: Cornfields to community gardens.” March 1-3, 2013, the fifth Sustainable Food, Farming & Faith Conference at Laurelville Mennonite Church Center, Mt. Pleasant, Pa. 15666. Details at 800.839.1021
    Plenary sessions or workshops: urban farm trainer (Rodale Institute honoree) Maurice Small, pastor/urban farmer John Creasy, organic farmer Becky Kretschmann, real-food farm communicator Kristi-Bahrenrburg-Janzen, grass-dairy pioneer Roman Stoltzfoos, local food restaurateur Trevett Hooper, PA organic co-op reps Nathan Holmes and Aaron Swartz, on-farm innovation educators Claire and Rusty Orner, and Ohio farm mentor in youth ministry Leroy Keim. Farmers, students, eaters, food system workers, pastors, chefs, food artisans, Extension staff, artists, singers, scientists welcome. Gather. Listen. Sing together. Worship. Relate. Weep. Laugh. Go forth in joy.

  2. bud hoekstra

    Susan fascinates with leapt connections, but I disagree with her statement: I grew up on a sustainable farm. I wager that she didn’t.

    Sustainable ag, as generally recognized, has three components to it: ecology, economy and equity, paraphrased “people, profits, planet.”
    Ecology is the biological life-support of the planet, a structured and functioning earth-ecosystem with loops closed.
    Economy – I fear farming as a business where the dolalr determines a difference of right from wrong. A profession dedicates itself to a code of conduct, and for the organic farmer that code of conduct is 7 CFR 205 et seq.
    Equity is a much-older, much-debated concept with familiar sayings that undergird the civilized world: “an eye for an eye” or “love thy neighbor as thyeself” or “al men are created equal” or “willing seller, willing buyer” which forms the principle of our economic system. Yes, don’t forgte chancery law and all its equitable principles.
    Agriculture moves armies. Ball/Mason jars moved armies, just as honey enabled the Indo-Eurpeans, our ancestors, to militate. Our modern binge of agricultural research is really just a spin-off of warfare science. Haber, the father of modern ag, gave us nitrogen fertilizer – but he invented the Habe rprocess for war, for weapons, nitrogen is an essential ingredient of explosives. Haber gave us the first commercial rodenticide – which the Nazis turned against him. They deordorized it and puffed it out of the showers of Auschwitz Concentration Camp where Haber’s relatives died. When Kaiser Germany cut the world off from potash – essential for explosives too – the US Interior department deployed potash inspectors and eventually US Potash was born. Peace idled these war industries and they turned their product into fertilizer. Nuclear power aided “rural electrification” – but it was still a spin-off of war technology – peaceful only in theory. Chemical weapon development led to pesticides, another peaceful use in theory. The bottom line? If we made bombs out of sunshine, every home in the U.S. would be solar.
    I don’t know of a university that does pure agricultural research. Researchers merely refine spin-off technologies.
    Yes, this is the quixotic equivalency of beating swords into plowshares, but the only organization that I know whose research is purely in the public good and for purely agricultural purposes is the Rodale Instute’s – please syand up and take a bow!
    Eevn when you grew up, Susan, your farm probably was unsustainable. The farm probbaly used 3 calories of energy to produce one calorie of food. For every tomato you raised and sold, another tomato or two in entropy washed out of the soil. Numbers like one in two, one in three are the math that eludes us. Our make-believe cathedrals of consumption – those things we call “super” markets – look filled to the brim with variety and choice. In actuality, two-thirds to three-fourths of the world’s calories come from corn, wheat, rice and potatoes, just four species. North America has 5000 edible species, Europe around 3000, Africa 7000. Once upon a time, chestnut was among the top four foodstuffs in Europe – when have you had chestnut purre, or rose hip soup? You’d open a can of Green Giant cattails tonight, if we had a pontoon tractor to harvest them with. The vicissitudes of technology shape our farming as well as our table. I doubt rather much that you had lived on a sustainable farm.


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