In under a week, I leave the Midwest, and I’ll do so feeling hopeful. Despite a frightening political landscape and the frequent dread of checking the morning news, my time here has taught me that our hope should rest first in the people around us and the positive actions they take.
I am enormously excited to go back to Massachusetts and tell people that the monoculture of the Midwest is changing. Resilient agriculture, that focuses on diversity, soil health, and careful observation of the landscape, is taking root, and it’s not because people like me show up from away and tell them to do it. It’s because they see the threat that our dominant industrial farming model poses and they are taking steps to fix it.
The potential for a diverse landscape, on the scale of the prairie itself, that mixes small and large farms, and oak savanna and swamps and small towns, is enormous. It starts with farmers seeing that there is another way to grow, whether it’s transitioning to organic production or putting livestock on pasture or putting trees back in the ground, and it also starts with bringing new farmers onto the land, striving for the chance at a life that is rewarding in a way that other work simply cannot be.
I’ve said so many times before that this job has been a truly rare opportunity to be a part of people’s lives. Transforming American agriculture is a mission undertaken by no single person and done in a span beyond any one person’s lifetime. To have the chance to be some kind of resource to all of these quiet movers and shakers, even if it’s as small as pointing to another person and saying “that’s whom you need to be talking to”, is an honor that is hard to give up. Still, I believe strongly that I am leaving my slice of that work in good hands, or even better ones, and that the good work of supporting and energizing an agriculture of stewardship will move forward with passion.
In 1990, Wendell Berry asked, “what are people for?” He lamented that our economic model was driving people away from rural America and towards an uncertain future in urban areas. While we know that this trend has continued, I believe it is changing. The people who remain on the land, and who are returning to it today, have a force of will that is shocking. I can’t answer the entire question, “what are people for?”, but I can say that at least some of us are meant to be on the land, producing food and flowers and fiber and fuel, in partnership with the land. I’m hopeful because I am about to become one of them, and I’m hopeful because I am not alone.