The Terroir of self

The vineyard at River Myst Haven, our farm in the Russian River Valley.

The vineyard at River Myst Haven, our farm in the Russian River Valley.

Terroir (French pronunciation: [ter-wahr or terˈwär] from terre, “land”) is the set of special characteristics that the geography, geology and climate of a certain place, interacting with plant genetics, express in agricultural products such as wine, coffee, chocolate, hops, tomatoes, heritage wheat, and tea.

Terroir can be very loosely translated as “a sense of place,” which is embodied in certain characteristic qualities, the sum of the effects that the local environment has had on the production of the product. Terroir is often italicized in English writing to show that it is a French loanword.  ~Wikipedia

“Food, rather than simply being fuel, is the most concrete and intimate connection between ourselves and the earth that exists.”  ~Introduction by Norman Wirzba to The Art of the Commonplace, by Wendell Berry

Nature gives us sustenance. It really doesn’t take much science to understand that pretty much all life on earth is fueled by the energy of the sun. (Remember the wonder of photosynthesis.) In fact, it would be monumentally patronizing for me to presume that you don’t grasp this basic truth of life sciences. The basic truths of the other studies of our planet—the multidisciplinary geosciences—are fairly easy to observe.

We can’t help but be connected to nature, in that dependence on air, water & food bind our very sustenance to the natural world. Regardless of how processed one may prefer their food, it has to contain stuff shaped by biology if one is to survive for long.

However, beyond our dependence on the natural world for maintaining our life, this relationship to the planet is essential for our *well* being.

And yet, we’re profoundly and progressively even more disconnected from the natural world. Sadly, it’s to the detriment of the greater social good and ourselves. For the sake of our community and ourselves we need to recommit and more deeply engage a connectedness to the natural world.

Thoreau gave us one early modern articulation of this viewpoint that the good life, and the life that ethically prepares a person for self-government, is necessarily a life lived in contact with nature. “No matter how urban our life, our bodies live by farming.”

Perhaps mentioning Thoreau in only my second post may be off putting, but his writings on the importance of being connected to the land and the environment—as a necessity for social order & good—were made so very long ago that they serve as a keen benchmark of the challenge we have in remembering what sustains us.

Just as terroir determines the characteristics of foods and flavors of a region, the set of special characteristics that the geography, geology and climate of a certain place make us who we are, and, thus, the community what it is.

We are connected to nature and our surrounding environment for sustenance as well as nuance and character. We ignore that to our peril.  Well then, seems pretty unambiguous to me.


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