Tomorrow a 10-year-old son will take part in a city boy farm challenge. His first day as a hand at the Dixie Does Alpine farm of Bill and Becky Ensinger, who have cows, chickens and goats and run a little soap business online and at farmers’ markets in Chattanooga. Mr. Ensinger says he has been developing a growing list of chores for the newcomer.
My own hand is on a different pulse. Of late it has been on economic and geopolitical megacycles and the rise of the nation-state. I feel inadequate to delving into these questions, even though my wife, Jeannette, moments ago gave me unwrapped a late and long-awaited birthday present, The Rise and Decline of the State, Martin van Creveld’s 1999 classic. In this theme I have been reading Nesta Webster’s book on the French revolution and am rereading de Tocqueville’s incomplete study of the ancien regime. As I consider historical rhythms of peoples and races, I am drawn into thinking about this blond Tulis boy and his adventure on a fresh path.
Martin Ott, a farmer in the Canton of Zurich, Switzerland, explores the relationship between a farmer and his cows. His views about philosophy and farming are warmly reviewed in an American quarterly about homeschooling in the tradition of anthroposophy, developed in the early 1900s by a mystic, Rudolph Steiner.‡ Mr. Ott “sees [cows] as individual living creatures rather than as merely milking machines or produces of meat. *** According to Ott’s philosophy, cows have provided human beings with the desire to settle and to create settlements. Through the activity of grazing and digesting, the cows create a relationship with a place. In turn, this creates a certain dignity for the physical environment and can permeate the life of the individuality of the farm.”
I have followers of anthroposophy on the Swiss side of my family, and have enjoyed their sense of the organic and holistic elements of life that they believe must be studied. The followers of Steiner add a grand sub-Christian spirituality to their observations of nature. Even though we may not cooperate in his New Age thinking, we can hear out farmer Ott and see something fresh about God’s creation.
The herder of 100 animals at a Demeter farm sees rhythms developing as if “something of a melody” in the context of borders, “be the at the edge of a wood or along the banks of a stream, or carved into the earth.” He goes on to say,
In order to develop a certain quality to the rhythm a little chaos is necessary. Fixed rhythms apply to machines — not to living creatures. Therefore even the rhythms of the life of the herd need a bit of chaos for them to remain lively and healthy. We can learn to know the soul of the cow most readily through the rhythmical forming of their droppings as well as their patterns of grazing, chewing cud, and resting. This is the culture of dairy farming. And because they are not machines which can be fed the same way year in and year out cows should have variety in their feed.
In this open feeding custom, Mr. Ott says cows at Rheinau Farm follow the crop rotation and graze in a different pasture every year. He lets his cows socialize in the barn so “they are able to experience the point and the periphery in a social way” as they do in the fields.
Jacob Tulis at Dixie Does Farm will get a first taste of the life of animals and how it affects people. The way Mr. Ott describes it makes me want to skip morning office work and flee with him and his brother to Dayton. “The life rhythm of the cow becomes integrated into my own daily rhythm,” Mr. Ott says. His observation is readily approved by whimsied followers of the philosophe Steiner, but let’s suggest by ordinary Christians, too. “This then leads to strength and equanimity and can been be used therapeutically. Whoever spends his time with cows is that much more at peace. He brings his own metronome into a harmonious rhythm. *** When one walks with the cows, the rhythmical clanging of the cowbells immediately gives one the urge to sing a melody to accompany this wonderful rhythm. A human melody, filled with fantasy, to sing with all one’s heart.”
My gift book is about the end of the nation state by a Dutchman who is a professor at Hebrew University, Jerusalem. This volume beckons me with an altogether inapposite sense of movement. Studying the decline of the nation-state is a source of terrific optimism, second only to that of my convictions as a Christian about the work of the kingdom of God among men. Our explorations of local economy touch the routine of the cow and the local farm. They touch on questions I hope you will pursue with me here at Nooganomics.com, and that is devolution and decentralization. How might our hometown prosper amid the long-cresting national and political calamity that is the United States? And as the U.S. falters, how can our state and city find opportunity and new vigor ?
Sources: Als Maike, “Biodynamic Cow Farming[;] these humble creatures foster spiritual connection through the rhythms of life,” Lilipoh, Issue 71, Vol. 18, Spring 2013, pp. 64, 65. Mr. Maike’s text is from Demeter Journal No. 15, Text Renee Herrnkind, Journalistinburo Schwarz auf Weiss, Wetzlar Germany. Mr. Ott’s book is in German only, Kuhe verstehen: Eine neu Partnerschaft beginnt (Understanding Cows— a New Partnership).
‡ Wikipedia says anthroposophy “postulates the existence of an objective, intellectually comprehensible spiritual world accessible to direct experience through inner development. More specifically, it aims to develop faculties of perceptive imagination, inspiration and intuition through cultivating a form of thinking independent of sensory experience, and to present the results thus derived in a manner subject to rational verification. In its investigations of the spiritual world, anthroposophy aims to attain the precision and clarity attained by the natural sciences in their investigations of the physical world.” You see its appeal.