Reader Linda recently asked these questions, There are some things that confuse me. What is an "agrarian"? Why do some call themselves "biblical agarians"? What constitutes a "homestead" and why is that different than a farm?
She also has a fine blog and lives in my neck of the woods. I have answered below, but I would love some input from others on these questions.
Here are some attempts at an answer to these very good questions.
What is an agrarian? I pulled my copy of American Conservatism: An Encyclopedia, off the shelf. Here is the start of the entry for agrarianism. "Agrarianism, posits that the practices associated with the agricultural life are particularly, and on some cases uniquely-well suited to yield important personal, social, and political goods".
The article then goes on to explain various schools of agrarian thought and their differences. Kind of an egghead philosophical definition that runs over three pages.
I like Herrick Kimball's definitions better, from the forward of his book, Writings of a Deliberate Agrarian. I bought the book at Lehman Hardware a couple of years ago, but I did not see it last time I was there. Here are a couple of excerpts.....
"Agriculture-the cultivation of the earth and animals to produce food is fundamental to what is means to be an agrarian...closely related to the act of producing food is the agrarians' reverence for creation in its many forms". Herrick also makes a simple but profound statement that "The interconnected relationships and dependencies between land, family, local community, and the local church which were once so strong and central to the everyday existence of godly people, have virtually disappeared in the modern age".
Here is my poorer definition.
An agrarian is someone that ascribes to a belief that the family household is the basic unit of society (not the state or the government), and that the household should produce as much of its own food, fuel, and other necessities as possible. After the household, needs should be met from within the local community. Farming is prominent in agrarianism because we all need to eat, and most of us like to eat several times a day. This makes food production the most basic of those material needs. This does not mean everyone needs to be a farmer. Those that cannot farm can still garden. Those that cannot garden can still cook (And buy food from real farmers)
Why bother with all that work?
1. Industrial prepackaged food is unhealthy and often inferior in taste.
2. Self dependency will see a family through hard times
3. Frugality is still a virtue, in spite of what advertisers say.
4. It is satisfying to provide much of our own heat and food
5. Strong families will build strong communities, which results in a strong nation
What is a Biblical Agrarian?
A Christian Agrarian or Biblical Agrarian ascribes to these same things based upon their understanding of the Bible and Christian theology. A key verse would be 1 Thessalonians 4:11-12. Some Biblical Agrarians believe in varying degrees of separation from society at large. In our area, the Amish would meet this definition pretty well.
I have to confess here that I am not a "Christian Agrarian" or "Biblical Agrarian". I am an Agrarian, and I am a believing Christian. I am very hesitant to mix my belief in Christ crucified for my sins with ANY other philosophy or political economy. My calling is to stay in this place and garden, tend flocks, and cut wood. I would never presume to believe that my calling is necessary for anyone to be a Christian.
What is the difference between Farming and Homesteading?
Farming is part of what we do for money. We sell cows, timber, cider, hay or market lambs and get paid in the Federal Reserve notes that pass for money these days.
Homesteading is what we do for ourselves. We raise a lot of stuff we never sell, such as blueberries, tomatoes, sweet corn, cabbage, etc. I think the term "homesteading" as used today comes from the excellent Countryside Magazine, billed as the journal of modern homesteading. Homesteading includes not only raising, but preserving and cooking the food. I think "homesteading" by the Countryside definition is the essence of agrarianism:
It's not a single idea, but many ideas and attitudes, including a reverence for nature and a preference for country life; a desire for maximum personal self-reliance and creative leisure; a concern for family nurture and community cohesion; a belief that the primary reward of work should be well-being rather than money; a certain nostalgia for the supposed simplicities of the past and an anxiety about the technological and bureaucratic complexities of the present and the future; and a taste for the plain and functional.Countryside reflects and supports the simple life, and calls its practitioners "homesteaders."
Years ago, I tried more farming than homesteading. Government policies deflate the value of farm commodities. We refuse to accept subsidies. Money is worth less each day. I learned we are economically better off growing more for ourselves and less to sell. This is a story unto itself that I will tell sometime.