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Holism for a New Age



“In a time of drastic change, it is the learners who inherit the future.”

If anyone in this country is content with the way things are, they are mute. The rest of us are talking and writing endlessly about all the things we need to rethink. How interesting that the farm, the old-fashioned family farm, could provide the inspiration for new and better ways of living.

I say that after a meeting with Ann Adams, director of community services for Holistic Management International. Author of At Home with Holistic Management, she and her peers in this organization travel all over the United States and worldwide with the concept of holism that could produce the paradigm shift we all need. 

As Ann writes, holism is the idea that “the universe consists of wholes that we cannot understand or engage with effectively if viewed in isolation, or as parts.”  Each of us is part of a whole that affects many other wholes, and so we are responsible to all for what we do. 

Of course what we all want to do is create an ideal life, and that ideal life will usually benefit the community on which it depends. Accomplishing this according to holistic management begins with the simple exercise of sitting down, defining one’s values, hopes, and dreams, and then following through with the kinds of decisions that will make this life possible. 

Ann’s book provides essential navigational tools and exercises to support this process. It has been extremely successful in helping farms and ranches flourish, but one can see it working with businesses, schools, all kinds of organizations, and new community developments. As the idea travels, it could actually affect the way governments relate. 

But back to the farms. In the beginning of our history, they were self-sufficient entities that provided for families through multiple generations. They were complex, involved in raising a range of crops and livestock and processing the foods produced. Gradually, however, they yielded to industrialized agriculture dedicating vast acreage to few crops. The tone changed from working with nature to dominating it in order to feed as many people as possible and to create as much wealth as possible. 

Families are still farming, however, and the number of small farms is growing. The life is precious to many, and Ann says that the men who attend their programs often become emotional about their love of the land, their desire to make a comfortable living from it, and to pass a thriving operation on to their children. 

Holistic management provides the guidelines to make all this possible, and it begins with involving everyone—an entire family—in the exercise of establishing values. Wives who had been involved only in bookkeeping, for example, begin to participate in the making of decisions, as do children. Everyone embraces responsibility for the success of the whole in order for it to survive and prosper. 

And in the case of farms and ranches, holistic management requires something that may be new in enterprises that depend on the land. It looks like humility to the observer. It involves a willingness to study nature with new respect, to see how all the elements interact and what new techniques are required to maximize water resources, to ensure that the mineral cycle essential to creating healthy plants and livestock is functioning effectively, and to move toward creating a system in which there is no waste. Imagine that. 

Ann Adams


Ann’s interest in land management is probably inherited from her grandfather who managed an orchard called “Adam’s Apples” in Ohio. She worked on an organic farm to learn about biodynamic agriculture, and armed with an undergraduate degree in education and a Ph.D. in American literature, composition, and critical thinking, headed to the Southwest to create a life based on sustainability. 

Ann now lives completely off the grid in a spacious and comfortable home at the foot of the Manzano Mountains south of Albuquerque. She is a passionate and eloquent speaker and teacher about the potential of holistic management. She promotes a growing trend in communities supporting local agriculture, and she urges everyone to buy at farmers markets, insist on local produce in the stores, and join cooperatives. In holism, this is the way for each individual to benefit the whole by ensuring the availability of healthy food while simultaneously sustaining local farmers. 

I cannot do justice to the entire field of holistic management in this space, but Ann shared a passage in her journey in sustainability that was especially revealing. She said that she hadn’t been all that excited about gardening, but a turning point came when she and her partner decided to raise goats, and it was through them that she really connected to the land and the community. 

As soon as the goats were on the property things became a lot more complicated, but life also became richer. A magnificent Great Pyrenees became the goats’ guardian, so a veterinarian came into the picture. Hay had to be purchased and local resources accessed to learn how to breed the goats, to make cheese and other foods with goat milk, and occasionally to process goat meat. Many valuable new relationships developed. 

Of course the goats themselves are a community, and they move all over the acreage in a mobile pen, fertilizing the soil with their manure, breaking it up so rain will sink in and new plants will grow, and promoting the development of healthy microbial life underground. 

In the evening, the animals retire to a pen populated by the goats, dogs (a puppy is now in training), and chickens. Every creature has a personality, the mature goats curious and friendly, the babies inclined to cuddle. The chickens are wary of the puppy but eager to snag the delicacy of dangling baby goat poop. No waste, as I said. 

Ann Adams defined early on an ideal life based on sustainability. Not all of us have that kind of clarity or could choose that life, but I think we are emerging from a time when many would have expressed the ideal of making “a lotta lotta money.” Now things are looking more complicated, and as the weather tragedies continue to roll in, climate security may soon rise to the very top of our wish list. 

The earth has been so hospitable, so beautiful, and we have gotten sadly out of touch with its wonders and the reciprocal relationship on which our survival depends. A new age is dawning in which those of us inclined to study the needs of a healthy natural world and provide for them may have the edge. I like the quote by Eric Hoffer that Ann included in her book: “In a time of great change, it is the learners who inherit the future.”



One Response to “Holism for a New Age”

  1. Barbara McCarthy

    Another fantastic message, thank you Ellen. I really want my husband and children to read it.

    See you soon,