Which one, you might ask! Well, it’s not just the one(s) we hear about every night on the news from the 2016 Democratic and Republican presidential campaigns. It’s one they seem not to have noticed yet. But the good news is, if you are reading this (or much of anything on the Countryside website) you are probably someone who will be pleased to learn about John Ikerd’s predictions about the revolutionary changes ahead in America’s sustainable agriculture movement .
Ikerd is one of America’s most thoughtful and insightful agricultural economists – and interpreter of America’s agricultural history. His keynote presentation at the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association’s annual conference (Feb 13-14, 2016) brought a high school auditorium full of long time farmers and farmer wannabes, to their feet clapping.
Ikerd said the first sustainable agriculture conference he ever attended was in Columbus, Ohio in 1988. Attendees talked of “sustainable” agriculture as a “quiet revolution” that would transform American agriculture. But he noted that the changes since have not been as revolutionary as he and others had hoped. Large scale “factory farms” and industrial production systems have continued to expand and dominate food production at the end of the 20th and beginning of the 21st centuries; and the pattern of problems associated with industrial food systems have become increasingly harmful to individuals, communities and the environment.
Ultimately, that harm is traceable to our society routinely valuing and trying to maximize short term financial gain – at the expense, even harm, to other individuals, communities and the environment. Ikerd encourages us to rethink that practice – to think in terms of enough profit rather than greatest possible profit. He helps us to understand why real sustainability requires a healthy environment – on which both communities and individuals must depend. Achieving that, he says, will require a new generation that looks at farming as a “calling” or life’s purpose, rather than just a job or occupation.
And that, in turn, will depend on our very diverse, complex society pondering the sustainability of human life as we have understood it in recent centuries. It will require rethinking our conventional “world view” of how humans should relate to one another, to society, to the environment. Earlier in the conference Ikerd shared many of the key ideas he and others are trying to make part of a broad public discussion and debate about the “nature of sustainability.” Here is a brief (37 pages) summary – enjoy!