“I just don’t know how young people are going to be able to buy a home,” my father used to say repeatedly. I heard it for almost 70 years, from the time I was born until the time he died. As a young carpenter in the post-War construction boom, he saw how the ever-increasing population inevitably drives up the price of ultimately-limited land on which to build houses. He also saw how the conversion of lower-valued farmland to higher-valued subdivisions made the people he worked for rich, and how this wealth-making opportunity eventually was going to drive homeownership into the ground for the majority of the population.
He was concerned with more than just individual young families’ welfare. He understood that homeownership made the entire country stronger. If “home” is the place where you lay your head, “stead” is the place where you stand, where you can take a stand, the ground your feet belong to and the ground your body can defend. It is the soil from which you can grow your food as well as lay foundations for life in community, membership in the place where you lay your head.
When he was a young carpenter, he was afraid we were going to lose sight of this important relationship. I think his fears have proved to be well-founded.
And maybe that’s what makes the Ukrainians’ struggle against Russia’s invasion so incredibly impressive. When I see photos of the bombed-out Soviet-era apartment buildings, 10-story industrial-looking units of little boxes piled on top of each other, no real ground below on which to stand or grow food, just places to lay one’s head, the willingness of the Ukrainian people to defend this place against the Russians is even more impressive. But maybe after you’ve lost the ground on which to stand, things like having the street signs in your own language take on extra importance. Perhaps they know that the mindset that created this “modern” landscape in Ukraine will do only further damage to it, and they’ve had enough.
One hundred years ago the Russians commandeered all the Ukrainian grain in order to feed the urbanites starving in Moscow while the revolutionaries converted their country to a communist utopia. They took their seed grain as well as the peasants winter stores of food, and in the process starved to death hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians, even killed them outright to steal the grain. Perhaps the survivors of that Ukrainian holocaust remember this fact, too. Perhaps they’re taking a stand for their food-producing capability, their grain and everything that comes from it, because they know what happens when somebody foreign controls your food supply.
I can still see my father standing in our tiny living room, speaking those words. When he’d say them, his face would contort into a worried, almost anguished shape; his voice would rise into something close to a whine. Beneath his concern for young families’ ability to buy a home was also his concern for the loss of farmland. He saw how the massive land “development” projects of subdivisions and shopping malls were going to make it harder and harder for us to feed ourselves or for families to make a living from the soil.
What he couldn’t see from his carpenter’s bench was how the concentration of farmland into fewer (and corporate) hands also was going to erode both things: the ability of individuals to feed their families and put a roof over their heads by growing food and fiber, and control over Americans’ food supply. These were the things I learned at college, in a tiny cubbyhole of the UC Berkeley campus while elsewhere in that renowned institution people were being trained to ignore the landownership component of human life. Dad didn’t make it to college, but he made sure I did, and I think it was this specter that fueled it.
Home: a place to lay one’s head. Stead: a place to stand, to take a stand, to defend. I think every person needs both things, though we Americans seem unable to defend them as rights. It’s a moral issue, one I believe people of faith are called to address. Some people even think it’s Biblical. John Pitney, my favorite Christian songwriting preacher, has written a song called “Where Will My People Lay Their Heads?” You can listen to it and read the lyrics at www.johnpitney.org. Stay tuned.
Trudy Wischemann is a carpenter’s daughter who writes, preaches occasionally and sings whenever possible. You can send her your homesteading thoughts c/o P.O. Box 1374, Lindsay CA 93247.
This column is not a news article but the opinion of the writer and does not reflect the views of The Sun-Gazette newspaper.