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A Green and Permanent Land

Ecology and Agriculture in the Twentieth Century

Randal S. Beeman and James A. Pritchard

March 2001
232 pages, 6 x 9
Development of Western Resources
Cloth ISBN 978-0-7006-1066-2, $29.95

Book Cover ImageOnce patronized primarily by the counterculture and the health food establishment, the organic food industry today is a multi-billion-dollar business driven by ever-growing consumer demand for safe food and greater public awareness of ecological issues. Assumed by many to be a recent phenomenon, that industry owes much to agricultural innovations that go back to the Dust Bowl era.

This book explores the roots and branches of alternative agricultural ideas in twentieth-century America, showing how ecological thought has challenged and changed agricultural theory, practice, and policy from the 1930s to the present. It introduces us to the people and institutions who forged alternatives to industrialized agriculture through a deep concern for the enduring fertility of the soil, a passionate commitment to human health, and a strong advocacy of economic justice for farmers.

Randal Beeman and James Pritchard show that agricultural issues were central to the rise of the environmental movement in the United States. As family farms failed during the Depression, a new kind of agriculture was championed based on the holistic approach taught by the emerging science of ecology. Ecology influenced the "permanent agriculture" movement that advocated such radical concepts as long-term land use planning, comprehensive soil conservation, and organic farming. Then in the 1970s, "sustainable agriculture" combined many of these ideas with new concerns about misguided technology and an over-consumptive culture to preach a more sensible approach to farming.

In chronicling the overlooked history of alternative agriculture, A Green and Permanent Land records the significant contributions of individuals like Rex Tugwell, Hugh Bennett, Louis Bromfield, Edward Faulkner, Russell and Kate Lord, Scott and Helen Nearing, Robert Rodale, Wes Jackson, and groups like Friends of the Land and the Practical Farmers of Iowa. And by demonstrating how agriculture also remains central to the public interest-especially in the face of climatic crises, genetically altered crops, and questionable uses of pesticides--this book puts these issues in historical perspective and offers readers considerable food for thought.

"This is a pathbreaking history of an emerging 'green' agricultural philosophy, and it offers a powerful alternative to the industrial juggernaut rolling over America's farms. Clearly written, broadly conceived, and important."--Donald Worster, author of Nature's Economy

"A succinct and engaging account of the epic effort to create an agricultural landscape that is more socially sound, economically just, and environmentally responsible."--Curt Meine, author of Aldo Leopold: His Life and Work

"An important addition to American environmental history."--Roderick Frazier Nash, author of Wilderness and the American Mind

"A vibrant and engrossing history."--John Saltmarsh, author of Scott Nearing: An Intellectual Biography

RANDAL S. BEEMAN is professor of history at Bakersfield College. His writing has appeared in the Journal of Sustainable Agriculture and the Journal of Agricultural and Environmental Ethics.

JAMES A. PRITCHARD teaches natural resource conservation and environmental literature at Iowa State University and is the author of Preserving Yellowstone's Natural Conditions: Science and the Perception of Nature.

 

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