“You Can’t Run a Landscape Indefinitely in a State of Emergency”

Wendell Berry’s latest essay in the Atlantic is a must-read:

[A]s ethanol production has driven up the price of grain, our fragile uplands have been invaded by corn and soybeans. Whole farms, with sloping fields that have been in grass as long as I can remember, have been herbicided and planted to annual crops that, because of the drastic reduction of the number of farmers, will not be protected in winter by full-sown cover crops.

This is agriculture determined entirely by the market, and limited only by the capacities of machines and chemicals. The entirely predictable ruination of land and people is the result of degenerate science and the collapse of local farming cultures.

Industrial agriculture characteristically proceeds by single solutions to single problems: If you want the most money from your land this year, grow the crops for which the market price is highest. Though the ground is sloping, kill the standing vegetation and use a no-till planter. For weed control, plant an herbicide-resistant crop variety and use more herbicide.

But even officially approved industrial technologies do not alter reality.

This information and perspective isn’t new to anyone who works on ecological agriculture or has followed Berry’s writing over the years.  But the fact that it’s largely repetition doesn’t mean it’s outdated: we are still mining soil and oil to feed ourselves, and poisoning the ocean and the land with the resultant wastes.  And we don’t have to do it this way – we have all the tools and techniques and knowledge we need to transition into regenerative perennial agriculture (and take a sizable chunk of our surplus carbon out of the atmosphere in the process).  It will just take brave, well-supported, clear-thinking people in all parts of the food system to take consistent steps in that direction.

Here are some people in the US doing exactly that:

Holistic Management International trains farmers and ranchers in regenerative grazing and whole-farm planning.

Growing Power develops and supports community-based, green-tech urban agriculture.

The National Young Farmers Coalition organizes on behalf of and supports the rising generation of relocalizing, ecological farmers.

Wes Jackson’s Land Institute is breeding perennial grains to replace annual agriculture in the Great Plains.

Badgersett Research Corporation is breeding new varieties of staple-crop nut trees and developing planting, harvesting, and management systems for large-scale woody agriculture.

And a large, large range of other small organizations around the US and the world are figuring out regenerative agriculture for their places, bioregion by bioregion and farm by farm.  A lot’s happening, and it’s very hopeful, and we need a hell of a lot more, and we have both unprecedented tools for it and unprecedented challenges, and these are amazing times to be living in as a result.

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