Testing one,two,one,two. Here is my test, I hope it’s the best.
This is the post excerpt.
Testing one,two,one,two. Here is my test, I hope it’s the best.
As the semester draws to a close, I turn once again the idea I have discussed since October. That elusive concept of an economy where objects and their surroundings are valued, while society benefits as a result. A loving economy refers to author and environmentalist Wendell Berry’s idea of “an economy built upon good craftsman ship and an appreciation of resources” (Berry, pg. 524). Over the course of my past two stalkings I have connected my experiences with evidence of the concept, challenging my previous perceptions of my ideas and forcing me to think differently. In my first stalking I discussed how Smith Island, despite its isolation and deep community ties lacked a loving economy. For my second stalking, I discussed how a loving economy was largely absent in Belize and Guatemala, but certain actions made me consider the parameters of a loving economy. Including the importance of isolation in the creation of a loving economy. However, largely absent from my analysis of loving economies was the all-important presence of food. I rarely considered farming in my assessments, despite the fact that few uses of resources have such a global impact as agriculture. Over journey 4, the Chesapeake Semester toured several local farms, examining both large scale industrial agriculture and smaller scale farm operations. Simultaneously the issues of how food is produced and what this means for the Chesapeake came to the forefront of the conversation. The discussion of the loving economy in regards to farming on the Chesapeake helps me develop and reform my Chesapeake ethic, as I have altered my own ideas regarding the loving economy over the course of three journeys. Achieving a true loving economy is incredibly difficult, nigh impossible for a modern native of the Chesapeake. However, attempting to live in a loving economy is a possible and accessible approach which can help. This is part of Chesapeake Ethic, protect the precious resource of the Bay by working to limit my impact on it.
As I have discussed in my previous writings, the loving economy is incredibly hard to achieve in modern society, modern American society in particular. This is due to the prevalence of cheaply made disposable goods, which are constantly available. This constant availability of cheap goods is especially true within the United States, where the shipment of goods across the globe is an incredibly common business practice. As a result, the United States is never truly isolated, due to the fact that Americans can theoretically obtain all the resources they could ever truly need. Isolation fuels loving economies by forcing societies to examine their limited resources and make careful decisions about how to use what is at their disposal. Without these resources, their society would collapse and subsequently need to create long lasting objects out of few resources. When a society has no need of taking stock of its resources because of constant access, this survival based need to be considerate about what they use does not occur. For example, I expected to find a loving economy on Smith Island in the Chesapeake Bay, but instead I was greeted by a population who used disposable goods constantly and did not seem to especially value their resources any more than American citizens. I hypothesize this is due to their status as American citizens, because despite their supposed isolation, they are still only 45 minutes from the nearest Walmart. This is very different than an isolated Mayan community 45 minutes from the nearest gas station.
However, if isolation was the sole cause of a loving economy, then how can one explain attempts to enact such an idea within the U.S.? As I described in my first blog on the loving economy, efforts to produce longer lasting and more environmentally friendly food and other objects has been underway for some time now. Previously these communities have been relegated to the outskirts of society, affixed with labels such as “hippies” or “hipsters.” These labels illustrate how American society is so deeply entrenched in the idea of a world with unlimited resources. However, the message of eating locally grown foods has expanded out of the areas of obscurity to occupy a greater role in how the U.S. views its role in resource consumption. For example, large scale agricultural operation such as the poultry growing enterprise of Allen and Owen Davis, who run a large scale industrial meat bird, or broiler, operation. This operation represented the scale of industrial agriculture which produces over a million birds per year. Such massive scale farming serves as the largest form of pollution for the Chesapeake’ Eastern Shore (Hardesty, Eutrophication and Dead Zones, 2017). This is in part due to the massive amounts of fertilizers used by farmers to grow produce and increase crop yields (Hardesty, Eutrophication and Dead Zones, 2017). The nitrogen and phosphorus rich fertilizers will then enter the local watershed, through phosphorus leaching into groundwater or nitrogen washing into the watershed due to rain (Hardesty, Nutrient Sources and Transport, 2017). Additionally, large scale operations such as this are often a leading cause of sedimentation, due to exposed soil during fallow periods (Hardesty, Nutrient Sources and Transport, 2017). These issues can be somewhat mitigated through the use of various farming techniques such as the use of cover crops in fallow periods to limit nitrogen and sedimentation, or poultry litter storage buildings to limit phosphorus leaching (Hardesty, Nutrient Sources and Transport, 2017).
