"Optical devices certainly don't paint pictures. Let me say now that the use of them diminishes no great artist." -david hockney
Is it more important to improve human nature or improve the human condition? - ran prieur
My recent trip to Kansas City included many interesting events. I was there under the guise of presenting at the New Partners for Smart Growth conference. In actuality (which is very different from reality) I was there to was there to see as much KC cool local food stuff as I could possibly squeeze in. Despite the timing- mid winter- I had plenty to see and eat. And the locals were kind and generous with their time.
On the recommendation of the newest local foods-focused grocery store owner in Concord NC (more on that if I ever get around to writing it) I visited the The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art while I was in town. They have a varied collection with a great view for such a flat place. And I enjoyed the conversation as a friend and I wandered around the place.
Outside of one of the gallery rooms we could see a large Monet serving as the focal point for a class conversation regarding painting, photography and the history of art. We weren't hearing anything new in the instructor's explanation of how impressionism was the painters' response to the camera, a device that was rapidly replacing the need for realists. But it (Impressionism) was more than simply a strategy for staying relevant. It expanded the always ongoing conversation about the purpose and the place of art in human society. Art, some argued, was about much more than just capturing reality exactly as it appeared to the human eye. It was about encapsulating something more. This particular instructor gave what I thought was a well articulated version of this arguement and was continuing to do so when we wandered off.
Earlier in my KC trip I found myself in a dive bar with NC people. We had a strange and interesting conversation made more strange and interesting by the following question posed: Is anyone making any money at small scale farming? The question came from a small scale farmer whose off-farm job is trying to help small-scale farmers make money. Incidentally his wife is deeply involved in helping Organic growers become better Organic growers. And here I was in a foreign land surrounded by people from back home visiting KC in order to be even more helpful to small scale farmers and yet questioning why in the world we were even here and doing all of this. And, incidentally, questioning why a small dive bar would need nine urinals in its men's restroom.
That question still nags me, not the urinals one but the underlying question about making money, which is WHY ARE WE GROWING FOOD DIFFERENTLY? It still does actually as does another question about why I even care to try to make things better. And wouldn't it be lovely if I could just answer them by sitting down and typing it out. The truth is I don't have resolution on this. Resolution seems to be in short supply for me lately but that is probably best. I have gone far too long without developing the ability to just chill.
My answer to my friend from NC who was also in KC goes something like this. Food, some argue, is about much more than just consuming calories. And then I went back to asking questions similar to the Ran quote from above. Are we small scale farming in order to change the system or in order to change ourselves? Are we small scale farming to make money or change lives? Whose lives- the lives of those who eat our food- better tasting and fresher? Or are we small scale farming to change our own lives? I think we are doing it as a response to an out-of-control industrial food system that sucks. But are we trying to feed other people something better or are we trying to growing something better to feed ourselves and our souls with real food and real effort at meaningful production. I am what I do right?
This all used to be very academic for me. I co authored a book even to share my thoughts on the food system and an alternative from the 30,000 ft perspective. And now it is so real and so day-to-day that I hardly have a chance to sit and write about it because there are (and these are real examples) tomatoes to be transplanted, chicks to be picked up from the elementary school, local foods-focused grocery store lease agreement letters of intent to edit, beef to transfer, etc. Local food system restoration has become my life in a very real way. And I am doing this work because it feeds me in many ways beyond the dinner table. I can't imagine doing anything else, which is as close as I can come to knowing that who ever sent me here can't help but be pleased.