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Rooted in the Land

Rooted in the Land: Essays on Community and Place

William Vitek
Wes Jackson
Copyright Date: 1996
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 302
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  • Book Info
    Rooted in the Land
    Book Description:

    Although contemporary society seems to promote the values of individualism and mobility, this engrossing book is dedicated to the notion that human lives are enriched by participation in a social community that is integrated into the natural landscape of a particular place. The 34 contributors-who include David Ehrenfeld, Lynn R. Miller, Wendell Berry, Deborah Tall, David W. Orr, Robert Swann, and Susan Witt, as well as other philosophers, scientists, activists, economists, historians, farmers and ranchers, sociologists, theologians, and political scientists-offer an array of social and ecological perspectives on the nature of "community."The editors, William Vitek and Wes Jackson, contend that a deeper understanding of communities is critical for the health of the planet and the human spirit. They offer a compelling collection of new and classic writings-many in the form of personal narrative-that extend E. F. Schumacher's ideas about the importance of human scale and Aldo Leopold's concept of biotic citizenship. Proposing eloquent defenses of community life and practical suggestions for becoming connected to others and native to a place, the writers explore the loss of community, the philosophical foundations of communities, and the current renewal of community life.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-12780-5
    Subjects: Environmental Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
  3. preface
    (pp. xi-xvi)
  4. rediscovering the landscape
    (pp. 1-8)

    THE American landscape is broad in dimension and rich in diversity. The contiguous states alone contain eleven major bioregions, from Palouse Prairie to Eastern Deciduous Forest. The fertile soils of this landscape feed us, and we are renewed and inspired by its rivers and mountain peaks. Americans love their state and national parks, and flock to them annually.

    But it is a young love that we bring to the land, fleeting and uninformed. We are perpetually on the move—every three to five years, from place to place, and no place in particular. We crowd the scenic vistas while ignoring...

  5. I. Standing Firm

    • Rootlessness

      • leave if you can
        (pp. 11-14)
        HARRY W. PAIGE

        THERE is a town in the southwestern desert that exists only in my imagination. It could be in west Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, or southern California. It is a composite of all the hot, dusty, blowing, and rusting places I have ever seen and loved. It is a setting for fiction, fantasy, and nostalgia, yet in a vital sense it is real—as a dreamscape can be real or a vision. For my town I have borrowed the name Sal Si Puedes (Leave If You Can), from a hand-printed, weathered sign I once saw on the Baja Peninsula. Somehow it...

      • the rootless professors
        (pp. 15-19)

        SHORTLY after I moved to Vermont to teach, I was gassing up at a general store—one of those eclectic commercial institutions for which Vermont is justly renowned—and overheard a conversation that I marked as peculiar. One young man was admiring another’s car, allowing that he had once owned one like it.

        “So,” the car owner said, “you from around here?”

        “No,” came the reply. “I’m from North Montpelier.”

        I found this strange, because the place where we stood was only two short miles from the village of North Montpelier.

        At the time I thought I had overheard a...

      • pseudocommunities
        (pp. 20-24)

        TO begin with a little anecdote. There is a classroom, an ugly, badly shaped, windowless room in a modern university building designed with students not in mind. In this room is a small class, my class. We have rearranged tables and chairs in a semicircle around my place to defy the terrible ambience and to allow all twentyfive students to see and hear one another and me. I am talking. Two students sitting together in the front row—a thirty-year-old man with a pager on his belt and a twenty-year-old woman—are speaking to each other and laughing quietly; they...

      • from monoculture to polyculture
        (pp. 25-34)

        DRIVING across Kansas is often stereotyped as a boring experience, presumably because of its flatlands geography. I first experienced this stereotype when I moved to Kansas, but soon found that it is not a very accurate depiction of a state that has as much attractive rolling hill country as it has flatlands.

        Why the stereotype? I suspect it derives from the fact that most Kansas farmland is cultivated with a single crop—wheat. In late spring a drive through almost any part of the state is a trek through endless miles of wheat fields punctuated by freeway exits and grain...

    • Perspectives, Local and Global

      • an amish perspective
        (pp. 35-39)

        I want to talk about our farm. It is on the 120 acres of rolling Ohio land that the county courthouse records show belongs to my wife and me and our family. It is here that I can do great harm to nature or where I can live, or at least try to live, in peaceful coexistence with the land. Here on our farm I can exploit nature or nurture it. Here is where nature giveth and nature taketh away.

        But first we need to look at the past. We of northern European stock were not the first humans on...