However, large scale industrial farmers are not often happy to abide by environmental or animal welfare regulation. For example, the Davis brothers adhere to a set of guidelines regarding animal welfare known as the Good Agricultural Practices(G.AP.). This is a series of voluntary environmental regulations put into place by organizations such as the Humane Society, which farmers follow in order to meet a consumer demand for more regulation on the care and environmental impacts of large scale farming. For example, the Davis brothers sell to Wholefoods, which requires all poultry growers it works with to follow G.A.P guidelines (Davis, 2017).
They describe certain guidelines as “feel good rules, which make people who don’t know about how food production works feel better” (Davis, 2017). The brothers believe that these regulations simply slow down the efficiency of their operation, which is hard to argue. It would be far more efficient to put all of their energy into working solely on producing birds quickly and cheaply than to deal with outside regulation. The brothers are not fond of these efforts, and argue that with these regulations it is harder for them to “feed the world” (Davis, 2017) This concept of “feeding the world” is often used by industrial farmers to justify their need for efficiency and massive scale. The apparent sentiment of most large scale farmers seems to be that smaller scale agriculture is quaint, if not effective or useful. This argument highlights a pressing issue, as humanity’s population continues to grow, more and more food is required to sustain a massive number of people. The burden rests on farmers, who as the producers of food for the world are responsible for creating nutrients. The amazing ability of industrial farmers to produce incredible amounts of food in very little time can be seen as a societal boom. However, the insidious nature of producing cheap products in mass quantities has unfortunate societal and environmental side effects.
Food production utilizes a mind numbing amount of resources. In order to produce one pound of beef, approximately 1,799 gallons of water is required (Hallock, 2014). Not all of this water is consumed by the cow, but includes the amount needed to tend the grains which the cow consumed. Similarly, 1 pound of corn requires 108 gallons of water (Hallock, 2014). While industrial agriculture does not necessarily increase the amount of resources required for each animal or plant, it does produce so much that the energy put into producing the object is lost.
For example, the United States produces incredible amounts of corn, so much corn that not all of it could be consumed by animals or people (Food Inc, 2009). This leftover corn is then transformed into corn syrup and marketed as incredibly cheap. In the documentary, Food Inc, it far cheaper for a family of four to buy McDonalds and soda than vegetables. The cheapness of the vast quantities of food only supports the ideas behind a loving economy in that production should be low, but the quality of the items should high. Processed food truly represents all that a loving economy strives to avoid. It is composed of many working parts, is focused on creating profits, and does not take into account any of the inherent value of the plant or animal for what it is before it becomes food. For example, the delicate interplay of husbandry which Berry discusses in his essay Renewing Husbandry, was decidedly absent at the Davis brother’s poultry farm. Berry argues that “to husband is to use with care, to keep, to save, to make last, to conserve” (Berry). For the Davis brothers, the birds were described not as chickens, but as “broilers,” and their existence culminated in being one of a million the brothers produce in a year. When food is produced at that scale, it is difficult to apply love to your product, as opposed to caring for a small number of organisms which you cherish prior to them becoming food and profit. Berry touches upon this concept in his essay, stating “most and perhaps all of industrial agriculture’s manifest failures appear to be the result of an attempt to make the land produce without husbandry” (Berry). Husbandry in a sense represents the delicate balance between man and nature, and fits into the loving economy as a cog in a machine. In a loving economy, the food that was created would have been appreciated when it was a plant or animal, and that appreciation would carry over into its transformation into a meal and its consumption. As food becomes cheaper the knowledge of what went into the food is lost, and an appreciation for the resources which were used in its production is overlooked. The constant availability of cheap food plays a similar role in the availability of cheap objects. The end result is an overlooked item which is either discarded or consumed without a second thought, without acknowledging how much the environment has been used to create it.
Furthermore, despite all the claims made by farmers about increasing efficiency of production for so that they may “feed the world,” food is overproduced in the United States. While people starve across the globe, Americans overproduce food to such a degree that 133 billion pounds are wasted in the United States annually (Royte, 2016). While visiting St. Brigids grass raised beef and dairy farm, owner Judy Gifford described how milk is so overproduced that it is cheaper for farmers to “dump it out,” than pay the fines for “producing more than the dairy co-op wants” (Gifford, 2017). Perhaps the true issue with feeding the world is not production, but distribution. If there is such excess food that it can be wasted, then there is no reason for people to starve. If it is difficult to transport food, then perhaps it would be more beneficial to develop local, small scale farming operations, or at least purchase from similar operations. Then the resources would be easier to attain, and hopefully less food would be wasted. This model of farming would also fit Berry’s ideas regarding the importance of connecting individuals with the process of food creation. In a mindset corresponding to the loving economy, he articulates how one as a consumer should “learn the origins of the food you buy, and buy the food that is produced closest to your home. The idea that every locality should be, as much as possible, the source of its own food makes several kinds of sense. The locally produced food supply is the most secure, freshest, and the easiest for local consumers to know about and to influence” (Berry, 2009). This is done in so that individuals will be more conscious of what goes into producing their food and subsequently value it more.
