I recently read Susan Witt’s essay in The Essential Agrarian Reader (edited by Norman Wirzba).  In it she mentions a movement in India, started by Vinoba Bhave, that came to be known as the Bhoodan Movement.  Vinoba, who was a type of spiritual successor to Ghandi, walked across India bringing awareness to social injustice and the plight of the poor.  One of the things he specifically emphasized was the inequity of large landholdings in few hands, while there were millions of landless peasants.  Vinoba urged the rich to give their excess land to the poor.  He was so persuasive that many Indian landowners agreed and began giving land to the poor.

This should be the beginning of a beautiful story.  Unfortunately, ignorance and base human nature intevene to ruin it.

Instead of farming their newly acquired land, many of the recipients of these gifts sold it to other wealthy landowners.  They just exchanged their free land for cash, which many soon squandered.  Many ended back up in the landless povery they left.  Those who gave away the land intending to benefit the poor lost it and saw it wind up in the hands of the wealthy who were less generous, and those who took advantage of the peasant-sellers (who couldn’t appreciate the value of the land) by buying the land for less than it was worth just further enriched themselves.

Because of this the movement eventually changed so that while the peasants were provided with farm to work, they didn’t get title to the land. 

As I’ve studied the ineffectiveness of most foreign aid programs I’ve seen evidence of this kind of thing repeatedly.  Haiti, for example, is notorious for squandering aid, accomplishing nothing, and biting the hands that feed it.

I recently read a report about an Episcopal church project to introduce laying hens to Haiti as a sustainable source of food.  The aid workers and missionaries brought the hens and built coops.  They taught the Haitians how to care for the hens and how to assure that they would have a steady supply of eggs.  But as soon as they left the Haitians butchered and ate the hens and moved into the coops.  After one big feast, they were starving again. 

Sometimes, as with the Indian peasants who received the land and the Haitians who received the hens, a fundamental change in worldview is necessary.  It is unreasonable, I suppose, to expect people who have lived for centuries without planning beyond a day, to suddenly understand the concept of sustainability.  Maybe that kind of change can only bubble up from below, by changing the ways individuals think. 

How to do that is probably the greatest challenge of our time.

Love Wins

Diabetic Nation

According to a recent study, by 2020 over half of Americans will have diabetes or prediabetes. (See a report on this study HERE).  Experts estimate that one in three children born since 2000 will develop diabetes in their lifetime.  The cumulative cost of this epidemic of diabetes is many trillions of dollars.  Few Americans can actually afford the expense of diabetes, so the cost is spread across the entire nation, these days with borrowing.  Unless something dramatically changes, diabetes will be a principal contributor to the insolvency of our nation and our economic collapse.

The saddest, or most maddening, thing about this disaster is that it is largely caused by our choice of diet.  I realize that diabetics are often just born that way, and can do nothing to prevent the awful disease.  But with respect to this diabetes epidemic, obesity is the major factor causing the increase in diabetes and obesity is almost always caused by overeating. 

Imagine the national outrage if half our population was expected to contract a disease linked specifically to immoral behavior, the economic consequence of which was the ruin of us all.  But because our culture seemingly does not consider gluttony and overconsumption to be moral failure, there is no outrage. 

We have many problems in this country that require difficult complex cures.  This one does not.  We just need to eat less.

Love Wins

Children of Abraham and other things

This morning I will attend church.  Yesterday I attended a service at a synagogue.  Friday I attended a service at a mosque.  I wish every Christian, Jew and Muslim in America could have that experience.

One of the course requirements of my Islam class is to have a conversation with a Muslim.  Rather than take the easy way out and do this in Tampa, I decided to try to meet a Muslim here in the Danville area.  So Friday I just dropped in at the local mosque.  I assumed someone would be there, but it was totally a coincidence that I showed up just before the weekly service.

The people there were very nice and neighborly to me.  I was invited in and treated the same way I expect a curious Muslim would be if he showed up at our church.  A couple of the guys there went out of their way to be accomodating to me.  The regular Imam was away on vacation, so someone was filling in for him.  The qutba (sermon) would have fit right in at any church I’ve attended.  The message was to stay steadfast in prayer and do good deeds.  The imam called for  people to be sincere in worship, honest in business, and to set good examples in their families and communities.  At the conclusion of the qutba they performed salat, the ritual prayer.  My new friend Ricky asked me if I wanted to participate, but I told him I didn’t know how.  He offered to teach me, but I politely declined and watched from the back, joining them in prayer but without the salat rituals.  It was a very interesting and inspirational experience.

Yesterday I attended service at the local synagogue.  It was the first time I’d ever been inside a Jewish temple.  The occasion was the Bar Mitvah of a son of a good friend of Cherie.  There was music and prayer and a reading from the Torah, mostly in Hebrew (just as the recitation from the Qur’an had been in Arabic).  The message involved the story of Joseph, which is common to Judaism, Christianity and Islam.  Just as my experience at the mosque had been, it was interesting and inspirational.  And just as I had been warmly welcomed and accepted at the mosque, the same was true in the synagogue.

Today is the first Sunday of Advent, so I expect the sermon will in some way involve the birth of Jesus.  I’m sure local Muslims would be very comfortable with such a message.  While Jews might be less comfortable, I’m sure they would respect and appreciate the theme of joy and peace that is associated with the celebration of Christmas.

It is a pity that there is so much bitterness among the followers of these three religions.  All three trace their roots to Abraham.  We are all cousins with very much in common.  May we learn to love our commonality and quit exaggerating our differences.  And may we learn to separate political disputes from our common spiritual heritages.   May we all embrace peace, salaam and shalom.  May love win.

