Thursday, February 7, 2008

Scattershooting: First Wednesday and Mercantile Agrarianism

2/07/08 - 5th Day - After Breakfast. First Wednesday - Yesterday was our "First Wednesday" workday here in the community. On the first Wednesday of each month we gather together for fellowship and we do projects around the land. For the last three months or so the men have been working on the west side of the land trying to get the fences satisfactory so we can release the cattle into those pastures. Chris Woods, Robert, and I have been working on the northwest fence corners. We had to tear out the old rotted corner and put in a new corner. Then we had to re-stretch the barbed wire. We finally finished that corner yesterday. Some of the other guys are walking fences and fixing them where it is needed. Elder David and Logan began marking property line and borders, and the ladies worked at clearing out a whole section of "broom weed" which we call "fire weed" because it is very flammable, and works as a sort of fuel when it catches fire. We use the fire weed to help start our fires for the smoker. When you touch a match to it, it flares up as if you had poured kerosene or diesel fuel on it.

On First Wednesday evening, we all meet up for a meal and fellowship. Yesterday's meal was Beef Stroganoff, which was quite tasty. First Wednesday is a part of our "ordnung" or community rules, and it is designed to provide us with time to accomplish several important duties and functions:

1. To work together to glorify God in service to one another. This is partaking in the means of grace provided by fellowship and service.
2. To improve the land and bring it under our dominion.
3. To provide time and effort to assist one another with tasks that might be too large for any one person or family. In this case, if someone asks for help and plans it a month or so in advance, the First Wednesday can be used on a project (like a barn raising, or putting on someone's roof, etc.) at a particular household. If no specific project is on the schedule, then we do land improvements.

The difference between real Biblical Agrarianism and "partial" or "mercantile" Agrarianism

Let me start by saying that I prefer any Agrarianism to modern Industrialism, and that my comments are not designed to deflate, attack, or dishearten anyone who is engaging in any Agrarianism anywhere.

I appreciate Agrarianism wherever I find it, but I did want to delineate between what we mean by "Biblical" or "Christian" Agrarianism, and what we would call "Mercantile Agrarianism". Mercantile Agrarianism is a form of Agrarianism which developed late in Agrarian cultures, usually as the last step before Industrialism; Mercantile Agrarianism was not Agrarianism in its purity, but was really the last dying gasps of Agrarianism. In its purity, an Agrarian society consisted mainly of homesteads and farms where family groups (or colonies) produced most of their means of survival (food and supplies). Though there was often trade and barter, commerce and exchange, the primary means of survival for each family or colony was in farming, husbandry, and gardening. There have always been craftsman and tradesmen in Agrarian societies, but even these craft and tradesmen provided most of the means of their survival for themselves - from the land. In the later stages of an Agrarian society, if the people are not careful and on watch to protect themselves and their society and culture, the tradesman and craftsman gives way to the merchant. The merchant begins to take over control over the society, and Agrarianism gives way to mercantilism. Trade becomes the central truth and reality of the culture, and from there compromise, mass production, and industrialism become inevitable; the merchant society becomes a consumer society, the merchant is overthrown by the corporation, the market is overthrown by the superstore, and, as we have seen, the tradesman and craftsman is replaced by the laborer. A "middle class" of consumers develop who produce nothing for themselves, but who serve to be consumers of those goods owned and sold by the rich and mass-manufactured by the labor of the very poor. These middle class workers are constantly bombarded with messages that intend and serve to increase consumption, usually marketed on the altar of "comfort" or "leisure", so that they might keep the system afloat by an ever increasing appetite for flesh satiating goods and gizmos.