The loving economy has occupied my thought process for some time now. Whenever I will be listening to a lecture in class or meeting with an industry leader, a part of my mind was constantly comparing it to Berry’s principles. Over the past several journeys my hypothesis on the concept have been challenged, proven wrong and occasionally been supported. As a result of my mind being so active in discussing a loving economy it would be impossible for this concept to have not influenced my Chesapeake ethic. An economic system where not only the scale or efficiency of production is valued, but an appreciation for what went into the products is important. For example, I believe that fewer people would dispose of an ugly looking piece of fruit if they recognized how many resources went into its production. A loving economy has the ability to connect individuals back to the environment and illustrate the impacts of their consumption on the land. In regards to the Chesapeake, purchasing poultry from a small scale farmer would limit the number of nutrients which would enter the Bay, while educating the buyer on how many resources went into the production of the bird. The food that I would consume in a loving economy would surely cost more than I currently pay for food, but with this price raise an acknowledgment of where the food comes from and how it has impacted the Chesapeake will cause me to cherish it more. Participation in a loving economy, even in a limited form, has the potential to limit negative social and environmental impacts within the Chesapeake region, serving as a major component of my Chesapeake ethic.
Berry, W. (1981). Solving for Pattern. North Point Press.
Berry, W. (n.d.). Wendell Berry: The Pleasures of Eating. Retrieved December 15, 2017, from https://www.ecoliteracy.org/article/wendell-berry-pleasures-eating#
Berry, W. (1981). Preserving for Wildness. In Home Economics.
Hardesty,M (2017).Eutrophication and Dead Zones. Personal Collection of M. Hardesty, Washington College, Chestertown MD.
Hardesty,M (2017).Nutrient Sources and Transport. Personal Collection of M. Hardesty, Washington College, Chestertown MD.
Kenner, R., Kenner, R., Kenner, R., Pearce, R., Schlosser, E., Schlosser, E., . . . Adler, M. (Writers), & Pearce, R. (Director). (2009). Food, Inc. [Motion picture on DVD]. United States.
Royte, E. (2016, March 01). How ‘Ugly’ Fruits and Vegetables Can Help Solve World Hunger. Retrieved December 15, 2017, from https://www.nationalgeographic.com/magazine/2016/03/global-food-waste-statistics/
Hallock, B. (2014, January 27). To make a burger, first you need 660 gallons of water … Retrieved December 15, 2017, from http://www.latimes.com/food/dailydish/la-dd-gallons-of-water-to-make-a-burger-20140124-story.html
Davis, A (2017, November 30). Personal Interview with Chesapeake Semester Class of 2017 and Professor M. Hardesty, and Professor S. Meehan.
Davis, O (2017, November 30). Personal Interview with Chesapeake Semester Class of 2017 and Professor M. Hardesty, and Professor S. Meehan.
Gifford, Judy (2017, December 1). Personal Interview with Chesapeake Semester Class of 2017 and Professor M. Hardesty.
Over the past week, my classmates and I visited several farms, each of which varied in products and style. In a crash course of American agriculture, we were exposed to the industrial food industry, and a few attempts of growing food on a smaller scale. Several of the locations we visited involved the raising and slaughtering of animals for meat, ranging from an industrial poultry operation to a small scale dairy farm which sold its male calves for veal. In the course of these visits, the rights of animals and their treatment at the hands of human beings came to the forefront. In particular, it raised the issue of treating animals with respect, and if its possible to actually respect a creature if you kill and eat it.