      • the common life
        (pp. 40-49)

        ONE delicious afternoon while my daughter, Eva, was home from college for spring vacation, she invited two neighbor girls to help her make bread. The girls are sisters, five-year-old Alexandra and ten-year-old Rachel—both frolicky, with eager dark eyes and shining faces. They live just down the street from us here in Bloomington, Indiana, and whenever they see me pass by, on bicycle or on foot, they ask about Eva, whom they adore.

        I was in the yard that afternoon mulching flower beds with compost, and I could hear the girls chattering as Eva led them up the sidewalk to...

      • living with the land
        (pp. 50-59)

        THE rough, winding road from Srinagar climbs through the moss-green pine forests of Kashmir to the Zoji-la Pass, a dramatic boundary between two worlds. Ahead, in the parched rainshadow of the Himalayas, the earth is bare. In every direction are mountains, a vast plateau of crests in warm and varied tones from rust to pale green. Above, snowy peaks reach toward a still, blue sky; below, sheer walls of wine-red scree fall to stark lunar valleys.

        This is Ladakh, one of the harshest environments on earth. Each step you take sends up a cloud of sand and dust. Rain is...

    • Valuing Community

      • defending small farms, small towns, and good work
        (pp. 60-65)
        LYNN R. MILLER

        ON Valentine’s Day I took my wife, Kristi, to a nice restaurant in a small city forty miles away. It was to be a romantic treat, but it didn’t turn out quite as planned.

        The restaurant was sold out and we were asked to sit at a small table with a couple we had never met before. The couple made it plain they did not appreciate this turn of events. Kristi and I tried to present ourselves as harmless and perhaps even just a little interesting.

        I do not want to stoop to the level of cheap journalism, so I...

      • addicted to work
        (pp. 66-75)

        VIRTUALLY all of my friends have at one time or another suggested that I get away from the ranch, give up the physical labor it requires, and pursue some respectable occupation such as teaching. Why, they ask, should I waste my education and strain my muscles pitching hay to cows? Neighboring ranchers say, “Isn’t it too bad you wasted all that time in college when you were just going to come back here and work anyway?” Neither group understands why laughter is the only answer I can manage.

        In our admirable desire to educate ourselves, we have begun to believe...

      • conserving communities
        (pp. 76-84)

        IN October of 1993, theNew York Timesannounced that the United States Census Bureau would “no longer count the number of Americans who live on farms.” In explaining the decision, theTimesprovided some figures as troubling as they were unsurprising. Between 1910 and 1920, we had 32 million farmers living on farms—about a third of our population. By 1950, this population had declined, but our farm population was still 23 million. By 1991, the number was only 4.6 million, less than 2 percent of the national population. That is, our farm population had declined by an average...

      • does community have a value? —a reply
        (pp. 85-92)

        DURING the great flood of 1993, a woman who lived in one of the threatened Missouri towns along the Mississippi River was asked why she insisted that she would not leave this town once the waters receded. She replied that such a flood happened only once every fifty years and, more important, solidified friendships, requiring the whole community to pitch in and help build a levee strong enough to hold back the flood. She wanted to stay because, in saving itself, her community exemplified the ethic of mutual help and cooperation. I suspect that the flood proved to her the...

  6. II. Community Foundations

    • Place

      • matfield green
        (pp. 95-103)

        I am writing in what is left of Matfield Green, a Kansas town of some fifty people situated in a country of a few more than three thousand in an area with thirtythree inches of annual precipitation. It is typical of countless towns throughout the Midwest and Great Plains. People have left, people are leaving, buildings are falling down, buildings are burning down. Fourteen of the houses here that do still have people have only one person, usually a widow or widower. I purchased seven rundown houses in town for less than four thousand dollars. Four friends and I purchased,...

      • dwelling: making peace with space and place
        (pp. 104-112)

        TO say we dwell somewhere implies permanence, or at least continuity. But at root “dwell” means to pause, to linger or delay. We dwell on a subject, but eventually give it up. So what does it mean to dwell somewhere? How long do we have to stay? J. B. Jackson takes on the question, but speaks of habits rather than years, of a place becoming customary. Habits are acquired, they form over time. With disuse they are forgotten. To dwell in a place rather than simply exist in it seems to hinge on allowing such adaptive habits to form, an...

