Agroecology is an expression of practical, purposeful, and realistic hope.
Agroecology presents an inspirational and pragmatic vision of what is necessary and possible as we strive to re-organize our food chain in response to this pandemic, and to pollution, climate breakdown, and the intensifying hegemony of multinational chemical, drug, and industrial corporations.
Agroecology is an expression of practical, purposeful, and realistic hope. It's a global vision that has been dreamed and then acted upon by millions of people around the world. But many millions more human beings, billions more actually, are needed to take up and follow the vision now.
Thus I write for all, not just for farmers. The challenges we face are beyond the capacity of any small segment of our population. These challenges require us all to step up to higher, more inspired, and dramatically cleaner and stronger systems of tending the land and growing the food that sustains us.
Farms are the foundation of civilization, and our civilization is fragmenting. In light of this, we must focus on the work of building a new agrarian foundation. This is an urgent mission and agroecology is fitted for the challenge.
Agroecological approaches to farming and food are clean, sustainable, climate-stabilizing, science-led, humane, egalitarian, just, technologically sophisticated, and embracing of native knowings.
These are not ephemeral aspirations, but rather real, fair, clean, visionary models that already exist and which now need enormous public attention, energy, and development.
In broad terms, agroecology currently finds expression in organics, biodynamics, regenerative, permaculture, Community Supported Farms (CSAs), community gardens, community kitchens, co-ops, food policy councils, farmers markets, peasant and farm worker initiatives, and a host of other sustainable, socially just pathways to healthy farms and food. In that sense, agroecology is an umbrella term embracing a range of affirmative agrarian initiatives.
But the definition of agroecology is still in flux. Some in the industrial realms claim the term as a greenwashing cover while employing practices that diverge from the spirit. Our precarious circumstances call upon us to engage and to clarify the term agroecology so that its principles and practices hold true and helpful meaning.
Agrarian idealism may not be front page news, but it is held in many minds and hearts. That idealism has a venerable history and now awaits fuller activation and implementation.
The global list of agrarian visionaries is vast and beyond the scope of this article. But by way of example consider the work of Liberty Hyde Bailey. In 1915 he wrote The Holy Earth. Hyde had served as the dean of agriculture at Cornell University and eventually came to be known as the “Father of Modern Horticulture.” Like so many others in the lineage of agrarian visionaries, Bailey had an appreciation of agriculture as the foundation for a spiritually elevated way of life.
In that sense, the vision expressed in my book Deep Agroecology: Farms, Food, and Our Future is not new but rather my effort to report upon and thereby add fresh impetus to the ancient and honorable agrarian wisdom stream. The world needs that stream now more than ever before.
By marrying the idea of agroecology to the philosophical concept of deep, I want to honor indigenous roots which have been scorned for centuries with such ruinous consequences, and also to encourage renewal of the ideas of "deep ecology."
Norwegian philosopher Arne Naess (1912-2009) and others extended ecology in the 1970s by acknowledging the inherent worth of all life forms regardless of their utility for human needs or desires. They observed that the natural world is a subtle balance of interrelationships in which organisms depend on each other for their existence. Relationship is an essential factor in ecological wellbeing.
Naess argued that ecological approaches were often shallow, addressing symptoms but not root causes. He argued that resolving the environmental crisis was not just a question of technology but rather required a fundamental shift in the way we see and engage with the world.
Naess advocated going to the core of problems and reckoning directly with the roots rather than forever mopping up the micro- and macro-messes of modern civilization. He opposed the notion that resolving the environmental crisis was simply a matter of creating better technology because such fixes tended to stop before fundamental change.
Deep ecology as Naess conceived of it involves redesigning whole systems based on values and methods that truly preserve the ecological and cultural diversity of natural systems. Likewise, agroecology questions core values, and deep agroecology explores realms of subtle energy and their consequential influence on farms, food, and people.
The global movement toward agroecology has the capacity to recognize and to employ systems that bring human needs into right relation with the needs of the natural world. Agroecology and deep agroecology are smart, sophisticated, practical, and effective ways to meet and transcend those challenges, establishing a clean, healthy foundation on the Earth for the next evolutionary step of humanity.
We can respond intelligently and decisively to the chaos in our climate and culture, for the present and for the future. Toward that end, Deep Agroecology assembles a chorus of voices and of related and relevant facts, experiences, ideas, and ideals. Together they describe a whole: the vibrant agroecological vision that is arising in the Americas and around the world, a vision that merits clarification, amplification, and action.
Steven McFadden is an independent journalist and the author of Deep Agroecology: Farms, Food, and our Future.