In regards to this supposed hypocrisy, I understand the counter intuitive notion of respect for something you will kill. Why bother care for a being whose life you will take solely for your own pleasure? However, I feel that respect for one’s food is necessary for a responsible consumption of meat. I enjoy the taste of meat considerably and I believe I would struggle to cut it out of my diet forever. However, I do prefer knowing that my food came from a place which met certain personal ethical considerations which signified respect in my mind. For example, I would prefer if my food came from a small scale meat operation on a local farm where the animals lived out their lives with room to roam. I do not wish to cause harm to the animals in their activities, I detest unnecessary cruelty. Yes, the slaughtering and harvesting of the animals will cause pain, but their lives don’t have to be spent in misery. This is why I far preferred interacting with the small scale beef operation at Crow Farm than the massive poultry operation run by the Davis brothers. The cows had room to move, they weren’t crammed in tight, dimly lit spaces such as the chickens on the poultry farm. I did not feel that the chickens at the Davis farm were viewed as living creatures worthy of respect. I got the distinct feeling that the birds were viewed as a product and not as a valued living creature. The Davis brothers would obviously have been much happier if they could lock the birds in that dimly lit shed for their five-week growth period and only interact with them when it was time to sell them. I did not detect any sense of the delicate husbandry which Wendell Berry discussed in relation to caring for animals. Instead it was simply a storage system for meat, left in a manner which reminded me of the world of The Matrix.
I do recognize that meat animals will have to die to support my desire. At some point in their lives they will feel pain, solely because I want something that will taste good. When questioned along these lines I refer back to the mantra my mother uses when describing raising animals for meat. “I want them(animals) to have a nice life, with only one really bad at the end of it.” However, while I believe that the majority of Americans would prefer if their meat was treated with a certain degree of respect, that is certainly not the case. Industrial meat production has taken the rights of meat animals and replaced it with the value of efficiency. In a similar manner to how human rights were thrown to the wayside during the industrial revolution. When the rights of living things clash with profit and efficiency, profit usually wins and living things suffer. In order for this system to change, consumers need to be conscious about what they are eating and make difficult decisions about how they want their food to be treated. This has already had impacts on the industry. For example, the Davis brothers provide their birds with at least 6 hours of darkness a night in order to simulate natural light cycle, which is a consumer mandated number. The Davis brothers scoffed at this requirement, but they enforce it, since that is what the consumers desire and they are businessmen reliant on the free market. In order for other forms of meat production to change, consumers will need to speak up in similar ways.
For several weeks now, the concept of a loving economy has been weighing upon my mind. A loving economy refers to author and environmentalist Wendell Berry’s idea of “an economy built upon good craftsman ship and an appreciation of resources” (Berry pg. 524). This economy will be environmentally sustainable, due to an appreciation for resources which leads to better crafts, and in turn better, longer lasting products. In my previous stalking, I discussed this very topic in relation to places in the Chesapeake region where I could expect to find a loving economy. On Smith Island I hoped to find a community who loved the environment they used. Instead I discovered a landscape almost devoid of visible love. The land instead appeared as trampled terrain. Evidence of habitation was incredibly abundant, with piles of garbage at every turn and burning refuse visible. While Berry does not outline an issue with evidence of human habitation on a landscape, he does argue that a love for one’s resources should translate into a visible healthiness of the environment. I hoped to find a healthy environment on Smith Island, however, my hopes were unmet.
New opportunities presented itself for journey 3, where I was able to examine Central America for evidence of a loving economy. Here I would compare how an absence of American culture or living standards translates into Berry’s loving economy. On Smith Island I saw how a lack of funds and expense of living in an isolated village led to an adoption of cheap, low quality, disposable goods. In Guatemala and Belize, poverty led not to an adoption of poorly made cheap goods, but instead to the use of local goods at a lowered standard of living. This potentially relates back to the idea of isolation. In the United States, Smith Island is viewed as an isolated place due to its distance of 45 minutes from the nearest store. In Belize, if a community is 45 minutes from the nearest store, they are truly isolated. The resources available at an American store and a Belizean store are very different. The wealth of the United States makes even the most isolated and impoverished communities have more than isolated and impoverished Belizean communities. Isolation in a poorer nation means less forms of transport and less things to obtain after transport back to civilization. This forces communities to truly adapt to living in isolation, being conscious of resources used and making due with little supplies. I believe it is in these environments that a loving economy is likely to occur.
