I’ve been picking through Fred Kirschenmann’s Cultivating an Ecological Conscience (2010, The University Press of Kentucky), a collection of his best writings on ecology, sustainable agriculture and life. Many of these writings are from the 1990s, the decade when SFA and several other organizations around the country were forming a new approach to farming and rural life. In these articles we see the foundations behind the development of some of our current practices which are becoming mainstream. In a 1997 article “The Role of Independent Beef Producers in Rural Development” (P. 63-65), Kirschenmann tackles the issue of the size of cattle farms, and at what size they become “real” farms (I found it interestingly similar to issues we face today, actually). He describes his own North Dakota farm and how it benefitted from integrating livestock grazing on to row crop land, and how a vision for a renewed focus on local food, local meat and the ensuing economic development would be a boon for rural areas. His closing is relevant even today, “Wealth generated by beef enterprises that stays in local communities instead of being drained off to distant investors is real rural development” (p.65). Today, more than ever, we need to apply Kirschenmann’s wisdom. In the years since that article was written, a whole new science of agroecology, promoting the soil-building practices which basically add cover crops to the mix has developed, and with it, great promise for the future.
What I found most interesting is it has taken almost 20 years for Kirschenmann’s vision of livestock and row crops in harmony restoring rural communities to become widely understood, first of all, and now has the potential to be widely adopted. Sometimes good ideas simmer a while before going viral. If that’s the case with ideas in agriculture, then we should be thinking 20 years or more into the future. The great ideas for where we want our brand of agriculture to go need to be put forth now. We need to be ahead of the curve, far enough in front so the river of conventional thinking doesn’t sweep us away.
I’ll be sharing some thoughts on the future of sustainable agriculture at the 2015 SFA Annual Conference, Feb. 14, 2015 in St. Joseph. I hope you can make it. In addition, through our breakout sessions, you’ll be able to take in a modern view of Fred Kirschenmann’s vision for integrated, sustainable farms. You’ll be able to see where we’ve been and where we are going.