REVIEW: The Next Green Revolution
How to farm better
An Oklahoma farmer's path to sustainable ag

Reviewed by Dorene Pasekoff

Details:

The Next Green Revolution: Essential Steps to a Healthy, Sustainable Agriculture.

James E. Horne and Maura McDermott, Haworth Press, 2001; ISBN 1-56022-886-5; $34.95

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August 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 tangents!)

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, PA.