For example, the national beer of Belize, Beliken, is actively recycled. While cans and bottles are recycled in the U.S., this often comes in the form of plastic or aluminum which is destroyed and subsequently reformed. Beliken on the other hand, comes almost entirely in the form of glass bottles, which are shipped back to the Beliken company after use. These glasses are then cleaned, refilled, and resold. These glasses can be filled up to 10 ten times (Wolfe). This process of reuse matches Berry’s idea of a love for an object. Berry believes that if there is an appreciation for a product, it should last a considerable. The longer a product lasts, the fewer similar items will need to be produced, and the less resources need to be extracted. This potentially relates back to the idea of isolation. In the United States, Smith Island is viewed as an isolated place due to its distance of 45 minutes from the nearest store. In Belize, if a community is 45 minutes from the nearest store, they are truly isolated. The resources available at an American business and a Belizean business are very different. The wealth of the United States makes even the most isolated and impoverished communities have more than isolated and impoverished Belizean communities. Isolation in a poorer nation means less forms of transport and less things to obtain after transport back to civilization. This forces communities to truly adapt to living in isolation, being conscious of resources being used and making due with little supplies. I believe it is in these environments that a loving economy is likely to occur.
However, Belize certainly is no environmental paradise. The nation has well documented issues with resource extraction. Historically the overuse of mahogany and other organisms in the country has caused environmental degradation. While this is not surprising, one would think that the environment in Belize would be well regarded and protected when its economy is so built on an appreciation for the environment as Belize’s. Tourism produces 15% of the Belizean economy (Turner, 2015). The nation relies on its natural beauty. However, widespread environmental degradation exists, either in the form of overfishing with a lack of oversight or destruction of the very environment which provides money. For example, in order to attract foreign tourists, property owners will destroy necessary environmental features such as mangrove forests in order to provide a more unobstructed view of the ocean. However, this destruction will cause extensive flooding and erosion, eliminating the stability and storm protection ecosystem services mangroves provide for the environment. How could an economy built upon an appreciation for the environment lead to environmental degradation? While mangrove destruction is not evident by all business which rely on ecotourism, it does exist. Potentially, environmental degradation is viewed as a necessary aspect of the economy. Despite a love for the coral reefs which attract investors and tourists, perhaps mangroves are not appreciated to a similar degree since considerably fewer tourists visit Belize for its gorgeous mangrove forests. Maybe a love for the environment is driven less by appreciating its natural functions, but instead is built on an affection for the monetary values of the environment?
A former fisherman on the island of Tobbaco Caye detailed the unique positon of Belize. Where certain products, such as fish are captured and sent to local markets in Dangriga, larger markets such as Spiny Lobster and Queen Conch are sent abroad. In a sense, Belize’s poverty and inability to compete with foreign markets due to scale of harvest and type of product assists in creating a loving economy. Fish which is respected by fishermen is sold locally and consumed heartily. The scale and appreciation for the product is of paramount importance. A local fisherman on the island, Mr. Dave, sought only to catch fish with a hand gaff and free diving. He in fact chuckled when approached with the idea of using a scuba tank or spear gun. He discussed his feelings of not wanting to be “unfair,” to his quarry. However, he felt no such sport in regards to spiny lobster or conch. The existence of an international market and the opportunity to make more money fishing for conch or lobster altered his feelings toward the product. Perhaps he still felt a sense of respect for the conch and lobster, but the economic opportunities far outweighed any apparent love and appreciation for the organism.
The loving economy is a difficult concept to fully visualize. In today’s deeply entangled global world, few if any cultures can realize exactly what Berry described. Why would any society showcase a love for the environment when the overwhelming influence of money can alter lives in immediate ways? The only true manner in which a loving economy can occur is in a situation of true isolation. One built upon a lack of access to industrial resources and the insidious nature of large amounts of currency. The nation of Belize provided new insights into my understanding of a loving economy, however, I doubt that I will likely experience a true loving economy in the future.
Wolfe, D. (n.d.). A Tour of Belize Brewing. Retrieved November 27, 2017, from https://www.sanpedrosun.com/old/belikin.html
Turner, R. (2015). Travel and Tourism: Economic Impact of 2015. Retrieved November 27, 2017, from https://www.wttc.org/-/media/files/reports/economic%20impact%20research/countries%202015/belize2015.pdf
Berry, W. (1987). Preserving Wilderness. 520-524. Retrieved October 28, 2017.
Slow violence is an interesting concept and subsequently obvious. Of course there exists this less insidious version of violence, the under the skin, malevolent, emotional abuse, style of violence which cripples and manipulates in the same manner of traditional violence which is often visible. However, I had never heard of this concept before. Even when I learned of neocolonial issues regarding imperialist powers of the “global north” over the “global south,” the issues, environmental or otherwise all consisted of brash, large showcases of violence.
