The Argument for Art Farms
A Terra Cultura Manifesto
- 1. Introducing Terra Cultura
- 2. A Shifting Economic Perspective
- 3. A Crisis of Community
- 4. Local Projects, Global Collaboration
- 5. Agriculture and Culture
- 6. Art and Agriculture
- 7. Synergistic Relationships
Terra Cultura exists to respond to the need for in-person gathering places, and demand for expanded opportunities for education and participation in just and holistic food systems, sustainable living, and the arts. Terra Cultura facilitates education in both agriculture and the arts because we believe these elements are essential to resilient communities.
Terra Cultura explores the complex intersections of agriculture, art, community, and environmental stewardship, and how each might flourish with maximum benefit to the whole. In combining all these elements, Terra Cultura becomes an evolving blueprint for resilience, holistic balance, and viability economically, ecologically, and socially. The ecological, social, and economic aspects of a culture are so integrated that for any one of them to be healthy, they all must be functioning in reciprocal, synergistic relationships.
Terra Cultura takes the long view in embracing a culture of nurture over exploitation. In aligning with those who argue that over time, nurture reaps greater benefits, Terra Cultura values natural, social, and creative capital above, or on par with, financial capital.
This shift in perspective to weigh natural and social health above profit is becoming necessary. Environmentally, we know that a preoccupation with profit has come at the cost of climate change and the rapid depletion of biodiversity, topsoil, clean air, and water. Industrial agriculture has been detrimental to farming communities all over the globe. Climate scientists suggest several strategies for reversing global warming in addition to eliminating greenhouse gas emissions, including, practicing regenerative agriculture, restoring ecosystems, encouraging plant-based diets, switching to renewable energy, and improving energy efficiency. Terra Cultura is a living classroom and laboratory for promoting and improving techniques and technologies to curb climate change, and to build a thriving community around these practices.
Many people are living lives of luxury and leisure, yet debt, stress, discontent, and loneliness run rampant. Self-interested behavior is rewarded above care for the commons resulting in the destruction of the resources we rely on. To survive in a culture that values profit above all else, we seem to have forgotten that we are only as healthy as the social and environmental systems and processes that support us.
Increased specialization means skill in one area but dispossession of the ability to care for oneself holistically. A specialized view limits involvement in the larger system. It also means specialized skills are sold to others at a high price rather than out of a sense of cooperation or for the common good. Colonization, industrialization, urbanization, globalization, and migration have led to increased disconnection from inherited place-based knowledge and estrangement from the natural world.
When we cease to properly care for the interdependent relations between community and environment, we see not only a decline in health, but also a loss of collective knowledge, and the mutual benefits of the commons. When the economy is wrenched from place it is easy to lose sight of the carrying capacity, the maximum load a particular environment can sustain before degradation occurs. Through reshaping our views towards broad knowledge of relational systems, and towards cooperation above competition, we might reclaim resilient, empowered, place-based communities.
While large-scale change is necessary, it must primarily occur on a personal and local level, then gradually become widespread. The success of a project, be it economic, ecological, agricultural, creative, or social, may be weighed by the extent to which it engages with the nuanced needs and distinct traits of the proximate community.
Terra Cultura seeks to be among the many working models for exploring these structures for community and cooperative commerce. We are aware that a wide network of similar movements already exists, and are emerging all over the world, and we enthusiastically encourage such proliferation. Care of the commons, collaboration, and reciprocity are inherent values we share with most like-minded organizations, fostering an open culture of knowledge, resource, and skill sharing. In our projects, we seek balance between catering to location-specific needs while collaborating beyond geographic boundaries. An awareness of these networks (both physical and digital) hones a keen response-ability: the ability to respond and adapt to the ever-shifting demands of neighborhood webs in the form of local markets, ecosystems, and communities, while engaging in active exchange with the global web.
Terra Cultura takes into account many theories and methods for farming, utilizing various and changing techniques according to what best suits a specific terrain. All of these approaches follow holistic principles of land management, in line with agroecology.
Miguel Altieri describes the differences between industrial agriculture and agroecology: “Industrial agriculture which is corporate controlled, and promotes agrochemically-based, monocultural, export-oriented systems are negatively impacting public health, ecosystem integrity, food quality and nourishment, traditional rural livelihoods, and indigenous and local cultures, while accelerating indebtedness among millions of farmers, and their separation from lands that have historically fed communities and families.”
