Learning the Fundamentals

08 August 2011

A few days ago I came across this Huffington Post article entitled "Why are Young, Educated Americans Going Back to the Farm?" (found via ColdAntlerFarm). My great-grandmother witnessed the beginning of the transition from farm to city, so it's interesting to witness some reversal only a few generations later. I especially resonated with Kelly Coffman's quote:
"When you have [a liberal arts] education, you get to a point where you realize wait, I need to have a more basic fundamental education about being human. Food, water, shelter...these things are important."
Returning to the basics is a quest I began several years ago--in fact, it's one of the main reasons I went Wwoofing, and it's why I enjoy making as many necessities as I can, starting as close to "from scratch" as I can. The kitchen is one area I've mentioned before, what with my bread, granola, etc; clothing is another. In a way, even refurbishing secondhand furniture is my way of understanding the items I live with at their most basic level, for nothing has taught me more about the materials and construction of an upholstered chair than doing it myself (and one of these days, I'll actually finish it!*). I haven't bought shampoo or conditioner in years, opting instead to use a baking soda rinse to clean my hair and an apple-cider vinegar rinse to condition it. And on that note, I also make my own foundation, although that is not a necessity. I am even nearly finished gathering the supplies I need to make my own shoes (Andrew Wrigley has a great series on making semi-brogues here).

These little acts are nothing groundbreaking--well, my shoe-making aspirations raise some eyebrows--and they may not hold much significance to anyone but myself. I still use quite a few things I don't understand--like my computer, the Internet, electricity, my car, not to mention the "scratch" ingredients like baking soda, cotton fabric, zinc oxide. There are a few drawbacks to this sort of "fundamental education," too. Time is the major factor, and money can be another. Although I end up saving quite a bit, some of these projects require an initial investment in supplies, and that is an investment I may not be able to make at the time. That is why I am thankful for responsibly formulated products like Desert Essence's deodorant or Trader Joe's multipurpose cleaner. And these little acts don't arise out of any sort of activism--I consider them more thoughtful and cheap than "green." But they do mark my determination to understand more about the things I depend upon, more about the processes city-life tends to occlude in favor of the products.

*this is the major drawback to getting back to the basics: the time it takes to complete these projects

P.S. Agrarian and Neo-Agrarian thinkers articulate the reasons behind this return to the fundamentals beautifully. I recommend I'll Take My Stand: The South and the Agrarian Tradition and The Art of the Commonplace: The Agrarian Essays of Wendell Berry.

No comments: