“Thanks to those who work it, the land bears not only the means for people to live, but also bears the means for them to live pleasantly.”
Xenophon, The Estate Manager
Of course there are different kinds of self-sufficiency. Aristotle thinks that a political society should be fundamentally self-sufficient, while a household not so much so, but somewhat self-sufficient. It surely makes for a stable and flourishing nation if the households that constitute it are able to account for some of their own basic needs.
Interestingly, Xenophon writes that “even those who are well off cannot distance themselves from agriculture.” But of course we actually can distance ourselves from agriculture—and this in a number of ways. The question is at what cost.
Man cannot live without food that is grown from the earth. Nevertheless our current practice shows that a large number of people can live without any competence in growing food and indeed with near complete ignorance of how it is grown. In truth this is a matter of national security. The vulnerability of such a society, especially in the current international situation, is quite remarkable.
But my interest right now lies closer to home. It seems to me that the ability to grow food is such a primordial human competence that it provides a unique fulfillment and peace—even when we are not actually doing it.
Especially from the viewpoint of parents—those responsible for a household—there is a certain security in the possession of this know-how, even in its most rudimentary forms: we can grow food, we have grown food, we are connected to the source of human nourishment.
My point is not: Garden! Or live in fear. Indeed, there are deeper realities on which to rely than one’s ability to grow food. Our lives and households will always be vulnerable in countless ways, and such is the challenge and even the glory of human life.
Even so to garden in whatever form rightly provides us with some modicum of self-sufficiency and self-reliance. And it gives us—young and old alike—a unique satisfaction of feeling competent to take care of ourselves, and our loved ones.
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This is the fourth in a Series on Why Everyone Should Garden, according to the ancients.
Xenophon (430-354 B.C.) was a soldier, historian, and philosopher of Athens. Like Plato he wrote dialogues featuring Socrates as a great teacher. Among these dialogues is Oeconomicus, translated as The Estate Manager, in which we get an insight into the structure and principles of the ancient household.
Image: Irish potato growers