Wealth Re-examined

“I think the Earth itself is going to tell us we have to live simple lives, we have to live reverent lives and we have to live together.” -Richard Rohr

“When I fled Guazapa Mountain in 1981 I was a poor man. I literally had only shoes and clothes on my back. Now look at me. I have a roof over my head, a bed to sleep in and food to eat for my family. I am indeed a rich man. What more could a man want?” -Ephrain Rivas, Salvadoran farmer talking about receiving assistance from the Mennonite Central Committee during El Salvador’s twelve-year civil war.

I believe we need to re-examine what our definition of what wealth is. Like Ephrain, what would it mean for our world if we looked at our needs through the eyes of a Salvadoran farmer? What does it mean to live with enough? I have seen protein mal-nutrition in Bolivia and caloric mal-nutrition in El Salvador.  In Bolivia, it was a case of abject poverty where the family could not afford to purchase a cow to milk. In El Salvador the woman was so poor she barely had resources to put enough corn and beans on the table for her and her child. I believe there is no real peace where there is hunger.

So how will we live together? Who will be feeding us in the year 2050 when it is estimated that the world population will be 9.9 billion? Will it be the industrial food chain or the peasant food web? A recent study put out by the Canadian-based Action Group on Erosion, Technology and Concentration (ETC) claims that 70% of the world’s population is fed by the peasant food web. If we are to live together in peace, then we need to focus on developing more resilient local food webs that give life to all, honor farmers with just wages and protect the most important natural resource, the Earth’s soil. Without healthy sustainable soil there is no food. In 2009, the 1.6 acres I cultivated for vegetables produced over 21,000 pounds of produce! Imagine a world populated by a web of millions of small farms producing enough food for everyone.

This web of farms would stabilize democracies because many people would not have to leave their land to look for work in the cities or cross borders to look for work. The food system would be more resilient because small farms grow more diversified crops.

We, as a world, are entering the age of limited resources, limited fresh water, limited phosphorus, limited oil, etc. How we approach and respond to those limits will determine if there will be peace. That is why I believe Rohr’s statement. The Earth is teaching us now that we do have limits. How will we respond?

Let’s protect our precious resources. Let’s live reverent, simple lives so that, like Ephrain, we might experience the joy of being rich.

Gary T. Guthrie is a Community Supported Agriculture farmer in Nevada, Iowa.