As We Teeter Toward The Tipping Point: A Rural Advantage

| 7/10/2010 6:53:06 PM

The Sower“I am convinced that sustainability is the defining question of the 21st Century,” John Ikerd said one icy afternoon in the depth of February, weeks before the Gulf of Mexico exploded into an infernal industrial mess of oil, gas, and chemical dispersant.

Ikerd, a senior statesman among American agrarians, was addressing a conference hosted by the Nebraska Sustainable Agriculture Society in Lincoln. He earned a standing ovation for his definitive, imperative, and impassioned remarks.

Ikerd painted a convincing word picture of how sustainable food production systems can and should be employed to restore health to our bodies and minds, to restore vitality to the land, and to restore long-term stability to our economy. This healing potential, he said as he sounded a conference keynote, is a rural advantage. America would do well to take note.

The very day Ikerd spoke, Bob Herbert wrote an op-ed column titled “Time is Running Out” for The New York Times. “We’ve now lost 8.4 million jobs in this recession, and a vast majority of them are gone for good,” Herbert reported. “The politicians are clambering aboard the jobs bandwagon, belatedly, but very few are telling the truth about the structural employment problems in the U.S. and the extremely heavy lift that is necessary to halt our declining living standards and get us back to an economy that is self-sustaining.”

Noting that our economy has been thrown desperately out of whack by frantic, debt-driven consumption, speculative bubbles, and exotic financial instruments, Herbert reported that living standards are sinking swiftly in the USA, and that there is no coherent long-term vision or plan for reversing that ominous trend.

Almost as if he picked up on the same thought train as the Times columnist, but basing his response on a lifetime of work advocating for clean, truly economic agriculture, Ikerd in his speech said that the issue which has potential to bring this all into focus is public health – specifically the growing epidemics of obesity, diabetes, hypertension, arthritis, allergies and asthma. All these illnesses are related to diet, and our diet is directly related to the way we cultivate the land and raise our animals. It’s all linked.

Steven McFadden_1
7/14/2010 6:36:11 AM

Indeed, all is not lost, Vickie. There better be some hope for the cities, for I live now smack dab in the middle of one, happily I might add, though I am a country boy by long experience. Still, I feel the enlightened agrarian impulse, whether expressed in the countryside or the city, is the emerging hope of the present and the future -- for the health of the land and the people.

7/13/2010 8:56:52 PM

Hi Steven, I remember Mom saying she never went hungry in the depression because they lived on a farm and had everything they needed there to eat. But yet other things were not quite so plentiful -like clothes and shoes. So it was good but not perfect. She also remembers many homeless men knocking on their door for dinner after they found that Grandma was a generous lady. As a city dweller I believe you can live and eat well in the city by gardening or eating local grown food. I do not believe we should all live in the country to accomplish that. (To me though that would be just fine). I believe jobs will come back just as they did before -Steve don't worry -all is not lost. vickie

Steven McFadden_1
7/13/2010 1:08:08 PM

Hi Mountain Woman - Thanks for your comments. By all means, the answer is not just transplanting city folk to the country for all the reasons you enumerate, although out here in the Heartland of Nebraska and other states, our villages have been depopulated over the last 20-30 years, and could definitely use an influx of people who know how to live on the land, or are at least open to learning. Like Ikerd, I feel that will happen for a host of economic and environmental reasons, some harsh, and that eventually the industrial models of 'working the land' will give way to enlightened agrarian ways of 'living with' the land. Thankfully, the move toward Urban and Suburban Agrarianism is well under way -- and I was happy to be able to present dozens of models of what is happening in my book, The Call of the Land. But more and more models and innovations keep coming forward, even since the book was published less than a year ago. Great hope in this.

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