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Theology of Agriculture

The Catholic Light

from the Diocese of Scranton

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Agriculture with a Human Face!

This was taken from a scanned document. It may be difficult to read because of the formatting.


A Value System to Sustain an Agricultural Rural People 

The Most Reverend George H. Speltz 

Rishop George H. Speltz (bishop of the diocese of St. Cloud, Minnesota,

from 1968-1987) has always been an ardent advocate of a kind of agriculture that cares about the gifts of land and water and gives a just return to those who farm that land. He continues to speak out on this issue. Bishop Speltz was one of the bishops who took an active role in the development of the Midwest bishops' statement Strangers and Guests, issued May 1, 1980. He was one of five bishops responsible for the U.S. Bishops' pastoral Economic Justice for All. It was Bishop Speltz, who with patient persistence, convinced the bishops to include a section on agriculture in this important statement on the economy. 


Publishing a study these days on the human face of agriculture, when obvi. ously this way of life has already gone in another direction, requires some encouragement.

I wish to acknowledge the support I have received from Sr. Owen Lindblad, OSB, of the College of St. Benedict, St. Joseph, Minnesota who helped me in editing this study, and from St. Mary Mark Tacheny, SSND, who in her many years with the Minnesota Catholic Conference has estab. lished her expertise in agriculture. She has volunteered to work with Sandra A. LaBlanc of the National Catholic Rural Life Conference who consented to have it published. My thanks also to Lemay Bechtold for her constant support of what this study advocates. 


Many monographs and books have been written in behalf of rural people. The present study is undertaken after a lifetime interest in the people on the land whom I hold in genuine respect and whose special contribution to the well-being of America I have always appreciated. 

My interest began during my student years at Saint Paul Seminary where Monsignor Ligurti, the charismatic Executive Secretary of the National Catholic Rural Life Conference often came to speak to students. With his encouragement, after I sincerely hope that ordination I did a doctoral study in economic the reader will not dismiss philosophy at the Catholic University of America the position taken by this on the place of rural life in a well-ordered society. study as naive, as an ideal Since then, the Conference's strong advocacy on whose time has passed. behalf of rural people has kept my interest alive. 

It is a difficult ideal, yes, In 1980, as one of the Catholic bishops of 

but one very much in the U.S. Heartland, I participated in the prep. 

keeping with human dignity aration of Strangers and Guests, a statement on land issues in the agricultural Heartland of America. and the needs of the human The present study has in mind particularly the heart. In the end, this ideal same Heartland. More recently, as a member of must prevail. the writing committee for the U.S. Catholic Bishops' pastoral, Economic Justice For All (1986), my special concern was to keep before the committee the importance of agriculture in the economy and, more particularly, the key role of the family farm both in the economy and as an overall stabilizing force in society. 

Now after these many years in the rural apostolate, I wish to summa rize some of the conclusions I have reached, hoping that wisdom may be

found in them. I have often pondered why the rural way of life, with its undoubted human and economic importance, finds itself with an ever di minished place in America. This is regrettable. Economic solutions to this problem have not reversed the trend. The decline continues.

In the analysis of Vaclav Havel, president of the Czech Republic and a respected observer on the world scene, the problem is spiritual, a loss of values:

"The economic advances of Euro-American civilization, based on advances in scientific and technical knowledge, have altered humankind's value system."

This advancement has affected all life, including business, industry and agriculture. In agreement with President Havel's analysis, the present study will focus on five foundational values deemed necessary for a vital rural culture.

I sincerely hope that the reader will not dismiss the position taken by this study as naive, as an ideal whose time has passed. It is a difficult ideal, yes, but one very much in keeping with human dignity and the needs of the human heart. In the end, this ideal must prevail.

I recognize that rural people do not live on an island, that they share the materialistic values of the day. It will be difficult for them to live by different values than those of the wider society about them. Yet, may we not hope that rural people, living as they do, close to nature in an environment conducive to reflection, will have a positive influence in restoring "humankind's value system" and, in doing so, give agriculture a more "human face." For this change of heart to be effected, it would require in ordinary circumstances the help of religion and of the sacred liturgy. 

The Problem 

In their Economic Justice For All pastoral, the U.S. Catholic Bishops have noted with concern the substantial decline in the number of its citizens cultivating the land: 

"The U.S. farm system included nearly 7 million owner-operators in 1935. By 1983 the number of U.S. farms had declined to 2.4 million, and only 3 percent of the population was engaged in producing food. (n.219)*

The expectation is that this trend will continue. The Pastoral sees this as "the loss of a valued way of life, the decline of many rural communities and the increased concentration of land ownership." (n.220) It calls attention to the technological developments and economic factors that have aggravated this trend, for example, large-scale technology and capital-intensive agriculture. 

A respected leader and author in American agriculture, Marty Strange, in his book, Family Farming: A New Economic Vision, concurs with this analysis. Regretfully, noting this decline, he attributes it to the industrial izing of American agriculture, a trend accelerated by the boom of the 1970s and the bust of the 1980s, as a replacement for family farming. He finds the contemporary U.S. society, while remaining superficially loyal to the ideal of family farming, has become culturally and politically committed to the outlook of industrial agribusiness with its economic virtues of efficiency, productivity and competition. (pp. 36-39) 

As to the economic causes for the decline in family farming, there appears to be general agreement between the thinking of the U.S. Bishops and the reflections of Marty Strange who further refers to these economic 

virtues of efficiency, productivity and competition as "the chilling values of industrial agriculture."

Where these virtues or rather, more accurately, material valuesmare in control, human values easily become subordinate to economic factors, to the demands of capital and technology, and to societal pressures reflecting this emphasis on the economic. This leaves the farmer little freedom to follow any course other than that of industrial agriculture. The farmer is not free to practice the art of husbandry (agriculture) as judged right for the production of good food and the conservation of natural resources.

Many economists will respond that this trend is inevitable-the price of technological development for optimum productivity and that to attempt to subordinate these material values to moral values, as this study purports to do, is a romanticism that society Many economists will respond cannot afford. that this trend is inevitable 

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