A pair of old boots and agrarianism

old bootsWhen I was in college, my father gave me his nearly 30-year-old boots.  The leather was scuffed yet classic looking and well cared for.  They looked like hours and hours of work, in the mud and snow, and on construction projects. They had been resoled several times.   The weather faded, nearly unintelligible made in the USA tag, boasted of rugged craftsmanship.   I still remember my dad telling me that a great pair of boots, well cared for, could last half a lifetime and was one of your best purchases. They made me feel tougher than I actually was.  

I recently purchased a pair of my own boots. I plan on having them as long as my father.

I never really understood my affection for a well-crafted pair of boots until I read a book called, “The Art of the Common Place,” a book by Wendell Berry arguing for an agrarian worldview.

Reading this, the fog slowly burned off my mind.  Suddenly, all of the things that I came to love as part of my Pretty Good At Life (PGAL) project became clear.  It became obvious to me that PGAL is merely a platform meant to influence people towards agrarian values in a modern world.

What is agrarianism?

Agrarianism is a worldview rooted in local economics, family, fidelity to community, loyalty to home and place, anti-consumerism, craftsmanship, tradition, hard work, living within the limits of natural boundaries, and self-sustainment. There is a rhythm to agrarianism.  There is wholeness to it that I felt in those boots.

I had always associated agrarianism with rural farmers, but it is actually a worldview that flourishes in many settings.

In fact, the agrarian values that built America are making a comeback and none too soon.

Common misconceptions

At this point, most readers, will be wondering, is it possible to have an agrarian worldview in the age of iPhones, Facebook, and Twitter?  The answer is yes.  It is possible, but it requires living on purpose and being balanced.

I only have to look towards my own family.  My family didn’t just recently adopt the concept of urban gardening; they have been doing it for decades.  Theirs is a strong sense of self-sufficiency rooted in a concept of freedom, a freedom believed to be limited without the ability to provide for oneself the basic needs such as food, shelter, and transportation.   Agrarianism is rooted in a sense of self-sufficiency in the context of home and community.

Modern society organizes community around interests and types of people, while agrarianism organizes community around a physical place.  This is a huge difference.  How these values play out greatly affect outcomes in society.  A healthy society organizes community around a physical place, not online or in our imagination, but in reality.   This is why I wrote about the 2D to 3D project, which encourages people to take their online social relationships offline.

Understanding my father

Until I fully understood the concept agrarianism as it pertains to values, land, and even economics, I never understood why my father didn’t care that much about money.  He wanted to come home and stay home.  He wanted enough for his family and time to give to the community.  My parents still reside in their first home purchased over 30 years ago.  In many ways, this is my parent’s homestead.  I never fully understood why my father was adamant about our church remaining a community church and not adopting a “growth” model which precluded participation of the elderly.  It was an affront to something sacred.  His home, community, and a way of life he truly believed in.

Fidelity to family, community, and land is the basis of agrarianism.  It leads you down a path of loyalty to the local economy, to growing your own food, to fixing your own car, to family, to friends, and to a community rooted in a physical place.  You will find yourself uncomfortable purchasing things that don’t last and leaning towards craftsmanship.  You will arrive at an understanding that the real charity of life is paying a fair price for good work.  These are things I learned from my father.

People matter and small is big

Agrarianism states that people matter, our neighbors matter, the elderly in our community matter and should not be left alone to die in “homes.”  It says we don’t sacrifice people now for the future.   It states that we don’t focus on abstract economic ideas to “advance.”  Rather, we take care of the people closest to us right now. It is a worldview rooted in reality, not in abstraction.  It is a worldview that states that we don’t think our way to a better world; we do our way to a better world.  Small is big.


There is really no avoiding life in modern society, and we shouldn’t try to.  Rather, we must clarify our values.  This I am learning as I become older.  We need to understand that commercialized and industrial society consistently sacrifices people for the future.  It says that it is acceptable to destroy communities in the name of progress on the promise of future happiness, a happiness that sadly never comes for many, and decreasingly so in America. The challenge for us seems to be balancing the technology that makes life more comfortable with the values that ensure life maintains its meaning. 

Putting a stake in the ground

I have long been drawn to an agrarian mindset, but with an urban twist.  I love the concept of roof top gardens, solar energy, and building my own house.  To me, this is self-sustainable, but integrated life in community.

It occurred to me this year that my life likely would not be a corporate one and I would not meet my goal to make millions by the time I was 40.  I have decided what my values are.  They look agrarian, and they look a lot like my fathers.  They’re like an old pair of boots.  The war so long waged in my mind that has wasted so much of my time and energy is coming to a close.

Last night I sat on my porch with a good friend, drinking craft beer as we realized all the striving and not measuring up were coming to a close as we accepted ourselves and gained a clear vision for our lives.  We both were breathing a huge sigh of relief.

With an agrarian worldview, the complexities fall to the wayside.  It is comforting.  Whether I am a teacher, a writer, or end up starting that crazy business, I am fine with it.  I can wear my boots and settle into a rhythm of a life defined by agrarian principles rather than striving indefinitely to reach an abstract place invented by a society that is always starting over, never arrives, and whose solutions only cause more problems.

It is a good place to be.


old boots


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