Friday, August 26, 2005

Of the Land, and Those Who Work It

We had a taste of fall earlier this week, but summer weather has returned. The air was hot and thick above the lake this midday as I sat under a big oak tree eating my lunch and reading.

I finished The Good Earth, by Pearl S. Buck, in the shade beneath the late summer sun today. The Good Earth is the story of a poor but shrewd Chinese farmer, who, over the course of his life, builds up a great family dynasty. As the farmer becomes landowner and grows old and rich, his greatest desire is for peace in his life, but of peace he has little. His family quarrels amongst itself, anxious to get at his money, and only when he wanders out from the town to walk the fields where he was born, does he truly find peace.

". . . and he stooped sometimes and gathered some of the earth up in his hand he sat thus and held it in his hands, and it seemed full of life between his fingers. And he was content, holding it thus . . ."

Yet he would not allow himself the pleasure of going out to his land very often in his old age, fearful of what the villagers might say if they saw a wealthy landowner barefoot and bending over in the dirt.

This morning I was listening to NPR before work, and I heard a report stating that China will not levy a harvest tax on its farmers this year. The centuries-old tax required one fourth of a farmer's crops to go to the government, and in the past has been a great source of civil unrest that has spurred revolutions. Its lifting represents the greatest aid the Chinese government has administered to its rural peoples in some two decades. There are those in Beijing and around the world, however, that are fearful it will encourage too much farming. China is the fastest developing country in the world, and it is not fitting for a country of its stature to encourage farming so. Job growth should be directed towards manufacturing, technology and other, more refined markets, while agriculture should be left to less developed countries. So they say.

Earlier this week, I heard a report on a proposal to bring casino gambling to Ohio. "Casinos will add $300 million to the state's economy!" came the claims of the supporters. "Where will this money come from?" is what I wanted to know. As far as I can tell, about all that casinos can do is serve as a mechanism for the transfer of wealth.

To me, it seems that farming is one of the few industries in the world to create that which can sustain life. Even manufacturing and technology, at their very best, can rarely do more than create tools for making life easier. But farming . . . from out of the ground a seed sprouts and brings forth food to feed a planet. Why then do societies look down their noses, look down across ages and continents, at those who work the land?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

"Why then do societies look down their noses, look down across ages and continents, at those who work the land?"

I think that people who use their backs to earn a living are often perceived to be of lesser intelligence. A farmer's mind may brim with the world, as do his fields in a good year.