02/15/2011 02:00 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Kung Fu Farming: Toward Understanding Complex Systems

The cruel joke about urban life is that while I can turn the corner and buy almost anything imaginable, I am disconnected from being able to actually make anything. And despite the fact that I am just one D.I.Y. class away from being able to learn a craft, I am light years away from depending on that craft to survive. The kind of self-reliance involved in crafting food, clothing, and shelter, for me, remains abstract and out of reach. Some would even say obsolete. The people and land that produce my food can easily be overlooked in our day-to-day world. In fact, some days making my way through the season-less aisles at the grocery store proves to be my main encounter with ecological diversity, perhaps with nature at all. Our interdependence, still undeniable, is growing ever more invisible. Similar murmurs in policy circles and school parking lots are reaching the same conclusion: most of our youth are growing up with little knowledge of natural food production, nutrition or basic survival skills. In an increasingly urbanized world with threats to global sustainability what kind of knowledge matters most? Does knowledge of our environment, community, farmland even matter?

Like others, I feel a wearing dullness of this paradoxical disconnection. And this is precisely what led me to 50 acre Chubby Bunny Farm in Northwestern Connecticut. Chubby Bunny, owned by Dan and Tracy Hayhurst, strives to balance the needs of land, animals, family, and community in the 21st Century. I came to this farm to reconnect with people, land, food, and the particular kind of knowledge that comes from this connection.

By dawn, on my first day at the farm, I could hear Dan shouting over motors. It is 6:00 a.m. and he has already been up for hours. Like a plant, he seems to get his energy from the sun. I still need my morning coffee. But, work had already begun. So, Dan begins to catch me up on the day.

"We are always behind, here," Dan says, as he kneels in the dirt to plant daikon seeds. "This is the most inefficient way to put seeds in the ground." Dan laughs, but he is two weeks behind and planting the seeds at a precise depth will make up for some of the lost time. A machine would be faster, but it would not allow him the precision that he needs. So, I dig my knees into the earth and begin to work alongside him.

"Farming done well is complicated," Dan explains, "The more you look at the whole farm, the more complicated it is." We pause to survey the land: its fruits, vegetables, animals and people are interconnected in ways that are hard to understand. He smiles before he says, "I liken it to Bruce Lee." He gives a laugh like I should get the joke. Then, he continues with his theory on Kung Fu Farming. "Bruce Lee's discovery was non-embracing of any form. He studied many different styles of martial arts before he came to embrace that." When Dan first started, he was serious about calling himself an "organic farmer," but, as he explains, "The more you look at the whole farm, the more complicated it becomes. When I learned to farm, everyone had it figured out--and they all figured that they had it right, but everyone had their own way of figuring."

For Dan, "Figuring," meant that simple but complex process of learning the land, the crops, and the relationship between the two for himself. On its own, each part is simple enough to figure out. Together, the simplicity of parts gives way to the complexity of whole systems. Knowledge of the land is a farmer's livelihood, and in Dan's case, the livelihood of the 260 families that he feeds.

Nourishing these relationships between seed and land, farmer and consumer, city and farm, is a critical piece of restoring so called sustainability in complex systems. By visiting Chubby Bunny Farm, I took a small but important step in feeling connected to the food and people that sustain my life from afar. The extraordinary power of experience is one of the reasons that I'm looking to tourism as a means of educating us about the people and land that we depend on. Rediscovering the knowledge that invisible connections link us all.