Reconnecting to the land

As a part of my schoolwork last year I had to research my family history and compare and contrast each generation’s connection to the environment. I found a not-so-surprising pattern of less and less reliance upon the land for income and sustenance. In fact, in a survey of my class no one grew up on a farm. In many cases students had to go back two generations to find someone in their family who had grown up on a farm. I would not hesitate to bet that the same would be true in a majority of college classes. This trend of declining farmers in the United States could be a triumph of human innovation or a failure of the human spirit depending on who you ask.

One man who has explored this trend is Wendell Berry, an influential American writer. He sees the loss of rural Americans as a real world example of the decay of deeply rooted American values such as hard work and care for the land.  A line from his book The Unsettling of America says, “the ideals of workmanship and thrift have been replaced by the goals of leisure, comfort, and entertainment.” I generally agree with Berry; I do believe the value of “hard work and elbow grease” for prior generations has not transferred to the current one.

Another value lost is peoples’ connection to the land. This connection to the land is so far removed for many in my generation that we no longer miss it.  We’ve found other things to replace it. However, I don’t believe that caring for a puppy, computer, or digital avatar can fill the void.

While uncovering my family history I discovered that empty spot inside of me; the space built into my very DNA for caring for land. The University of Minnesota Student Organic Farm class has given me land to care for. Walking over the snow-covered field for the first time was amazing. There is no way for me to describe the feeling I get regaining some connection to the land. This is a video of Norma Ehler, a farmer, describing her connection to the land. She exhibits the same loss of words I do.

I believe all humans have this intrinsic yearning within to be connected to a piece of land. It is important for all humans to seek out and explore this feeling. We in the student farm class are very fortunate because we get course credit to explore it.

Eric Sannerud

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