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Life Arts    H3'ed 1/29/09

Future farming: The call for a 50-year perspective on agriculture

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As everyone scrambles for a solution to the crises in the nation’s economy, Wes Jackson suggests we look to nature’s economy for some of the answers. With everyone focused on a stimulus package in the short term, he counsels that we pay more attention to the soil over the long haul.

 

“We live off of what comes out of the soil, not what’s in the bank,” said Jackson, president of The Land Institute. “If we squander the ecological capital of the soil, the capital on paper won’t much matter.”

 

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Jackson doesn’t minimize the threat of the current financial problems but argues that the new administration should consider a “50-year farm bill,” which he and the writer/farmer Wendell Berry proposed in a New York Times op/ed earlier this month. http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/05/opinion/05berry.html

 

Central to such a bill would be soil. A plan for sustainable agriculture capable of producing healthful food has to come to solve the twin problems of soil erosion and contamination, said Jackson, who co-founded the research center in 1976 after leaving his job as an environmental studies professor at California State University-Sacramento.

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Jackson believes that a key part of the solution is in approaches to growing food that mimic nature instead of trying to subdue it. While Jackson and his fellow researchers at The Land Institute continue their work on Natural Systems Agriculture, he also ponders how to turn the possibilities into policy. He spoke with me from his office in Salina, Kansas.

 

Robert Jensen: This is a short-term culture, and federal policies typically are aimed at short-term results. Why call for a farm bill that looks so far ahead, especially in tough economic times?

 

Wes Jackson: For the past 50 or 60 years, we have followed industrialized agricultural policies that have increased the rate of destruction of productive farmland. For those 50 or 60 years, we have let ourselves believe the absurd notion that as long as we have money we will have food. If we continue our offenses against the land and the labor by which we are fed, the food supply will decline, and we will have a problem far more complex than the failure of our paper economy.

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We need to reverse that destructive process, which means recognizing the need for fundamental changes in the way agriculture is practiced. That requires thinking beyond the next quarterly earnings report of the agribusiness corporations and beyond this fiscal year of the feds. We need farm bills -- laid out in five-year segments, with a view to the next 50 years -- that can be mileposts for moving agriculture from an extractive to a renewable economy.

 

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Robert Jensen is a journalism professor at the University of Texas at Austin and board member of the Third Coast Activist Resource Center. His latest book, All My Bones Shake: Seeking a Progressive Path to the Prophetic Voice, was published in 2009 (more...)
 
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