While I have only lived in Chestertown for a year or so, I have come to learn all about its rich history and the people that make it unique. My initial understanding of Chestertown and its role in the Chesapeake Bay was limited. However, after traveling and meeting with professionals throughout the Bay, I now have a better appreciation and connection to the land. In my first ethic, I mentioned how technology and science have changed the way in which we view ecological problems. During the semester, the journeys we went on provided helpful insight into this topic. Specifically, meeting and having open conversations with local farmers emphasized how society tends to view environmental problems “solely on economic self-interest” (Leopold, 19). Fortunately, the experiences I had point towards a more sustainable future and innovative ways of farming that benefit the land, the farmer and the consumer.
The current agri-food system is complex, dynamic, and “is having a major effect all around the world, though in some places with greater consequences than in others” (Sage). In the United States, agriculture is dominated by certain grains and livestock production. The majority of farms are large commercialized monocultures. This trend began in the 19th century, after innovations like the steam engine, hybridized seeds, and synthetic nitrogen produced by the Haber-Bosch process. These technologies, which were quickly adopted in the United States, dramatically increased production and created a system that stresses, “increases in productivity and lowered food prices”(Sage). For these reasons, farmers are pressured to adopt the newest technologies and this requires them to take more loans out from the bank.
Appropriationism, or the idea that each aspect of agricultural activity becomes a “sector for innovation, technological control, and the accumulation of value in places far distant from farmers” (Sage) is a threat to the agri-food system. Pressure on sales, tighter regulations, and costs of research and development make it so that companies have to merge and consolidate. As a result, there are only a few global corporations that manufacture things like machinery, fertilizers, and genetically modified seeds. Due to the significant input costs, farmers, who are the landowners, are subsidized by these large businesses. Although this makes sense economically, it leaves the farmer vulnerable. In reality, these large businesses are in control. They have the legal rights to “specify the methods of production, timing and harvest dates, the uniform characteristics of size and appearance, and the price that will be paid” (Sage). This approach is destructive to farmers. For them, farming is more of a livelihood than a profession. Treating food production like a factory is unnatural. The element of artisanship is quickly diminishing.
In his essay, “The Making of a Marginal Farm”, the author, Wendell Berry discusses a system of farming that “allows him to gather food and raise livestock while also protecting the integrity of his property” (Berry). Berry understands that humans are destroying the land faster than we will be able to replace it. He feels a special connection with his childhood farmland in Kentucky and wants to preserve it. Berry recognizes that restoring the land is not easy. He must plow with horses instead of tractors because his land is hilly and rough. However, for Berry being a farmer is not about economics. It is about enjoying work and taking pride in what you do. In fact, he even compares one’s relation to the land to “marrying your sweetheart” (Berry). As a society, we need to start applying this mentality. Decisions should be community based and not government enforced. Setting mandated harvest dates and limiting fertilizer use in the winter seem helpful, however each farm is unique and responds differently to changing environmental conditions.
Visiting various farm operations on the Eastern Shore showed me that there can be a balance between new technologies, production, and conservation. In many cases, advances in science have sparked this change. For example, improvements in genetics, nutrition, and housing have enabled poultry farmers to produce a larger, healthier bird. Additionally, developments like the spinner spreader are minimizing the negative environmental effects of excess poultry litter. Also, GPS monitoring systems can now educate farmers and policy makers about current and past nutrient levels, which is essential for determining regulations. In the words of Berry, “we were wrong to assume that agriculture could be adequately defined by reductionist science and determinist economics”. Even though we have the technologies for mass-producing crops, it is important to stay humble. This means keeping food production local, farm-based, and intentional.
Leopold, Aldo. “The Land Ethic.” A Sand County Almanac, Oxford University Press, 1949, home2.btconnect.com/tipiglen/landethic.html.
Sage, Colin. “The Global Agri-Food System.” Environment and Food, Routledge, pp. 26–55.
Berry, Wendell. “The Making of a Marginal Farm.” The Woods Stretched for Miles, The University of Georgia Press, pp. 31–40.