The search for alternatives in agriculture entails an exploration of questions touching all aspects of life, including economics, politics, religion, and personal relationships. Some of our neighbors in Kansas are exploring such questions on their small farm near Marysville, in their communal living arrangement, and in their relationship with the larger society. They recently published a magazine called U & I as a format for discussing the community's concerns and for extending the discussion to all who wish to participate.
The second issue of the magazine focuses on Kansas and the prairie. Poems, photographs, drawings, stories, essays and letters portray the beautiful and the ugly in this part of the country and in the people who inhabit it. The subjects are diverse: the mining and depletion of the Ogallala aquifer to sustain corn-fed beef in Western Kansas, morel hunting, relationships between men and women, the "farm crisis" as part of a bigger cultural crisis, and their neighbors.
The importance of relationships among people lies beneath almost every piece in the magazine. This theme is expressed particularly clearly in the sections dealing with the community's neighbors and neighboring communities. Their farm, the Benton Farm, is located near the sight of Bigelow, a small town razed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers around 1960 to make room for the Tuttle Creek Dam's reservoir.
The U & I article extols the bonds that made Bigelow a close-knit community. "We shared troubles, tragedies and happiness like one big family," says one former resident. Bigelow epitomized the best of sharing and responsibility in a community, and now it is gone. However, rural neighborliness has not been wiped out. The U & I magazine pays tribute to that sense of community in several other articles about their neighbors, young and old. The Benton Farm people have learned much of what they know about farming from their older neighbors, whose help has been crucial.
Another article illustrates the farm crisis as it affects one of their neighbors. When the government said to plant fence row to fence row to help feed the world, this neighbor went eagerly into debt for bigness. Idealism, excitement about high yields, and greed motivated him. Now, his land damaged and his debts stacked up, he realizes the mistakes, swallows some pride and is cutting back desperately to save his farm. He realizes that he neglected a responsibility to his land and to those who would farm it after him.
The farm crisis is a reflection of a wider cultural crisis. According to the magazine, it is a "crisis of relationship." At the heart of this problem lies a separation of people from each other and from nature. This separation is behind war, mistreatment of neighbors, and misuse of land. The magazine's writers feel that the breaching of this separation must start with personal relationships and can only go as far as personal ties will bring it; Their community is a start. Their magazine, which is very personal, is an effort towards extending the conversation to a larger circle.
To get the magazine write to U & I, P.O. Box 93427, Los Angeles, CA 90093, and send $5.00 for each copy, specifying whether you want the first or second issue.