Book By: Ellen E. Davis Published by Cambridge University Press, 2009 Reviewed by Reverend Joyce Sasse
The Bible has far more to do with agriculture than we may think. In her book “Scripture, Culture and Agriculture” Ellen Davis points out that Amos and Hosea may have been the first agrarian writers in history. Genesis shows “the God-given diversity of the earth and the human role in maintaining it.” And God granted Ezekiel a vision of life on the far side of “disaster”. The bulk of the book defines how the people of Israel were expected to relate to the land. But these truths are carefully interlinked with what contemporary agricultural leaders and writers are saying. Berry, Schumaker and Wirzba are often quoted, along with passages from numerous reports on world conferences connected with food scarcity, biodiversity and land sustainability. Davis speaks often about the land’s connection with the city. “The common biblical metaphor for the relationship between the city and its surrounding villages is that of a mother and her daughters. It connotes mutual belonging, affection, benefit and need.” In the industrial economy such as we now have, Davis points out “there is no such thing as enough… Life is brutally hard for most farm people. They are ensnared in political and economic systems designed to extract their produce and leave them barely enough to survive.” But the manna story shows us how to think of a way out from under this burden. She used the example of transformed models of land ownership. On a town-owned conservation property near Boston an educational farm has taken root. Local youth who work on the farm gain both employment and skills training. In a North Carolina community where deep racial rifts had developed, a black woman turned five acres of land over to “the rich white church” for the purpose of planting a community vegetable garden. Now a broad mix of ethnic and religiously diverse folks, rich and poor, work that land and have weekly dinners together on site. “The means of livelihood and blessing in community is bestowed and is received as the gift of God.” What a rich resource this is for anyone seeking to understand how strong relationships can be developed between land, community and God. In the introduction, Wendell Berry writes “Our relationship to our land will always remain to a significant extent mysterious. Therefore our use of it must be determined more by reverence and humility, by local memory and affection.” Davis book brings understanding.
Champlain’s Dream: The European Founding of North America Early Farming in Canada: In the days of early settlement along the St. Lawrence Valley … Book By: David Hackett Fischer Published by Simon and Schuster Inc., 2008 Reviewed by Reverend Joyce Sasse
When Champlain invited Louis Hebert to come with him to the New Land he was trying to settle, Hebert gladly responded – he was also a man who had dreams. The year was 1617, and the two men believed in the idea of a New France, though few Europeans managed to live here through a complete winter. Champlain ordered his men to build the Hebert’s a sturdy stone house and help them clear a plot of land. The property was along the St. Clair River, near Quebec. Because of Champlain’s ability to reach out to form informal alliances with many of the native nations, the Hebert’s benefited greatly from this alliance. They had brought seeds and supplies from Europe, but had no idea what the growing conditions were like in the St. Lawrence Valley. Champlain tells of exploring along the shores of Lake Huron, and finding there an estimated thirty thousand inhabitants who grew enough produce to feed themselves, and to trade with nations to the South. Their trade items were corn and meal, but in this breadbasket they also grew squash, sunflowers, plums, small apples, raspberries, strawberries and nuts. The expertise of the natives was generously shared with the Hebert’s. In addition, in times of crisis the natives were generous to the fledging Europeans. For more than twelve years the colonists were dependent on food being shipped from France. However, when the ships were delayed, sometimes until mid-July, the threat of starvation among the settlers was high. When for a couple of years the English prevented any French ships from docking, it was the natives who supplied what provisions they could – occasionally even taking individuals and families to live with them. The story unfolds in “Champlain’s Dream”, written by David Fischer. It gives great insight into the years 1600 – 1635. What a gift to read this new publication.