Monday, January 4, 2010

Future Farming: The Call for a 50-Year Perspective on Agriculture

An Interview with Wes Jackson by Robert Jensen

[Excerpt] 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.”

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.

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.

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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1 comment:

  1. I'm very excited by the work of Wes Jackson & the Land Institute & feel that it is a significant piece of the sustainability puzzle. I first came across it in Janine Benyus's 'Biomimicry' book, which is a very exciting read. Her work in turn links to the Cradle to Cradle concept of re-evaluating the way we make things. That pretty much wraps it up, with permaculture tying it all together nicely! Ok, a bit of a simplification of a very complex situation we find ourselves in, but it all gives me hope for our collective future...