I have seen the effects of slow violence in the Chesapeake region. Specifically, in regards to the inability of politicians to recognize the long term benefits of dealing with environment issues that match the description of slow violence. For example, particularly prevalent in the Chesapeake Bay is the level of pollution in the Bay’s waterways. Due to the region’s long history of human habitation and usage, the region is prone to sedimentation, phosphorus and nitrogen pollution, and subsequent eutrophication. Politicians, while on paper are all for creating a cleaner Chesapeake Bay, are often unwilling or unlikely to put into action bills which would limit pollution in the Bay. This is often done as an unwillingness to give up the votes of potential voters who do not agree with arguments for limiting pollution, and the time sensitive nature of politicians. Catastrophes and traditional ideas of violence are easy to identify. For example, the collapse of a power plant would likely garner more focused and quick attention than dealing with the constant and slow reality of phosphorus in the bay, when it takes decades for the local environment to change. The slow violence of pollution in the bay is just as destructive to the environment as the collapse of a power plant, yet the slow and unnoticed nature of such events leads to being unresolved. As a result, certain politicians in the region are unwilling to deal with slow violence pollution, and instead either decry the science behind the violence or focus on obvious, easy to view issues.
In Belize, my understanding of the slow violence visible there will be more akin to so called “environmentalism of the empty stomach.” Belize is a significantly more impoverished nation than the United States and the impacts will still be visible. I expected that widespread environmental degradation will consist of the destruction of forests for farming. I understand that Belize has wide swathes of land which one housed rainforests and now serves as farmland due to the need for economic and food opportunities. In regards to slow environmental violence, Belize’s government will most likely be willing to avoid large scale destruction of valuable tourism areas, such as destruction of the coral reef, but willing to engage in activities which may eventually result in coral bleaching and be just as destructive in the long run as immediate destruction of the reef. However, the issue of time associated with slow violence and the need for Belize to generate income to support their poor nation will sacrifice the protection of the environment from coral bleaching or pollution. For the years in which politicians and business leaders are in power, the environment will not be visibly degraded. The impacts of these behaviors will not be recognized for years to come, however they will cause extensive issues, arguably more damaging to the environment than outright destruction.
In my past blogs I have written about the concept of a “loving economy.” A term coined by Wendell Berry to describe “an economy built upon good craftsman ship and an appreciation of resources” (Berry pg. 524). Such an economy is associated with buying local, or supporting neighborhood farms. Berry illustrates a loving economy as, “would strive to place a proper value on all the materials of the world, in all their metamorphoses from soil and water, air and light to the finished goods of our towns and households, and I think that the only effective motive for this would be a particularizing love for local things, rising out of local knowledge and local allegiance” Berry pg. 524). An association of loving economies with close knit, local communities prompted me to look at the economy of Smith Island. Renowned for its reputation as a community of intertwined families who have all lived on the same island for 300 years, it is easy to immediately lump the Smith Islanders into the idea of a loving economy. However, my visit to Smith Island did not convince me of any existence of a loving economy on the island, challenging my prior ideas of what constituted a loving economy. The lack of a loving economy on Smith Island can be attributed to the pervasive poverty on the island and a spiritual belief system that provides God power over the environment.
A loving economy, Berry writes, should incorporate a love for a craft and an appreciation for the materials which go into the finished product. Berry states, “the good worker loves the board before it becomes a table, loves the tree before it yields the board, loves the forest before it gives up the tree” (Berry pg. 524). This is in direct contrast to the modern industrial economy, which promotes the efficient production of numerous, low quality, and low cost items in place of quality goods. Smith island is a secluded location several miles off the coast of Maryland’s eastern shore. The combination of isolation, cultural connection, and a deep seated sense of place seemed to be the perfect breeding ground for a loving economy. Renowned for being intensely knowledgeable about their Island, I expected a group of individuals who made their own objects and grew their own food. Something akin to the ideal pastoralist life many local markets seem to aspire to inspire. However, what I found was not the farmer market environment I expected.
On Smith Island I saw a land coated in store bought objects. Food transported in from the mainland was the main source of nutrition, save for soft crabs, chickens and intensely guarded pomegranate trees. It seems that even such an isolated and tightly knit community has succumbed to the influence of industrialized economy. The only evidence of locally made items were the numerous aging boats in the harbor, some of which were as much as 80 years old. Perhaps the isolated island community lacks the funds to have a “loving economy,” which are often more expensive than buying industrially produced objects. Indeed, Smith Island is an impoverished place, with the median family income averaging $33,000 and 15% of the residents living below the poverty line (Smith Island United, 2014). The added expenses of needing to import all goods by boat further increases prices, forcing Islanders to purchase only what they can afford. What the residents can afford, is the cheap, low quality and mass produced items in opposition to a loving economy.
