My Agrarian Fairy Tale

“It is true that I bel ieve in fairy tales—in the sense that I marvelso much at what does exist that I am readier to admit what might.” So commented G.K. Chesterton in his 1926 book, The Outline of Sanity. Hethen described a fairy tale of his own creation: restoration in 20th-century England of a peasant class, composed of independent families workingon their own plots of land and supported by a vibrant rural culture. If already deemed a fairy tale in the England of 90 years ago, suchenthusiasm for Agrarianism might appear as an almost pathologicalfoolishness in early 21st-century America. All the same, the English anthropologist Hugh Brody captured the essence of the Agrarian Dream but a few years ago: A family is busy in the countryside. Mother is making bread, churning butter, attending to hens and ducks that live in the yards and pens beside the house, preparing food for everyone. Father is in the fields, ploughing the soil, cutting wood, fixing walls, providing sustenance. Children explore and play and help and sit at the family table. Grandma or Grandpa sits in a chair by the fire. Every day is long and filled with the activities of this family. All the activities are contained, given purpose and comfort, by a piece of countryside at the centre of which is home. . . . The family in its farm is the family where it belongs. The nature of American farming today seems radically different. The first reality is a shrunken U.S. farm population: 30 million strong in 1940, the true farm population today is perhaps 4 million. Indeed, in 1993, the U.S. Census Bureau stopped counting farm families as a special category, so few had their number become. Second, these are generally not young families: farm residents are old, with the average age about 55. The average American farm today may better be seen as a working retirement home, with few resident children. Third, these are not commonly the classic “yeoman” types trying to sustain themselves thr
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