Sustainable food and farming part VII: Why do I care?


A few weeks ago, I began to blog on Sustainable Food and Farming.  In my first post I asked if \”sustainable agriculture was sustainable\” and suggested that only an ecological approach (rather than a mechanistic approach) to farming would likely be sustainable.  The next  few posts explored the \”rules\” of ecology: 1) use current solar income; 2) cycle everything;  3) enhance biological diversity, and how these rules apply to both farming and life in general.

Now, we are trying to put it all together as part of a framework which will help us not only to understand how farms might be managed in a more sustainable manner, but also how we might find meaning and purpose in our lives.  In this post, I explore the question \”why do I care about this work?\”   A tall order, indeed!

In my last post, I asked if there was a way of looking at the world that was non-mechanistic and that helped make sense out of our lives.  This next video clip presents a systems view of life using the same characters as those who presented the mechanistic \”clockwork universe\” from my previous blog post.

I wrote in an earlier post, \”there is nothing more practical than a good theory.\”  I believe this to be true.  The \”lens\” through which we view the world colors our perspective.  The dominant mechanistic lens provides an incomplete view of the world.  The systems view that Sonya describes helps me to understand sustainability, the web of life, and even my own relationship to my family, community, the earth and beyond.  Lets explore this more deeply.

\"\"A few weeks ago, I shared the idea that living systems existed as subsystems within larger systems.  That is, the individual is a subsystem within a population of individuals, which itself is a subsystem within a community, and then of an ecosystem, which is a subsystem of the biosphere etc.  If we continue to work with this model of a natural hierarchy (as opposed to a human constructed hierarchy, like the military, the corporation, the church, and the university), I believe we can begin to understand our place on the planet.

Lets first look \”inward\” a bit and imagine our own bodies as subsystems within systems.  In this \”body system\”, there are subsystems such as the heart, liver, circulatory system etc.   Within the \”heart system\” there is a valve, and other parts that are subsystems within the organ that is the heart.  In this model, we might imagine that the less complex subsystems provide \”function\” to the more complex subsystems.  Further we might imagine that the more complex subsystems \”provide\” purpose to the less complex. Lets examine this idea.

The human heart in the picture above is a subsystem which contains smaller and less complex (but totally necessary) subsystems within, such as the valves, atrium, ventricles, aorta, etc..  But the heart itself is also a subsystem that exists within a large system, we\’ll call the human body.

The body is also a system and the relationship of the heart to the body follows the relationship of all components within living systems.  That is, the heart \”looks to the body for purpose\” and the body \”looks to the heart for function.\”   That is, the more complex subsystem provides purpose in this relationship and the less complex subsystem offers function.  This is one of the great truths that emerges from the study of living systems.  Cool, huh?

If we continue the story, the body (the individual self) looks to the family or larger community for purpose.  The larger community looks to individuals for function.  That is, all community work is done by people.  And further…..

A community of people look to the larger ecosystem for purpose.  That is, those of us who have a strong sense of place, find our purpose in sustaining and caring for that place – including the other people in that place.  Herein lies our human purpose (at least for me).

This set of relationships helps me to answer the question \”why do I care about sustainable food and farming\” by exploring  the bigger and more interesting question, \”why am I here?\”

For me, the study and practice of sustainable food and farming is a way in which I can serve a power greater than myself.  That power (or system) may be at any level of complexity (family system, community system, earth system etc.).  In this context, I know who I am and why I am here.  I am here in this lifetime to serve  power greater than myself. *

When I embed this understanding within the living systems natural hierarchy, I can see \”myself\” as an individual \”body self\” residing within a family self, within a community self, within an eco-self, within a universal self, and perhaps even within a divine self.  At each level of \”self\”, we can look up for purpose and down for function.


So, why do I care about sustainable food and farming – because it serves my own self-interest at multiple levels of self.   That\’s why I care about sustainable food and farming.  How about you?

  • Why do you study or practice sustainable food and farming?

  • What is your purpose in this life?

Please comment below.  I am really interested in your own thoughts…..


I’d appreciate it if you would share this post with your friends.  And for more ideas, videos and challenges along these lines, please join my Facebook Group; Just Food Now.  And go here for the rest of this series of posts.


* While I believe that \”service\” is my primary motivation today, this was not always the case.  Earlier in my life I was driven my baser motives of prestige, perceived power and money, mixed with a fair bit of scientific curiosity.  While I\”m sure those baser motivations still reside within me, they are no longer dominant.  Fortunately, the curiosity remains.

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