From Guest Contributor Ryan Tahmaseb
When I was asked to write something for Gromaine, my thoughts turned immediately to Wendell Berry. I had recently finished reading What Are People For?, a collection of Berry’s essays published in 1990 that centers around humanity’s troubled relationship with nature, place, and environment. The Noyes brothers exemplify how these relationships can be set right through their quiet rebellion against both the disturbing systems of agriculture in contemporary society and the popular notion that one’s work — one’s occupation — is not or cannot be something to be enjoyed.
By growing and nurturing their own crops in a place they love and understand, these brothers have deliberately chosen to live by a tradition that Big Agriculture would have us believe is antiquated and inefficient. But in this generation of intoxicating screens and instant gratification there is also a pervasive sense of disaffection. Gromaine was born from a strong desire to reconnect with all that is natural and not easy to quantify, and by doing so its founders were able to awaken or reawaken their minds, bodies, and spirits.
In the essay “Economy and Pleasure,” Berry details what happens when we occupy ourselves with work that is not intrinsically fulfilling:
“More and more, we take for granted that work must be destitute of pleasure. More and more, we assume that if we want to be pleased we must wait until evening, or the weekend, or vacation, or retirement. More and more, our farms and forests resemble our factories and offices, which in turn more and more resemble prisons — why else should we be so eager to escape them? We recognize defeated landscapes by the absence of pleasure from them. We are defeated at work because our work gives us no pleasure. We are defeated at home because we have no pleasant work there. We turn to the pleasure industries for relief from our defeat, and are again defeated, for the pleasure industries can thrive and grown only upon our dissatisfaction with them.
“Where is our comfort but in the free, uninvolved, finally mysterious beauty and grace of this world that we did not make, that has no price? Where is our sanity but there? Where is our pleasure but in working and resting kindly in the presence of this world?
“And in the right sort of economy, our pleasure would not be merely an addition or by-product or reward; it would be both an empowerment of our work and its indispensable measure. Pleasure, Ananda Coomaraswamy said, perfects work. In order to have leisure and pleasure, we have mechanized and automated and computerized our work. But what does this do but divide us ever more from our work and our products — and, in the process, from one another and the world? What have farmers done when they have mechanized and computerized their farms? The have removed themselves and their pleasure from their work.”
Gromaine was founded on the principle that all of one’s self should be brought to one’s work. Of course, many are not in a position to become employed in such a way due to the staggering number of socioeconomic problems that plague us. This is why Berry advocates for “the right sort of economy,” one in which, if universally accepted, would end the profound disconnect we feel between ourselves, the world outside, and each other. It’s an ideal that seems incredibly difficult to achieve, but we can get close if we stop trying to strike the impossible work-life balance and begin to insist the two are inseparable. Maybe then we too can find ourselves “working and resting kindly in the presence of this world.”
Part of this, certainly, involves stepping outside and involving ourselves with nature — with the more-than-human world — so we can reestablish our sense of place and, over time, heal our relationship with the environment. By growing good food with love and respect for the land, and by refusing to draw a line between work and pleasure, the Noyes brothers have created the kind of business we all want in our communities, thereby moving us one step closer to that ideal society Berry wants us to have. In this way, supporting Gromaine means supporting all of us.
Nice article, Ryan!