      • coming in to the foodshed
        (pp. 113-123)

        FOR virtually everyone in the North and for many in the South, to eat is to participate in a truly global food system. In any supermarket here in Madison, Wisconsin, we can find tomatoes from Mexico, grapes from Chile, lettuce from California, apples from New Zealand. And, in what we take to be an indicator of a developing slippage between the terms “sustainable” and “organic,” we can even buy organic blackberries from Guatemala (which may be organically produced, but in all likelihood are not sustainably produced if sustainable is understood to encompass more than on-farm production practices and any reasonable...

      • “placed” between promise and command
        (pp. 124-131)

        THE land as Israel’s place is understood primarily as a gift from God. Thus the very first words uttered in Genesis by God to this “family of Israel” are those spoken to Father Abraham:“Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you”(Gen. 12: 1). It is decisive for Israel’s understanding of itself and of its place that narrative memory begins with the speech of God, which suggests that there is a transcendent element in Israel’s origin and destiny. The speech takes the form of a promise, a promise that persists...

    • The Ecological Connection

      • other selves
        (pp. 132-139)

        A sense of community is most simply put as an awareness of simultaneousbelongingto both a society and a place. And also an awareness of self-identity as that society or place. There are as many kinds of societies and places as there are kinds of living beings, and probably just as many kinds of awarenesses; but at the most fundamental level any sense of belonging can rest only on a sense of self. Our search for a renewed sense of community will depend ultimately on a concept of self very different from that with which we have been indoctrinated....

      • aldo leopold as hunter and communitarian
        (pp. 140-149)

        EVERY contemporary discussion of environmental ethics that aims to be complete must include an analysis of Aldo Leopold’s concept of a “land ethic.” More than anything else, it is the land ethic that has contributed to making ASand County Almanaca classic in modern environmental philosophy (Leopold 1970; further references to theAlmanacin this chapter are cited by page number only). As this essay will try to demonstrate, Leopold’s land ethic is part of a larger web of relationships that has as its center the idea of community. By focusing on Leopold’s notion of community, we can better...

      • aldo leopold and the values of the native
        (pp. 150-160)

        BECOMING native to this place, to borrow Wes Jackson’s useful phrase, is a matter of recognizing dual citizenship. It involves the realization that one lives in the midst of a humanandan ecological community, and the successful native manages to integrate into both. This essay explores the following question: What kinds of values would we expect the successful native to embody? In the process, I propose to take Aldo Leopold as my exemplary native. There are several reasons for choosing Leopold. He was the first to explicitly advocate recognition of this dual citizenship. Furthermore, he remains today, despite fifty...

      • biological explanations and environmental expectations
        (pp. 161-166)

        AT night I don’t count sheep. Instead, soybeans and alfalfa, tobacco and potatoes row my mind, unbroken mile after mile beside the two-lane country road in Kentucky where I grew up. No one I knew on that winding, rolling, long lane of farmers ever had a fence—except to pen horses or cattle. Not the Hebels, not the Bischoffs, not the Sullivans, not the Maguires. Few fences existed in that geometry of my childhood. Years and miles and babies later, I had my own home in California. It never felt like home, perhaps because every row of broccoli or avocados...

    • Community Criteria

      • barn raising
        (pp. 167-175)

        IN many instances when public undertakings or community initiatives are blocked, a latent public consensus exists that would be more satisfying to most of the participants than what finally emerges. But in fact this consensus rarely sees the light of day. To put it differently, in most of these cases there is more common ground, and higher common ground, than the people involved ever succeed in discovering. Our prevailing way of doing things blocks us. Our failure to realize is twofold: we do not recognize the common ground (a failure to realize its existence), and we do not make it...

      • community and the virtue of necessity
        (pp. 176-184)

        IT’S midday in late August. Looking out my office window I sense the telltale signs of autumn: lighter shades of green, a sun that no longer crests the highest maple, an absence of haze, restless animals, empty nests. My body too anticipates the changes in ways I feel but do not fully comprehend. But these observations take willful effort. My eyes are drawn back to the flashing computer cursor, impatient as a tapping foot. The computer’s little fan hums, as do the fluorescent lights. A logging truck downshifts, cars maneuver for their lined spaces in the parking lot. The phone...

      • defining normative community
        (pp. 185-194)
        JOHN B. COBB JR.

        COMMUNITY is one of those many good things that we recognize chiefly in their absence. When people feel that no one cares about them, they mourn the loss of community. When they see society falling apart, they recognize the need for community.

        Thomas Hobbes depicts a communityless world in which individuals seek only their own benefit. He wrongly supposes that this describes the “state of nature,” the state from which we were saved by a contract with one another designed to create order. Of course, a society brought into being as Hobbes describes would be far removed from community.


