Our dairy and crop farm in Todd County, Kentucky, was on the Farm Bureau “Model Farms” tour when I was growing up. Dad operated a Grade A dairy with a purebred registered Jersey herd. We didn’t have a weedless farm but the pastures were well tended, the row crops cleanly cultivated and the hay harvested in a timely manner. Nearly all of the clutter was kept out of the sight of passersby and I learned at an early age the importance of stewardship and attention to detail. Detail is pretty blasted important when you’re cleaning milk-handling equipment; people’s health and safety depend on it.
All of that care for the condition of the place evaporated in just a few years after Dad sold it in 1967. The new owners simply lacked a deeply rooted sense of pride and devotion, I suppose. After a feed company’s huge blunder killed most of their Holstein herd and a successful lawsuit against said company, they allegedly got enough money that they didn’t need to work any more. So… they didn’t.
I last visited the farm back in the early Eighties; I may very well never go back there again. The fields were full of thistles and the holding lot by the barn had been relocated to where the runoff drained into the pond. Junk cars were parked all around the house and the barns were falling down. Weeds grew to the height of a grown man within twenty feet of the house. Fields had been plowed straight down the slopes and clear to the edge of the creek. The water in that creek was clear and pure enough to drink when I was a boy; now it was dingy and murky.
I wish there was some sort of Legacy Law or something that required subsequent owners to maintain the same degree of care and attention, something to preserve what was good and right about a place, some sort of stipulation that if you cannot maintain good stewardship, you forfeit ownership. But, of course, we all know that in our culture and many others as well, owning a thing often brings no accompanying legal obligation to take care of it.
I believe that one Day, though, we will all have to give an account for our stewardship. I believe that there will be a Reckoning. In the meantime, I’m a bit more careful about what I throw away, what I recycle and what I fix so it can be used a while longer. I can’t control much of the earth and I can’t determine how my children and grandchildren will respond to the things that I pass on to them. But I believe that I should try to assure that those things, including the planet itself, are in good condition at the time of the passing.