Industrial farming purports that monoculture, chemical fertilizers and pesticides produce higher yields while Altieri claims, “pests or nutrients only become limiting if conditions in the agroecosystem are not in equilibrium.” Agroecology and other methods of regenerative land management such as permaculture, biodynamics, and natural farming, strive to mimic the inherent checks and balances systems of a more integrated, diverse ecosystem. This functions to conserve biodiversity and water, enhance soil, and improve biological pest control. Rather than relying on monoculture and chemicals, “agroecological principles emphasize diversity, synergy, recycling and integration; and social processes that value community involvement and empowerment.”
Here the values of agroecology overlap with Terra Cultura’s principles on commerce, community, and creativity. When the complex systems and processes are acknowledged and maintained in equilibrium, Altieri claims that high yield and stability can be achieved. Terra Cultura believes this will hold true for all aspects of its community. Altieri adds that in this approach to agriculture, “social capital formation is as important as the regenerative technologies involved, because what is key to local livelihoods is the capability of local communities to innovate, evaluate, and adapt as they involve themselves in a development process based on local knowledge and organization.”
Terra Cultura believes that we can enjoy meaningful and satisfying work, a healthy and supportive community, and a life well-balanced between work, play, creative, and social pursuits, and that these need not come at the cost of the environment or financial feasibility. We believe that there are guiding principles that bridge agriculture, creativity, community, and culture that can be applied to navigate each without relegating any, creating integrated systems that are indefinitely self-perpetuating and nondestructive. These values include cultivating an open culture for education, promoting a holistic approach to agriculture and art, fostering symbiotic relationships culturally, ecologically and economically, emphasizing collaboration, creating a supportive environment for creative risk-taking, and integrating diversity on all levels.
As one of many feedback loops in our overlapping systems, Terra Cultura sees creative pursuits as necessary to the local knowledge and organization required for successful agroecology. Art and agriculture are both integrative, place-based practices. Both disciplines require that practitioners hone their perceptions to their physical surroundings–the place and its inhabitants. In his writing on art and agriculture Adam Wolpert writes that a holistic farming method “integrates qualities along with quantities, values sensitive observation, participation and collaboration, and sees the scientist as a part of, not apart from, nature.” These same qualities and calculations can be applied to an artist at work, as the artist evaluates which tools, materials, forms, strategies, hues, compositions, constraints, and nuances will best portray the content of the work. Farming and art are both sensuous practices, demanding keen and elevated perceptions, intimate connection with materials, and physical participation in processes.
The artist, scientist and farmer each benefit through cultivating a diverse, interdisciplinary knowledge base and skillset, just as a community is enhanced by input from diverse perspectives, and an agroecology farm thrives from biodiversity. An artist and agriculturalist are both collaborators with their environments, creating within the limits of time and space. Both require support, knowledge, and participation from their communities. In this willingness to adapt and respond to ever changing needs of one’s natural and social dwelling place, the artist and agriculturalist embrace an attentive acceptance of the chaos of nature, embracing the unknown and adaptability above the need to control and explain.
Through working synergistically with the processes of nature, rather than asserting our exploitive will, we begin to see ourselves as part of the reciprocal exchanges of art, agriculture, and community. By restoring the balance between natural, social, creative, and financial capital through nurture and cooperation, we can sustain ourselves healthfully and indefinitely. It is only by cultivating thriving diversity in our communities and in our fields that we will replenish our soil, bodies, and communities.
Terra Cultura seeks to break down the barriers that have stratified aspects of our lives: work and creativity, community and commerce, people, the land, and its inhabitants.
Thinking of these things as independent rather than intricately woven has led us to the brink of disaster. In an often alienating, materialistic, and individualistic society, Terra Cultura grounds community to a sustainable place and necessary and valued collaborative projects. The many projects, programs, events, and opportunities at Terra Cultura provide a checks-and-balances system similar to the principle we employ for agriculture. Should one of our programs temporarily flounder, the others will buoy it economically and culturally. This built in safety net creates a haven for risk-taking in the arts and sciences.
Terra Cultura’s relationships of reciprocal exchange extend to its neighboring communities, where collaborative opportunities in arts, education, science, music, community, markets, events, etc. flow in a feedback loop that intends to continuously strengthen community, commerce, and culture for the region. In this way, Terra Cultura breaks down the barrier between the urban and rural, drawing aspects of the city to a rural setting, to the mutual aid of each. Terra Cultura is not only a farm, and educational, cultural, and community center. It is a model for a more fulfilling way of living and working together in a manner that is resilient, holistic, viable, and satisfying. It is a model we hope will expand and change as we learn and teach, and one that will proliferate widely into whatever iterations specific climates and cultures require for more resilient and holistic ways of life.