      • in search of community
        (pp. 195-204)

        MANY writers (and readers) are troubled by the fact that the idea of “community” is so elusive. There appears to be no consensus as to its central meaning. Much the same may be said, of course, regarding many other key concepts in social science and philosophy, including “morality,” “justice,” “the political,” “law,” “culture,” and “rationality.” In each case a working definition may serve the purposes of a particular argument or inquiry. Nevertheless, each term has rich connotations to which appeal may be made when some new line of inquiry is pursued. This process needs some discipline, but to try to...

  7. III. Becoming Native

    • Conceptual Development

      • redeeming the land
        (pp. 207-216)

        IT is now fifteen years since 1995, when the Reverend Anne Stem, pastor of two small Lutheran churches in rural Redemption County, fashioned the plan during winter evening conversations with Wally Boggs, who taught agronomy at Central College, and Father John McKay, who chaired the economics department at Mercy College. They decided to buy the whole county, or as much as was for sale, and redistribute lands, homes, and workplaces to people willing to covenant for a just society that respected the earth. They would show America an alternative to the harsh exploitation and rapid depopulation of landscapes that prevailed...

      • creating social capital
        (pp. 217-225)

        INCREASINGLY in postindustrial North America, households choose where they live based on preference for place. A substantial number are choosing to move from urban areas to more bucolic, peaceful locations. That choice is often based on attraction to the physical aspects—scenery, amenities, recreational possibilities—as well as the infrastructure necessary to commute physically or electronically.

        Local culture, including social networks, contributes to community attraction and a sense of place. These social networks are many faceted and embedded in one another. Your dentist is also your tenor in choir and fellow bowling-league member, whose spouse serves with yours on the...

      • re-ruralizing education
        (pp. 226-234)
        DAVID W. ORR

        AT the top of my list of the things that we know that “ain’t right” I would place the belief that we are now an urban species, and that by and large this is a good thing or at least one that cannot be changed. For 99 percent of our evolutionary career, however,Homo sapienslived in small bands and tribes in places that would today be considered wilderness. For most of the remaining 1 percent we were either rural or lived in small hamlets and towns surrounded by countryside. From an evolutionary perspective, the vast megalopolitan areas of the...

      • a public philosophy for civic culture
        (pp. 235-243)

        LIKE all other peoples, Americans today find themselves perplexed by startling developments in their society and in their lives. These changes emanate from a vortex of global technological, economic, and political transitions. “Globalization” is a term often applied to the increasing scale of exchange across and through national and cultural boundaries. This accelerating flow of information, goods, services, and people is rapidly changing not only the structures of government and power, but the patterns of work and everyday life, even the very face of the earth itself, with unprecedented speed. The end of the relative geopolitical stability imposed by nearly...

    • Community Development

      • land: challenge and opportunity
        (pp. 244-252)

        ALDO Leopold presented a bold challenge to environmentalists: if we are to foster a culture of love and respect for land, then land can no longer be an item to buy and sell on the market. Leopold was describing not just a new land ethic but a transformation of our relationship with land in fact and deed. Nothing short of a fundamental change in the economic treatment of land can affect the attitude toward land rooted in the American psyche. Nothing short of a radical overhauling of an established system of land ownership will achieve the results Aldo Leopold envisioned....

      • community-supported agriculture: rediscovering community
        (pp. 253-260)

        MANY Americans would accept without challenge the statement that, in general, modern time-saving conveniences have led to less work, more leisure, and greater happiness. They would be surprised to hear E. F. Schumacher’s contrary assertion that the more value people place on time in a culture, the less they are able to relax and enjoy it, the more they need to fill it up with “productive” activity. But studies seem to support Schumacher’s view. Today’s average employed American works 163 more hours per year than he or she did twenty-five years ago. Witold Rybczynski of McGill University, looking at a...

      • community farming in massachusetts
        (pp. 261-272)

        WESTON, Massachusetts, where I lived and farmed for most of two decades, is only twelve miles west of Boston. To the naked eye it appears to be a bedroom community inhabited by beltway professionals. Yet Weston still thinks of itself as a small, rural New England town. Weston isn’t rural anymore, but it does behave like a small New England town, using the same town meeting form of democratic local self-government established three and a half centuries ago by Puritan farmers. Very few private farmers are left in Weston. After an absence of more than three hundred years, common farming...

  8. works cited
    (pp. 273-280)
  9. List of Contributors
    (pp. 281-282)
  10. index
    (pp. 283-285)