However, perhaps I did not view the true Smith Island. I am only an outsider who spent a single night on the island. Such a tight knit community would surely limit the flow of goods and information to only residents and not to tourists such as myself. Maybe I am too foreign, and do not hold the same sense of place that native islanders do. In talking with one local resident named Bill who moved to the island from Virginia, a peer of mine learned that Bill had not been fully accepted into the community despite having lived there for three years. People were polite to him and while he was not openly excluded from the island’s activities, he and his wife still feel like outsiders among the native residents. If this full time resident still felt that he was not a true part of this tight knit community, then how could I, a brief visitor, experience all that Smith Island had to offer? Perhaps Smith Islanders are simply being frugal with whom they share their loving economy, after all, such an economy is supposed to be contained and local.
However, while I may not have been included into the island’s cultural inner workings, the state of Smith Island’s land leads me to believe a loving economy is not present. First and foremost is the prevalence of trash. The residents of Smith Island see fit to burn all of their refuse, either in a large incinerator, or in a large heap 200 feet to the left of the incinerator. Whatever isn’t burned is simply thrown to the side, and the island is littered with decades, if not centuries of refuse. Even Martins Wildlife Refuge, separated from the town of Ewell by a stretch of water is populated with trash. This description is not on par with Berry’s idea of a loving economy. Berry argues that in a loving economy “people who valued material things would take care of them and would care for the sources of them” (Berry pg. 523). The people of Smith Island showcased that they do not value their material objects any more than most individuals and simply participate in global throwaway and replace culture.
The Smith Islanders simultaneous intense love for their island and their casual disregard for the environment are in contrast. I would argue this contrast can be traced back to the islanders’ spiritual connection with the landscape. The Smith Islanders have deep seated Methodist beliefs, beliefs which include the idea that nature is under the domain of God. This way of viewing the world is present throughout much of the life of Smith Islanders, dictating their views on crab populations, and the reality of climate change. Smith Islanders are often quoted saying that “God will provide.” In one case, Washington College student Kirsten Webb interviewed a woman who stated that “God sent the crabs to us in the past, and now he is sending us the tourists.” The idea that God will provide is deeply entrenched in the culture of Smith Island. This in turn causes Smith Islanders to not worry about their environment due to their spiritual beliefs. If God will provide, then why care about the environment? God will quell the rising tide and stop erosion, or so the Smith Islanders believe. The means of how God stops the erosion can come in the form of new jetty system, not necessarily in the guise of an all-powerful storm, but if the issue is addressed than God is believed to have had a hand in it.
Smith Island is a unique location. Isolated, biodiverse, and populated by the same families for centuries, it is like nowhere else in the Chesapeake. A group so culturally and environmentally entwined would be thought to practice something akin to Berry’s idea of a loving economy. However, the state of affairs on Smith Island showcases how far from a loving economy the residents are. The island, while being naturally spectacular, is littered with garbage, illustrating a lack of attention and love for the objects they utilize. Partially this can be explained by the pervasive poverty of the island’s residents, who rely on cheap goods to survive, as do many in American society. Another way to explain this lack of a loving economy is to look towards the spirituality of the islanders, who as devote Methodists believe that the environment is totally controlled by God. When the world around you are shaped to fit your needs, why care about the quality of the goods you use or its impact on the environment? Smith Island despite its history, cultural makeup and isolation, do not meet the criteria of Berry’s loving economy, making this seemingly unique place resemble the rest of the world.
Webb, K. (2017, October 4). Climate Change Ethnography Lecture. Lecture.
Berry, W. (1987). Preserving Wilderness. 520-524. Retrieved October 28, 2017.
Smith Island United. (2014). Smith island vision plan. Consensus Building Institute and
Horsley Witten Group.
The more Wendell Berry I read, the more I appreciate his point of view. Recently, I read an article of his titled Preserving Wilderness. In it, Berry outlines the issues facing society’s concepts of conservation and how the very economic system which governs our reality makes the preservation of nature difficult.
