Acton Institute Powerblog

The City Mouse and the Country Mouse

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Aunt louisaOver at the Federalist, Gracy Olmstead wonders “what happens when people bring the country to the city?” She goes on to argue that “urban farming could have conservative implications and outworkings—and we should encourage these endeavors as much as possible, in our efforts to bring traditional principles back to urban environments.”

Is there a way to bring the city mouse and the country mouse together?

I’ve argued for the need for urban farming initiatives in the context of renewal movements in places like Detroit, and Michael Miller has cogently pointed out the entrepreneurial reality at the core of farmers’ markets.

But as Olmstead points to the diverse benefits of urban farming, I’m reminded of a story that pushes us beyond merely material and utilitarian calculus. The economist Wilhelm Röpke was a devotee of allotments for gardening and farming (Schrebergärten) commonly found in Europe, particularly after World War II.

In his book, A Humane Economy, Röpke warns against a planners’ kind of mentality that only sees inefficiencies in such activity:

Let us beware of that caricature of an economist who, watching people cheerfully disporting themselves in their suburban allotments, thinks he has said everything there is to say when he observes that this is not a rational way of producing vegetables—forgetting that it may be an eminently rational way of producing happiness, which alone matters in the last resort.

Röpke certainly wasn’t one to see the merits of big cities, but he certainly would have agreed with Olmstead that country practices, like gardening and farming, have something to offer urban and suburban dwellers.

The innovation that Olmstead documents is one of the real changes over the last half-century since Röpke wrote, making possible something like the farming practices that were only feasible previously in suburban or rural areas. Olmstead also notes, as I have elsewhere, the challenge that such possibilities represent for urban environments: “Cities will have to figure out how to work with urban farmers—to encourage innovation, while also placating neighbors and tending their streets.”

Read the whole piece, “Why Conservatives Should Care About Urban Farming.”

Jordan J. Ballor

Jordan J. Ballor (Dr. theol., University of Zurich; Ph.D., Calvin Theological Seminary) is a senior research fellow and director of publishing at the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion & Liberty. He is also a postdoctoral researcher in theology and economics at the VU University Amsterdam as part of the "What Good Markets Are Good For" project. He is author of Get Your Hands Dirty: Essays on Christian Social Thought (and Action) (Wipf & Stock, 2013), Covenant, Causality, and Law: A Study in the Theology of Wolfgang Musculus (Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2012) and Ecumenical Babel: Confusing Economic Ideology and the Church's Social Witness (Christian's Library Press, 2010), as well as editor of numerous works, including Abraham Kuyper Collected Works in Public Theology. Jordan is also associate director of the Junius Institute for Digital Reformation Research at Calvin Theological Seminary.