The Emergence of the Culture of Life

Little Seed Gardens is a small farm in Chatham, NY. It is part of an emerging form of agriculture concerned with meeting human needs while recognizing our connection to the community of the living world. Little Seed has been our lives’ work. We have given wholeheartedly to it for our entire adult lives.

We came to farming seeking to live lives without harm, initially with the aim of developing our independence as a way of seeing the impacts of meeting our needs. Of course farming, like all human activity, is deeply social. We act as agents for others and depend on others for meeting all of our needs. Farming helped open us to see our interdependence with all people and living things and we began to discover the universality of human nature  and of the fact of universal human needs and values. This led us to begin to question how best to choose strategies that allow us to fulfill our highest potentials. What we are and can be and what we value are to discover. What we do to bring our potentials into being, our strategies, need to be tested for effectiveness. Little Seed is a strategy. Celebration of human wellness is its end.

So what is human nature? The way we see it now, people are the story telling part of what we have come to call the Upward Spiral* of life. Life is the anti-entropy that catches a portion of the sunlight that falls on our planet, Earth, and before it dissipates as heat lost to the void of space, turns it into 20,000 species of butterfly.  Life channels universal power into opportunity for expression in forms that build capacity to channel more power in a positive feedback loop that builds our living world. Earth is an organism of interconnected diversity and complexity which continually strengthens and heals itself. Our bodies are made up of the endless cycling of organisms and soil and water that ties us to all that has ever lived. This is what aligns our action. This is what gives our choices the possibility of supporting what is true or good.

We are life. Before any of us becomes an individual or gets the power to act, each of us is born from the body of our mother and raised through the helplessness of infancy by human love. Nurturance is the precondition of our ability to act. Our nature is to care for ourselves and one another, and because we are not separate from the rest of the living world, it is our nature to care for life.

When we see ecosystems simplifying and breaking down, war, hatred, violence, poverty, we are seeing human illness. We are seeing people acting in ways that are not effective in bringing about well being in alignment with our nature. We are choosing strategies that are not effective to support our values and meet our needs.

We see a set of universal human needs expressed by people everywhere, among them connection, physical well-being, honesty, play, peace, autonomy and meaning. Values and needs are part of what we are and are available for us to discover in ourselves. Our decisions about how we fulfill those values through action are available for us to judge for their effectiveness and utility.

It is easy to focus on what we do. Action is easy to see and because actions are our attempts to meet our strongly felt needs, we attach deep meaning to them. But actions are only worthwhile to the extent that they allow us to express what we are and what we can be. That’s why, though Little Seed is what our family has given to and strived for and loved for many years, we still see it for what it is- our best attempt to express what we are.

Regenerative agriculture, of which we think Little Seed is a part, is a cultural evolution growing out of a recognition of our nature as part of the seamlessly united community of life. We act with concern for all earth and water and air because we see it as the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the earth that makes up our bodies.

We face the reality that our current system of what can be thought of as Fossil Agriculture will come to an end. Fossil Agriculture is the highly entropic production that feeds the world today. It is an “Oil for Food” program. It depends on the Haber- Bosch process of making nitrogen fertilizers from natural gas,- solar energy stored by the upward spiral of life over millennia in the form of hydrocarbons. That process accounts for five percent of the total human use of natural gas annually to produce upwards of 450 million tons of Nitrogen fertilizers each year. Nitrogen is the building block used by plants to make protein and makes up the blood and muscle of life. Before Haber-Bosch, all terrestrial nitrogen was removed from the atmosphere and made available to plants by nitrogen fixing bacteria living in association with plant roots. It is estimated now, that Haber-Bosch accounts for more nitrogen fixation than that gathered by all land plants and that 50% of the Nitrogen in people originated through this energy intensive process. Industrial nitrogen fixation and the Fossil Agriculture it powers have allowed the human population to increase greatly by allowing area that previously grew plants converting sunlight into food for fertility to be used for food production. The danger in this is that this process inverts the upward spiral of life that gathered the energy that powers it. Not only is the well of power that Fossil Agriculture draws on finite, its methods, by their nature, destroy the habitats where life occurs. Its inputs are biocides that degrade the future capacity of a real time solar powered agriculture that must replace it.

When we are aware of the universal forces working through and around us, our power is amplified. As Paul  Krafel says in his book  Seeing Nature, it’s as if ” an ally will emerge and the work will grow on itself.”  One thing you notice when you connect with the emergent community of regenerative agriculture is resolve. People in this field come there to bring about a reality that is not yet materialized and not yet valued in the way it will be as its role in the unfolding of human potential is more widely understood. These people struggle continuously with adversity in a social environment that has not yet fully developed ways to support nurturance and long term thinking. They wake in the morning and face the elements and uncertain markets and the incomprehensibly complex dynamics of society and nature to turn sunlight falling on land today into met human need- not because they so love boc choy and good steaks, but because a culture of life is emerging through their actions. They are motivated by their understanding of the essential task of being human- to care for themselves and others and the living world they are part of. They see the truth of our collaborative nature and are resolved to support it as they are able in the moment. They see what they are working toward in the context of the struggles for abolition and human rights, requiring the resolve of people like Martin Luther King, who right before he died, affirmed his belief that his people would reach the promised land.

Cultural evolution occurs continuously and the way we act to express our humanity changes as we learn from the experiences of the past. There is also a timelessness to human nature which is ours to celebrate and to support by building on the wisdom we gather from those before us. We are here to tell the story of  the culture of life that emerges through us. To support the well-being of the community of life that surrounds us, to honor what has brought us here, to ease the way for those who will follow, let us choose actions that support what we are.  -Willy



*We encountered the idea of the image of life as an Upward Spiral in Paul Krafel’s book Seeing Nature


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