Berry articulates that if the preservation of wilderness is possible, then human beings need to alter how we view our surroundings. He provides the example of a carpenter feeling love for not only his craft, but also for the tree that he will use to make an item. The carpenter than translates this love and respect for the tree into love and respect for the lumber. The carpenter then translates the same love and respect for his creations. Berry describes this as a “loving economy,” and argues that society needs to adjust to a “loving economy” or preservation of nature will be impossible. I would argue that while such a transition from the global, industrial economy to a “loving economy” sounds impossible, there are significant movements among small communities to develop the type of economy Berry advises.
The modern production of goods is industrial and globalized. Woodworks, food, trinkets, tools, and vehicles are all created a world away by cheaply paid workers with materials obtained through the most cost efficient means. The value of labor and the materials used in creation are viewed solely through the guise of dollar signs. While this system has been found to be destructive to the spirits of its employees and on the physical environment, it can be credited for furthering the development of human society. I personally am dependent on cheaply made products and foodstuffs, and could not afford many of the things I am able to use if they were made locally. If a local craftsman were to build my IPhone using sustainably sourced materials in a loving work environment, it would undoubtedly be incredibly expensive and difficult to obtain. The ease of production and the cheapness of available goods makes it impossible, or at the very least unnecessary, to bother with local products or craftsmen.
That being said, it is impossible to ignore the presence of local craftsmen. While often relegated to the fringe areas of society or associated with “hipster” activities, there has been a significant and visible movement in the United States to “buy locally” and support local artists. Even in Washington College’s dining hall new images adorn the walls proclaiming the localness of its ingredients. Farmers markets are popular among all members of the population including college students, who spend their limited funds on purchasing goods made by local craftsman.
To be local is associated with being healthy and wholesome. While a jacket made by a neighbor may not be of the same quality of LL Bean, beef grown by a small scale farmer or a bowl created by a local carpenter is considered to hold more significance. One can almost feel the appreciation and effort which went into the creation of the object. Berry’s discussion of a “loving economy” speaks strongly to a generation who grew up on mass produced objects. When the presence any sort of affection feels absent from products, people move away from the major markets back to small scale operations, where the “love” Berry talks about can be felt in more abundance.
Berry argues that a “loving economy” is necessary for the preservation of wildlife. For if all society values are dollar signs than why bother to protect our surroundings? Society needs to emphasize an appreciation for locally produced, handmade materials, where the process that objects go through is visible for all to see. By respecting all aspects of materials, our materialistic society can truly value our surroundings for more than simply its material goods. In the same manner that appreciation for a cabinet requires a love for a tree, the appreciation of our objects should translate into an appreciation of their origins.
The author of the article Why you should stop taking pictures on your phone – and learn to draw from the School of Life describes how taking the time to illustrate one’s surroundings has been shown to improve understanding of the environment. Ruskin, argues that all people should learn to drawn, if only for the necessity of sitting down for a period of time and attempting to recreate their surroundings. The period of time being intensely focused on an object alone will undoubtedly improve the understanding of an object, but the more in-depth focused tracings of the object in an attempt to recreate the scene leads to “naturally move from a position of observing beauty in a loose way to one where we acquire a deep understanding of its parts.”
As someone who often feels that I am lacking a certain understanding or appreciation of my surroundings, the idea of learning to draw and gain better comprehension is very appealing. However, I am not a natural artist and my attempts at drawing often result in stick figures or misshapen ovals. How can I gain a greater understanding of my environment if the best I can produce is a cartoonish version of reality? Ruskin himself believed that artistic ability was something you were born with, not something one could learn. He stated “A man is born an artist as a hippopotamus is born a hippopotamus; and you can no more make yourself one than you can make yourself a giraffe (Ruskin, pg. 817).” Instead of working at learning to drawn I have worked to improve my photography skills, hoping to achieve the same goal through a different means.
However, according to Ruskin, those who are devoid of innate artistic ability are just as capable as those who have such ability, at least in the sense of being able to understand their environment. He felt that taking the time to sit, observe, and recreate is incredibly beneficial regardless of the end results. Through practicing the ability to observe, people find they notice more minute details. These details are so necessary in gaining a complete understanding of a place’s aesthetic.
After reading Ruskin’s arguments and participating in my first art class since my freshman year of high school, I am ready to reconsider my opinions on drawing. I wish to develop my gaze and train it to recognize minute details. I don’t wish to walk through the world unawares, and instead hope to take in as many details as I can stand. Regardless of my artistic ability, I hope to observe my world in a more complete form than I have before. I also hope that this improvement in my understanding will include an improvement in my memory, allowing me to better remember all the incredible places I will be going over the semester.