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Responding to the Call of the Land

StevenIn Jack London’s classic novel The Call of the Wild, the alpha dog Buck faces a moment of truth in response to nature, as he stands alone in a Yukon forest swept by wind and snow. Similarly, standing individually and collectively on our earth, we human beings also face a moment of truth. Our call today is not so much from the wild as it is from the land. That call is exceedingly loud and urgent.

One of the most cogent explorations of the urgency is Jared Diamond’s 2004 book, Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed. He describes the environmental causes leading to failed societies, and compares them with societies that have succeeded. In doing so he arrives at a blunt formula: Environmental crisis + failure of society to address = societal collapse.

The pathways leading to a more damaged and increasingly unstable planet are clear. So also are the pathways to a clean, healthy, sustainable future. The way we use the land to produce our food is, right now, a major cause of the problems. But the wide array of wholesome and clean pathways and models for producing our food has the potential to be a major factor in the solutions. The key, I feel, is first to listen and hear the call, then to respond. That's what this blog is all about: listening to the call of the land, then exploring positive pathways of response to the call.

call of land

Listening is one of the oldest and most valued traditions of our land. For centuries, to listen more clearly, people have made pilgrimages to mountains, fields, forests, plains, and canyons. Over the course of my life, I’ve had the opportunity to contemplate at length in the wilderness over a dozen times, fasting for four days and nights in vision quest with the support of experienced elders. Spending stretches of time on the land that way – light and clear, shielded only by a blanket – I felt the land repeatedly call out simple lessons of relationship: “This is mutual. I will take care of you if you respect and take care of me.”

Millions of people are listening to the land just now. I regard those who willingly and intelligently respond as 21st Century agrarians. Among them are many experienced and insightful pioneers. As with my new book of the same title, this blog will report not just on the Call of the Land as it received by a variety of insightful souls – but also report on their creative, inventive responses.

Many people are listening now, individually and collectively. Those who respond to the call with creative action I think of as the Millennial Agrarians, and they number in the hundreds of thousands. That's good, but we need many millions more – perhaps as many as 50 or 100 million working to heal the land and to bring forth a bounty of clean food to heal the bodies and minds of the people. It will take that many.

When I interviewed Biodynamic farmer Barbara Scott for The Call of the Land, she told me: “We are in a collective death spiral now, but we can turn it into a into collective rebirth. If we go through this historical phase of transition without a new plan, and without vigorous action to make our plan real, the land will turn increasingly bitter and barren. But if we put something new into our thoughts and dreams, it will be. Our opportunity is to nourish, to encourage, and to catalyze for the future.”

That also is my intent with this blog: to nourish, to encourage, and to catalyze. If the vision of space travel can propel us to invent ways for human beings to reach and to walk on the Moon, and if the vision of computers can inspire us to create digital pathways that connect us all in a vast, interactive, multimedia global network, then the vision of an advanced agrarian culture can also become real. This much is certain. If we choose and if we follow through, we can protect and defend our land, encircling it with a sustainable culture of integrity, beauty and prosperity.

steven mcfadden_2
5/15/2010 8:26:38 AM

Hi Everyone - Thank you for the warm welcome, and your kind words. It's a good feeling to be part of the Grit community. FYI, my new book The Call of the Land was published in October, 2009 -- and is now available in all the usual online places like Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and other places. The publisher also has a web page up for the book at With appreciation, Steven

stephen paul
5/14/2010 12:01:55 PM

Steven, Nicely put. Mother does speak to us, if we will only listen as you suggest. Once you hear her voice it changes everything. Thanks for speaking what you have heard. Steve

cindy murphy
5/14/2010 7:03:42 AM

A very provocative post, Steven. It expresses many of the ideals and goals of the "Transition Initiative". For anyone interested in this worldwide grassroots effort, check out the Transition Network at Interesting stuff. I look forward to hearing more from your blog.

s.m.r. saia
5/13/2010 7:00:28 AM

Steven, I'm looking forward to reading more of your blog. Is your book available now? Thanks!

nebraska dave
5/12/2010 11:55:46 PM

Steven, I agree that the land has been abused. The heartland of the country where I live is probably the biggest offender. The soil here is basically dead. All it does is hold up the plants while the synthetic nutrient laden dirt feeds the plants with unnatural stimulants. Oh yes the yields are monstrously huge and never before have so much grain been raised. Hybrid seed that can’t reproduce comes in from Chile where it’s grown during the winter for the farmers here to plant. Crop rotation is a thing of the past. I grew up in a time when those that owned land treated it like a living thing which it is. Today those that own land must cultivate thousands of acres with monstrous gas guzzling machinery to try to make a living. It’s scary to think about what oozes out of our land and into the water table. I for one will not eat fish caught or raised here in the Midwest. I am glad to see groups like here at Grit become a grass roots movement to bring back the land to a living state where thriving micro organisms create the nutrients needed for plant growth. I have to say that I garden for the sheer enjoyment of it and not as an activist. I applaud those such as you that have taken up the cause to bring back the land from a near death experience. Welcome to Grit. I look forward to more posts.

k.c. compton
5/12/2010 3:31:01 PM

Dear Steven: Thank you so much for agreeing to blog for us here at GRIT. I'm looking forward to your ongoing posts, and wish you all the best with your book "The Call of the Land." I couldn't agree more (of course--given where I work!) that the pathway to a future that works for the Earth and its inhabitants is through caring for the land--millions of us, with a commitment and sense of purpose the world quite possibly has never known. We appreciate your partnership in this new vision for humanity's place in the sacred circle of life. Onward! K.C. Compton Editor in Chief