Farming embodies change and transformation; transformation of a humble seed into a spectacular plant that attracts all beings for food towards itself, again to serve the larger purposes of pollination and dispersal of seeds, a necessary step in propagation and evolution of life. At the same time, seasons change, life in the soil changes, even the animals, bird and insects around the plant change in due time. To farm is to observe these changes and learn to work with them, and serve the most basic human necessity, of food and nutrition.
We seek food to keep our body alive because the nature of food is exactly that of our own body. And, just as our body has physical has subtle aspects, food too has physical and subtle fields emanating from the source of the food, and from the process used to transform it for consumption. Different sources of food, the way the food was grown, handled and cooked, lead to differing results in nutrition, flavour and energy of the food. In reality, however, food is still considered as a commodity and we are content with its physical and chemical nature.
Its access is determined by if and how much one can pay and not by who needs it. Even our global goals of reducing world hunger limit themselves to producing more to feed the population. This, to me, is a rather insufficient objective. We should instead be aspiring for all on this planet to have access to clean and wholesome food of the highest vibration. Only with a development of the individual consciousness can we expect the collective consciousness to evolve leading to a new culture where scarcity of food or of soul do not exist. The role of food in a larger systemic change is more important than we imagine it to be.
When we look back at the evolution of food and how humans have obtained it, we can also see, in the background, a social evolution that made the expansion of human civilisations possible. As hunters and gatherers in the wild, organization around family units was simple as humans moved regularly, mortality rate was high and therefore societies had impermanent structures. The activity of farming which is considered to be only 10,000 years old was dramatically different. It solidified the social concepts by grounding the family units to one place, thus giving rise to the ideas of ownership, families and succession. A sedentary life and a growing population make social systems more complex and thus people within families invented new roles to sustain the family organism- farming, animal care, cooking, cleaning, teaching, curing, giving and receiving, all could be done within one large family, or within a community. This led to the birth of a new culture based on land- agriculture. I would like to highlight here the difference between farming and agriculture, the two terms which are often used interchangeably today. While farming is an activity of intentionally shaping one’s natural environment to grow plants that are desirable for one’s food or other basic needs, agriculture is a culture of the land which springs forth from farming. It evolves on the foundations of how humans work on the land and with each other and how the social life organises itself around the activity of farming. Therefore while farming could represent an individual, agriculture essentially represents a social unit or collective. In my humble experience, I have found agriculture to be a balancing act between individualism and collectivism, the two poles of the social organism which keep it alive and dynamic.
So how to realize the highest human potential as an individual and as a collective, not as mutually exclusive goals but as complementary necessities for growth?
Food and agriculture are a big part of this puzzle and the birth of a new culture depends on how we grow, cook and consume our food for ourselves and each other.
Most of the solutions in agriculture today are based on external methodologies and physical means. And since the solutions are solely physical, they overlook barriers that are cultural and social. Even with a growing awareness of food and agriculture, farming is still considered a livelihood and occupation. However, farming is a way of life and a way of being and we need solutions that can address the apparent conflict between individual and collective interests, the collective not restricted to human society but encompassing the entire living collective, of which humans are only a humble part. Changes in our agriculture, our diet and our social structures are intricately linked and co-dependent. I believe, that in the integral view of agriculture, the farmer and the collective are not separate entities. They need to work together, in service to evolution of consciousness. The work of cultivating the soil to receive the seeds of the future would also help in cultivating the human soul to receive the inspiration to build a future together. And the highest goal of farming would not limit to only nourishment of the physical bodies but would extend to nourishing our aspirations for a higher life, working as a catalyst for individual, social and ecological transformation.
We have been fortunate to learn about new ways of looking at food and soil from many farmers and philosophers from around the world, and of course from the experience of the wise indigenous people who have long had the answers to many questions that we face today. As we try to put these ideas in perspective and come up with contextual solutions for our community, we need a synthesis of the physical and the invisible aspects of agriculture. When we extend the ideals of Sri Aurobindo’s Integral Yoga to agriculture and attempt to discover what integrality means when working with the land, with each other and growing food as a service to humanity and all life, we arrive at a vision of Integral Agriculture.
Active participation of Aurovilians on the farms and other food services is a critical step in strengthening the foundations of this vision. With our feet and hands in the soil and the highest aspiration in our hearts, we could discover together new ways of farming and new ways of eating, and in this process learn a bit more about nature, each other and ourselves.