The danger is always there, even on the small scale... even in the family group, colony, or community. When our desire for a more simple, separated, and God-centered life begins to give way to the desire for profit, comfort, or leisure; when we begin to seek our sustenance from the merchant instead of from the ground; when we settle for a "picture" of Agrarianism, instead of the real thing - then the collapse of our system is inevitable. In Mercantile Agrarianism, the "agrarian" is satisfied to live on a small portion of land (in many cases less than an acre), living (for the most part) like the industrialites who live around him, but convincing himself that he is different from them. I am not talking here about the reality of historic Agrarian societies, where there were always specialists who lived and labored for larger land owners. There were Fullers, Millers, Coopers, Smiths, Brewers, Shepherds, Bakers, Carpenters, etc. Sometimes these folks lived as workers on the land of a land owner. There is no inconsistency between this reality and Agrarianism. The difference between a worker who worked on a large farm that he did not own, and the modern "Mercantile Agrarian", is that the farm specialist in a truly Agrarian culture was a part of the family or the household of his master. He was not a slave, but he was a proper servant. He worked for wages, but he owned himself. He was God's servant, and for God's glory he served His master and made an honest living. He likely provided for most of his own food and goods, and what he could not produce he procured by barter, trade, or purchase. He hadn't given himself over to mercantilism because of his idolatry and greed (the reason most wannabe Agrarians never pull the trigger on leaving the suburbs), but he had become a working part of an Agrarian society in exactly the place and station in which God had placed him. In an Agrarian society not all men will own large tracts of land and large farms. In fact, not all men will own land at all. But there is a huge difference between the Agrarian specialist or craftsman, and the modern Mercantile Agrarian - who attempts to blend Agrarianism with modernism, and his Christianity with the world. I mentioned this not long ago when I read the blog of a minister who claimed that "everyone" is an Agrarian, because if you eat, you are Agrarian. From this philosophy comes the idea that any suburbanite who plants a garden, or who raises a few chickens is an Agrarian. While we do encourage suburbanites to do their best to provide more and more of their necessities and to rely less and less on a failing economy and worldly culture - it is wrongheaded to call a part time gardener an "Agrarian". Just as it is wrong to call a large commercial agricultural producer a "farmer". The reality is that, though these folks are doing some good things for their health, their well-being, and their security - in the long run they are still cogs in an evil and worldly system that is contrary to the Kingdom of God. I know that there are some who will insist that if anyone, anywhere, ever - participates in even the smallest way with the modern industrial/commercial system, then they too must be cogs in the world system, but this is not the truth. It is understood that there will always be some level of concourse with the society, even in the perfect Christian Agrarian culture, but we must not allow mere necessary contact to become an excuse for defending actual intercourse with an idolatrous society. So in Mercantile Agrarianism (no matter what it calls itself) you may see two extremes: On the one hand you may have the suburban gardener, or a small land-holding entrepreneur, for whom Agrarianism is a hobby, or maybe a profit-center, but not an over-arching philosophy and way of life. On the other hand you may have a commercial agriculture capitalist, who raises some cash crop that is to be pumped into the industrial society that supports him. If the market dries up or crashes - he may lose the farm and everything, or he may rely on the government to get him through to the next bull market. Both types of Mercantile Agrarians buy the bulk of their goods from the merchant, and they produce very little of what they consume. Their Agrarianism is utilitarian, but we dare not call it "Christian" or "Biblical", and it is important that we know the difference between Mercantile Agrarianism and truly Biblical Agrarianism.

I hope that all makes sense.

I am your servant in Christ Jesus,

Michael Bunker


Bill Peck said...

"The danger is always there, even on the small scale... even in the family group, colony, or community. When our desire for a more simple, separated, and God-centered life begins to give way to the desire for profit, comfort, or leisure; when we begin to seek our sustenance from the merchant instead of from the ground; when we settle for a "picture" of Agrarianism, instead of the real thing - then the collapse of our system is inevitable."

Definitely an aspect to be ever vigilant, and prayerful, about.


Tabletop Homestead said...


Regarding brooomweed, if yours is the same broomweed as ours (gutierrezia sp.) it's an old settlers remedy for flu. Tincture it in whiskey, vodka, moonshine, etc.