Wendell Berry, Wes Jackson, and the 50-Year Farm Bill

Two outstanding and influential thinkers and writers, Wendell Berry and Wes Jackson, contributed an op-ed to the Times yesterday. More or less, here's the gist:

[W]e...need a national agricultural policy that is based upon ecological principles. We need a 50-year farm bill that addresses forthrightly the problems of soil loss and degradation, toxic pollution, fossil-fuel dependency and the destruction of rural communities.

They argue that a farm bill needs to envision decades, not years, in its scope, so as to accommodate and accept the ecological dynamics of agricultural landscapes. They point to "an insupportable abuse and waste of soil" and that, while soil erosion, exhaustion, and other denigrations have quite a long history, all of that "has been made worse by the huge monocultures and continuous soil-exposure of the agriculture we now practice." They observe that the "perennialization of the major grain crops like wheat, rice, sorghum and sunflowers can be developed in the foreseeable future" and that doing so can help "protect the soil and substantially reduce greenhouse gases, fossil-fuel use and toxic pollution."

They also anchor their op-ed with principles of responsible environmental practice that are now more widely discussed, in part because Michael Pollan has done much to broadcast them. Pollan works hard to show that agricultural policy might better be called food policy, so that everyday citizens will recognize its importance to their lives; that the problems of the farm are part of the problems of greenhouse gases and other climate change issues; and that attention to agricultural landscapes is essential for ecological health.

It's nice to see the wisdom of Berry and Jackson in the spotlight. Their work and writings over the past decades have made possible Pollan's recent work (as he notes in the acknowledgments to his books). Holding this op-ed together with Pollan's essays (like the farmer-in-chief one from last Fall) gives a nice thickness to the topic.

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