Monday, January 20, 2014

Dear friends,

Thinking about how important our volunteers are at the Farm, I’m reminded of a story that took place almost 200 years ago. The main character of the story is a young Frenchman who was sent to America to figure out how we were doing so well with democracy, and how the French might be able to improve their not-so-successful efforts.

In 1831, Alexis de Tocqueville set about for a two-year tour of America. The results of his observations became the book, “Democracy in America.”

Photo via Rogue Operator

I actually read this book during my college days and I have to tell you, it is long and not the easiest of reads. Despite that, my professors would be happy to hear that all these years later, something from de Tocqueville stuck with me. One of his observations about what made America different than any other country was our willingness to volunteer.

He said:
“Americans of all ages, all stations in life, and all types of disposition are forever forming associations. There are not only commercial and industrial associations in which all take part, but others of a thousand different types- religious, moral, serious, futile, very general and very limited, immensely large and very minute.  
Americans combine to give festivals, found seminaries, build churches, distribute books, and send missionaries to the other side of the world. Hospitals, schools and prisons all take shape that way. Finally, if they want to proclaim a truth or propagate some feeling, they form an association. In every case, where in France you would find the government or in England some territorial magnate, in the United States you are sure to find an association of the people.”

While de Tocqueville shows a hint of making fun of our country’s propensity to “join up” with others, there is also a genuine admiration that comes through in his remarks. Why is volunteering an American phenomena when we share roots with the Old World?

It may come from a deep-rooted part of our DNA that sparks at the idea of starting something. From starting the journey to find a new homestead, to looking at a situation and thinking, “we could make this better if we all pitched in.”  In the early days of our nation, the people who called America home had a hard time just surviving. Without the efforts of many, they would have perished. This sprit continued as the agrarian United States found that many hands make light work, and a threshing bee or butchering always included the neighbors.

If de Tocqueville were to visit America in 2014, would he notice a change? I don’t think he would. In fact, I think he would be amazed at what we do to make our communities better.

Alexis de Tocqueville thought that one of the things that set America apart from the world was our willingness to give of our time. I think he is still right. Volunteering is contributing to our community.  A community that, in its richness, offers a great place to build citizens that will carry on the traditions that have made this country like no other place on earth.

Volunteering is a huge part of Historic Wagner Farm. Our volunteers make it possible to offer you many programs, events and opportunities to see how the farm works up close.

Thank you to all of our volunteers for making a difference and giving of your time, and thank you to our community and neighbors for your love and support of our work on the Farm.