On Monday evening I was required to attend a speaker’s presentation for a class that I am taking; Fundamentals of Organic Agriculture. Prior to this presentation we completed some readings by the presenter, Fred Kirschenmann, from his book titled Cultivating an Ecological Conscience. After completing the readings, I was very excited to hear him speak about his ideas.
Kirschenmann grew up farming and he witnessed the changes that occurred when his father made the reluctant switch from pre-industrial farming techniques to what we now call conventional farming. In other words, he began using chemical fertilizers and pesticides. Kirschenmann reports that his father was apprehensive about this change. He knew his land well, felt a connection to it, and certainly did not want to do anything that would harm it. However, at this point it made a lot of sense for farmers to begin using chemical additives; they were cheap, available, the government was encouraging it, and everyone else was doing it. The idea behind this was that these developments would increase yield and therefore increase profits; you can’t really argue with that!
The theory which Kirschenmann discussed during his talk was that there are two main stories going on currently which characterize how we look at food. The first, more dominant is, again, what we call conventional agriculture, or how Kirschenmann refers to it; industrial agriculture. The goal of this story is to maximize yields and therefore profits and the only way we measure the success of this goal is through the financial economy; by monetary gain. The second story is what Kirschenmann refers to as an agro-ecological story. Instead of viewing food as a commodity, this story views food as something we have a relationship with. This story incorporates the other two types of economies in addition to the financial economy; human economy and natural economy, or human inputs and labor, and the services provided for us by nature. An agro-ecological story also focuses on differsificaticn, and understanding and replicating the models created by nature instead of imposing our own. The success of this story is also not evaluated solely on the financial gain, but also how nutritious our food is and how healthy and long-lasting our farms are. Kirschenmann firmly believes that this story needs to become the dominant story in order for us to be able to over come some of the shocks that are sure to come in our future; economic, peak oil, changing weather. Kirschenmann was also sure to express that it is important to remember that farmers who continue in the story of industrial agriculture are not evil, they do not want to hurt the planet, it is just that this story makes more sense to them as it is the most prevalent throughout our society, even in issues separate from agriculture.
After watching this engaging presentation, Fred Kirschenmann joined us for a casual discussion during our class time. There was nothing really planned out, but we got a chance to ask him any lingering questions about himself, his writings, his presentation, et cetera. This was an especially fascinating time, as we really got a more broad sense of his knowledge and opinions.
There have been many cases during my time at GMC when I have had the chance to meet a prominent guest and actually speak to them about their work. This is a very valuable experience and I truly think that some of my opinions and ideas have changed for the better as the result of these interactions.