Changing subjects dramatically, I was sitting in the edge of the woods yesterday evening in hopes of shooting a deer.  (Deer is our primary source of meat).  It was a beautiful late afternoon and I was enjoying the sounds of the birds, squirrels and a hoot owl.  No deer had appeared.  I was within sight of the paved road, but on the other side of the farm from where we live.  As I was sitting there a pickup truck came slowly down the road, then stopped near where I was sitting.   Someone stepped out of the passenger door and, while standing in the highway, fired a shot across the field next to me, presumably at a deer.  I was furious and come storming out of the woods hollering at him.  He jumped in the truck and they sped away.  I didn’t recognize the truck and didn’t get a tag number.

This is the kind of crap we have to put up with every year from irresponsible “hunters.”  Our farm is posted and even if it wasn’t it’s not legal to fire from the road.  And these guys could easily have shot me if a deer had been between them and me, or if they had mistaken me for a deer.  I’m mad at myself for not being more careful to identify them, but when they stopped and fired I just blew up.  It is idiots like them who give a bad name to the responsible hunters of the world.  Grrr…

But as I was coming home, angry at the poachers and angry that my hunt had been ruined, I saw a deer on the other side of the field behind our house.  It was a long shot, but I figured I had nothing to lose so I took it.  To my surprise, I killed the deer–a nice sized buck.  In a few days he’ll be in our freezer and will supply us with meat duing the coming year.

I hate killing animals, but we would be overrun with deer if they weren’t hunted.  Heck, we’re practically overrun with them anyway.  And we eat so little meat in our household that a couple of deer are all we need.  Eating game is much more responsible, environmentally friendly and sustainable than relying on domesticated animals, in my opinion.

After taking care of the deer, we continued a very long pagan tradition by putting up the Christmas tree.  Of course our pagan ancestors didn’t originally call it a Christmas tree.  They believed that decorating and placing gifts beneath an evergreen tree (which unlike the other trees did not seem to die in the winter) around the time of the winter solstice would help assure that spring would return and bring life to the other trees.  It was a way to honor the gods who preserved the evergreens and those who would return life to the forest.   Somehow about 1600 years ago someone figured out a way to merge this pagan practice with Christianity.   They did the same thing with Easter fertility rites (decorating eggs and honoring rabbits).  Clever they were.  Equally clever were the marketing experts on Madison Avenue who, a little over a hundred years ago, dreamed up Santa Claus and the notion that we should spend a small fortune buying and exchanging gifts as a way of celebrating the birth of Jesus.  A crazy idea, but no crazier that decorating an evergreen tree in honor of baby Jesus.  And it worked.  We have billions of dollars of debt and mountains of junk to prove it.

For a better way to think about Christmas, check out

So now it’s off to church, completing my weekend Abrahamic trifecta.


Love Wins


Yesterday our house was filled with family and friends.  We enjoyed an awesome feast together.  It was a great reminder of how much we have to be thankful for.

A highlight of the day for me, as always, was seeing the young people playing with the young animals.

Love Wins

Thomas Merton’s prayer

My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going.  I do not see the road ahead of me.  I cannot know for certain where it will end.  Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so.  But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you.  And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing.  I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire.  And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it.  Therefore will I trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death.  I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.

Thomas Merton

Love Wins

Shockingly Simple

“Make no mistake: our health care crisis is in large part a crisis of the American diet — roughly three quarters of the two-trillion plus we spend on health care in this country goes to treat chronic diseases, most of which can be prevented by a change in lifestyle, especially diet. And a healthy diet is a whole lot simpler than the food industry and many nutritional scientists — what I call the Nutritional Industrial Complex — would have us believe. After spending several years trying to answer the supposedly incredibly complicated question of how we should eat in order to be maximally healthy, I discovered the answer was shockingly simple: eat real food, not too much of it, and more plants than meat. Or, put another way, get off the modern western diet, with its abundance of processed food, refined grains and sugars, and its sore lack of vegetables, whole grains and fruit.”

Michael Pollan

Love Wins

Fat Judy and other things

Cherie was horrified when she first saw Judy and Sheena.   They were badly malnourished when I bought them and almost unbelievably skinny.  I felt bad about having brought them home and I said we could just isolate them from the rest of the goats and I’d take them to market at the first opportunity.  But Cherie would have none of that.  She insisted that we were going to get them healthy.  It took a while and quite a bit of effort, but we did.  They’re now happy and healthy.  They even kidded in the last year, both producing healthy twin females. 

But we’re having a problem with Judy now.  Of all thing, she is too fat.  I’m afraid she may be bloated from eating too much clover, so we’ve put her up in a stall where we’re just giving her dry hay for a while.  The day I brought her home I never would’ve guessed we’d end up having to put her on a diet.

I picked some turnip greens this morning.  They are one of my favorite foods and they’re a seasonal marker around here.  If you’re eating fresh turnip greens, that means it’s Fall.

Our Fall crops were a mixed bag this year.  The broccoli came in great and we have an abundance of it.  The spinach and kale didn’t come up at all.  The turnpip and mustard greens are well below average, but sufficient to keep us fed.  One of the great things about the way we farm/garden is that we aren’t completely dependent upon a single crop.  If the weather isn’t right for something, there always seems to be something else that fills the gap. 

Later I had to do something I intensely dislike.  I killed and cleaned a young rooster.  The straight run of Rhode Island Red chicks we recently bought surprisingly yielded only three roosters.  But it creates too much stress on the hens to keep more than two, so one had to go. 

I absolutely hate killing animals, but as long as I continue to eat meat, I don’t plan to eat any animals that I didn’t hunt or personally raise and kill.  And, thanks to that rooster, this year at Thanksgiving I will be one of very, very few Americans who will eat the meat of an animal that was raised humanely and never given any non-therapuetic antibiotics. 

Love Wins