24, 2004: “What is a healthy, enduring agriculture?
Once you have an idea of what it is, how do you practice it?
And once you have some success at it, how to you convince
others to change to try something new?”
These questions from the preface of The Next Green Revolution
are the ones all of us in sustainable agriculture struggle
with—not only to define what sustainable agriculture
is, but to explain to others how we practice it without getting
lost in tangents. (Especially since ecosystems are all about
James E. Horne, president of the Kerr Center for Sustainable
Agriculture in Oklahoma, and Maura McDermott, the Center’s
communications director, have put together a readable and
practical overview of what sustainable agriculture is, how
it is practiced and—probably of greatest interest to
farmers—why this style of farming can ecologically sustainable
and economically profitable, now and far into the future.
While of interest to anyone concerned about how their food
is grown, this is primarily a book by a farmer for other farmers.
Horne, an Oklahoma farmer from a family of conventional farmers,
speaks plainly about his former preconceptions about what
a farmer should be. Like many western farmers, he didn’t
trust the Rodales and their methods on first hearing about
them because, “What did a couple of Pennsylvanians know
about farming in Oklahoma?” As an agricultural agent
fresh out of school, he advised other farmers as the university
and agribusiness companies suggested. Over time, however,
he saw that these input-intensive methods were degrading the
soil and bankrupting the farming communities where he had
grown up. Slowly and to much local ridicule, he and the Kerr
Center began investigating low-input sustainable agriculture.
Horne didn’t become an organic grower overnight and
he doesn’t expect the current generation of conventional
farmers to transform instantly either. So, he puts aside rhetoric
and lays out sustainable agriculture in eight chapters that
any farmer can pick and choose from to improve their farm
immediately: create and conserve healthy soil; conserve water
and protect its quality; manage organic wastes to avoid pollution;
select plants and animals adapted to the environment; encourage
biodiversity; manage pests with minimal environmental impact;
conserve nonrenewable energy resources; and finally, increase
profitability and reduce risk.
Personally, I haven’t seen a book that lays out the
practices of sustainable agriculture as clearly and concisely
as The Next Green Revolution. This book is especially
relevant as the 2002 version of the Farm Bill, with its proposed
Conservation Programs, would pay most farmers, regardless
of certification, to implement many of the soil and water
conservation methods Horne describes. If your tongue trips
up trying to explain sustainable agriculture or the current
conservation amendments to the 2002 Farm Bill to local farmers
who wonder what the heck you’re doing on your farm or
why all these food activists are making such a fuss about
“organics,” hand them this book. They’ll
no longer wonder—and they just might start practicing
these techniques on their own farms.
Dorene Pasekoff is coordinator of the St. John’s
United Church of Christ Organic Community Garden in Phoenixville,