The Four Elements of Farming

In the first place then, the method of choosing and well cultivating a farm, consists of four things; air, water, soil, industry. Of these, three are the gifts of Nature, one depends upon our own skill and free will.

Palladius on Agriculture

Last week I planted a vineyard on the farm, consisting of 64 vines spread over six 84′ rows.   In one place, I ran into some hardpan about a foot beneath the surface and sent an e-mail to our extension agent to ask what might be done there for grape vines.  He wrote back and said, “Grapes do not grow well in our area.”

That wasn’t my question.  No plants, other than weeds, grow well in any area.  I wasn’t asking how to effortlessly grow grapes in Paradise.  I asked a question about overcoming some hardpan in a particular area of my field.

This is the biggest problem with modern agriculture.  Modern farmers believe to is wisdom to devote all of one’s farm to growing a product that grows easily in the area and requires the least amount of labor.  The idea is that what grows easiest will grow best and what grows best will be most profitable.  Unfortunately, this is contrary to how business works.  When everyone produces what is easiest to produce, the prices drop and no one makes any money relative to the potential that could be made.  Farmers make millions of dollars farming thousands of acres, and everyone marvels at the money they’re making, but it’s not being compared to the wealth they could be creating–not only for themselves but for many others.

In the ancient world, it was understood that one of the four elements of farming was “industry” or “grinding toil”.  The question is not, “What grows here?”, but “What valuable product can I make to grow here?”

A friend visited while I was planting the grapevines and asked the same question, “Do grapes grow well here?”, to which I answered, “No, that’s why I’m planting them.”  Grapes can grow well here, if managed prudently and diligently, and when they do grow here, they will be very profitable to us, not only for our own eating and wine-making, but also for the market.  It is because grapes don’t “grow well here” that I’m growing them.  Machines can produce oceans of grain, but they can’t match human skill in the cultivation of  anything that requires more careful cultivation.

Let us then not shrink back from the rigors of agriculture, but realize that it is in the toil that we reap our greatest advantages.


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