This I Believe

Stephen - Louisville, Kentucky
Entered on October 18, 2006
Age Group: 30 - 50
Themes: place

On a recent trip to visit Cuban agricultural cooperatives, traveling with farmers and farmworkers from the US and Canada, we were lucky enough to arrive at one farm just in time to celebrate a birthday. It was a sunny day and the garlic was maturing in rich black soil, bordered by peppers and even sugar cane waving in the breeze. After touring and talking about the crops we were invited for refreshments and to celebrate the newly married farmer’s birthday! By the time we had some cake and toasted the health of the farmer, his bride, parents, sibling, and members of his agricultural cooperative, our hosts were so moved by our humble sincerity and our solidarity to have come from the US to visit them, defying an economic embargo against their country, that they began trying to convince us to stay there, to settle down and farm with them. There was land available for us, they said. They would help us build houses to live in. We could become a part of their agricultural cooperative! How many of us could stay?! Agriculture, they insisted, was a great life in Cuba, and since the hunger following the fall of the USSR, Cuban farmers were now considered the backbone of the society. I knew this was true. One day walking in Havana with an city dweller I said it was too bad the weather had turned so rainy. The person gave me a quizzical look and said: But rain is good for agriculture! We hope for rain, so we will all have plenty to eat.

That is the way it is in many, many parts of the world, where people still rely on local farmers to feed them. Over the years I have met quite a few farmers from rural places in several continents, and the story is always the same. I have been wined and dined with over- the-top hospitality. And I have been invited to join people in their rustic lives of abundance, generosity and subsistence.

I myself farmed in such a place for six years, in a tropical hamlet with no electricity or running water, producing through hard physical work, together with cows, fowl and fruits, abundant amounts of food and more or less enough cash from sales of yogurt, milk and fruits to keep the creditors at bay and buy new hand tools when the old ones wore out. I know what it means to host a visitor with gestures of hospitality: the pride of rural people. So… this is what I believe:

I believe that there is more enduring security, comfort, fun and hope in faithful communities rooted to real places than there can ever be with amassed wealth, video games or pensions stashed away. The land is what endures and culture derives from agriculture.