When people, land and community are as one, all three members prosper; when they relate not as members but as competing interests, all three are exploited.
This lovely sentence is part of the mission statement of The Land Institute, a science-based sister organization in Salina, Kan., dedicated to advancing perennial agriculture. I just returned from Salina, where I was fortunate enough to spend quality time with founder Wes Jackson, president Fred Iutzi, and their wonderful board and staff during their annual Prairie Festival. More from their mission statement: “By consulting Nature as the source and measure of that membership, The Land Institute seeks to develop an agriculture that will save soil from being lost or poisoned, while promoting a community life at once prosperous and enduring.”
Their emphasis on community as part of the three-legged stool of prosperity struck me— not only because the community at the Prairie Festival is a long-lived and committed tribe; but because it made me reflect on how community factors into my own beliefs and our goals at Stone Barns.
Earlier this year, in our first book, Letters to a Young Farmer, I wrote about how my ideas of community, formed growing up in northern Michigan, have expanded and deepened during my tenure at Stone Barns: The landscape of Kalchik Farm [in Michigan] is carefully tended, as it has been my entire life. But I took it for granted. I did not fully appreciate the kind of care it receives until I had the opportunity to work with imaginative and hard-working farmers like Jack Algiere [at Stone Barns]. . . .But I did have a sense that Kalchik’s farm represented a brand of stewardship and a protective spirit that made our community special, for it was managed in ways that were both respectful of the natural environment and of the people who live there.
Today, knowing the thought and care that Jack gives not only to the intimate management of our farm but also to the larger landscape of woodlands and creeks of which the farm is a part—knowing this now, when I pass Kalchik Farm on visits home, I think about what Mr. Kalchik sees, that I do not see, when he looks out across that extraordinary landscape. I am not a farmer as they are, but Jack is teaching me to observe, to look closely and try to understand what the landscape tells us. . . . Jack has taught me to listen, to watch, to see, as Wordsworth said, “into the life of things.”
As I spent time sauntering—in the true John Muir sense of the word—through the broad and enveloping prairie of The Land Institute, I could not help but be moved by that extraordinary landscape of grass and sky; that immense persistence of depth and dimension whose subtle beauty permeates your entire being. While I was lucky to visit, it was clear to me that Wes and his team are truly of that place. Yet the community that they serve is an integral part of our community—the community we’re trying to build, and for the long term.
Here on the eve of our 10th annual Young Farmers Conference, I am reminded of the community life that we in resilient agriculture are all working to create—one that might be prosperous and enduring.