Being our brother’s keeper



Justin Goldstein



Originally published for the Hazon CSA listserve. Discusses being a leaver and a taker, and the connections of these actions to being a member of a CSA.



This week we read the story of Cain and Abel.  In his novel, Ishmael, Daniel Quinn tells this story through an interesting lens of Leavers and Takers.  The Leavers are non-agrarian herders represented by Abel’s sacrificial offering of livestock, and the Takers are those who adopted the practices of the Agricultural Revolution, an unsustainable human-inflicted agrarian society.  Though Quinn somewhat romanticizes what the lives of hunter-gatherers might have been like, the challenge between the two brothers--and between the ways of being in the world that they represent--can help us find meaning in the verses from Genesis.

The Torah portion tells us that “Abel became a tender of sheep and Cain became a tiller of soil.  After a certain amount of time, Cain brought an offering to God from the fruit of the soil; and Abel, for his part, brought the choicest of the firstlings of his flock.  God paid heed to Abel and his offering, but to Cain and his offering he paid no heed...” (Gen 4:2-5)  Of course, we all know the aftermath of this affair; Cain killed Abel and asked of God the now infamous statement, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” (Gen 4:9)  God’s answer, in short, was an emphatic, YES!

While the days of the Leavers and Takers that Quinn describes are long gone, his concepts extend to our agriculture systems even today.  There are those of us who are dedicated to supporting local agriculture (Leavers) and those of us who still wholly relying on industrialized agriculture (Takers).  By supporting local agriculture we leave a more sustainable world for our descendants and enjoying the health and environmental benefits of sustainable, organic farming.  By contrast, by supporting industrialized agriculture, we are taking resources and longevity from the same.

And to take the metaphor further -- it’s not enough to simply be a Leaver -- we must also be our brother’s keepers.  One of the most productive things CSA members can do to spread the word about the benefits of local agriculture is to share the facts about the benefits of such practices.  It’s important to share the bounty of delicious foods we receive from our CSA, and encourage friends to join the CSA. It is important for each of us to act as our “brother’s keeper” and encourage our communities to support local agriculture and, if possible, join our CSAs.

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