Humans, humus and healing
The portrait of a family living a subsistence-level lifestyle (“Humans and Humus,” July 28) might well serve to trigger a resolve to be more self-sustaining and less wasteful in many. Seems to me, though, that eschewing the mechanization and the advances of the Green Revolution will never be an answer to the problem of feeding seven billion-plus people. The search for sustainability must take place at the leading edge of agricultural advances, not in reverting to methods of the past, seems to me. It’s a global village now.
We probably all lament the same wastefulness, the same environmental degradation that economic greed has visited on us and future generations. We owe thanks to the Wiederkehr family and others who have actually rolled up their sleeves to demonstrate even the little practices leading toward a hoped-for healing, however small the acts may seem. It’s not in much talk but in the doing that tending of creation will become habituated in our generations and coming generations.
—George G. Epp, Rosthern, Saskatchewan
The editorial (“Of beets and chainsaws,” July 28 ) and the article by Andre Wiederkehr (“Humans and humus,” July 28) raise several important issues for our time. First, what constitutes enough for healthy, secure, enjoyable living. Second, the use of knowledge and technology to carry out sustainable farming. Third, use of arable land to feed the world.
With respect to the second issue, it is debatable whether the approach discussed is the best option. On the third, the article fails. For the Wiederkehrs’ approach to be normative for all, their 40 hectares would need to provide “enough” for at least 70 persons.
The strength of the article is the first issue. But the article and editorial fail to define what constitutes enough, and the question of how we attain that value within the larger community receives no attention.
I would like to add two personal experiences from 30 years of teaching and research on economic development. After the energy crisis in the 1970s, someone prepared a documentary comparing the approach to farming of an Amish family in Ontario with a Mennonite farmer in Saskatchewan. I showed this film in my introductory economics class. The farming technology used by the Amish was basically the same technology used on the prairies during my youth—a heavy reliance on human labour and horse power. The Saskatchewan farmer primarily used fossil fuel as an energy source.
A punch line in the film is the Saskatchewan farmer saying, “My approach to farming is not sustainable.”
For me, the primary message was that an Amish life based on enough was foreign to the Saskatchewan farmer. He represented where most of us as Mennonites were at in the 1980s.
Second, research shows the most efficient approach to farming, based on energy output per energy input, was slash-and-burn agriculture. It broke down over time because population growth meant the time allowed for land to recover gradually decreased. Eventually many farmers had to learn to subsist on one piece of land. Also, for various reasons, people began to live in towns, some of which grew to be cities. This became possible because many farmers moved beyond merely producing for themselves to provide the food needed for cities to flourish. Along the way we decided, possibly were induced, to always want more.
For now, the editorial and the Wiederkehr experience is contemporary escapism, as practiced by the monastic movement. Like monks of the past, you serve as a conscience for the rest of us. But for your life to become normative, the focus needs to be not the technology used to farm, but rather an explicit understanding of enough. What is it? How do we get there? How do we make it attractive to many others?
—Henry Rempel, Winnipeg (Fort Garry Mennonite Fellowship)
Work and play
Randy Haluza-DeLay’s well written reflection (“Thinking about leisure,” July 28) calls to mind the words of Mark Twain, who said that, “work consists of whatever a body is obliged to do; play consists of whatever a body is not obliged to do.”
—Paul Thiessen, Vancouver
The jewel of tension
I’m responding to Walter Paetkau’s letter (July 28) on “The duty of tension” (June 16). Paetkau seems to view it as a good thing to bring new perspectives to a certain problem or disagreement between peoples. I agree.
In my view, this tension has to be accompanied by mutual respect for a positive outcome to result.
I was living in California when the Republicans held the White House under Ronald Raegan. The most productive period of the Reagan years came when the Democrats had the majority in the House of Representatives led by Tip O’Neill. Tension and disagreement reigned between these two branches of government. Reagan and O’Neill had a healthy respect for each other. Reportedly they would meet at least twice a week for dinner along with a glass of wine or three. Things went smoothly and business got done.
There is also a good example within our own Mennonite world. When Canadian Mennonite University was formed, two prominent institutions—Canadian Mennonite Bible College and Mennonite Brethren Bible College—came together with tension and respect to create what is a jewel in the Mennonite crown.
—Richard Penner, Saskatoon
Wise and innocent
A fraud is a deeply sad situation on so many levels (“Million-dollar fraud hits Winnipeg church,” July 28).
Is there a wider learning? What would a counter-culture that decreases the chance of repeating this sadness look like?
It is so hurtful when people’s instinct to stand by their family and friends becomes a liability. That specific vulnerability affects all age groups.
All the best to the leaders and all the people of Bethel Mennonite Church in this trying time. Biblical passages are swirling in my mind as I write. Biblical laments are applicable. It is so true across many eras and so much too bad that in life we must be wise as serpents while being innocent as doves.
—Lois Epp, Calgary
The privilege of leisure?
This great column raises important questions about how we socially understand leisure. There’s the sense that leisure is the privilege of those who can afford it. Instead, we should consider whether we can afford not to value our health and spirituality by taking time off and participating in leisure activities.