Agrarian Common Sense
In An Industrial World

Dateline: 5 May 2006

John Ikerd, Professor Emeritus, University of Missouri, is an advocate of sustainable farming. The common theme in his speaches and writings is that industrialized agriculture is not sustainable. He says that to be sustainable, farming must be ecologically sound, economically viable, and socially responsible. The following excertp from Ikerd’s article, The Case For Common Sense contrasts current conventional wisdom and common sense as they relate to agriculture. The professor makes some good points and there is a link to all of his writings on the right hand side of this page.


“...Common sense is something that we know to be true, regardless of whether we have experienced or observed it ourselves or have been informed of it by others.  Conventional wisdom may include some things that make common sense.  However, things "make sense" to us only if we somehow know they are true - only if the truth of it is validated by the spiritual or metaphysical part of us rather than by the logical or reasoning part of us.  Some people choose to deny their spirituality, and thus, theircommon sense, and instead rely solely on logic and reason.  But, we all have access to common sense - we possess it in common.  But, we are each free to use or not use it.

 When the framers of the Declaration of Independence wrote, "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness," they had no scientific basis for such an assertion.  These truths were not derived by logic and reason, and this statement certainly did not represent conventional wisdom in those days.  The truth of this statement was something they felt in their souls.  They were relying on their common sense...

Our common sense today tells us something is fundamentally wrong in American agriculture.  We are told we shouldn't be concerned about the current farm financial situation. The current crisis is just a normal economic adjustment, and the free-market ultimately works for the good of all, so they say.  We are told we shouldn't be concerned about the natural environment, that we have no proof we are damaging the natural ecosystem, and after all, we can find a technological fix for any ecological problem.  We are told we shouldn't be concerned about what is happening to family farms and rural communities, that rural people want the same things urban people want, and thus, they must give up their rural ways of life.  But, our common sense tells us that something is fundamentally wrong in rural America - economically, ecologically, and socially.

Common sense tells many farmers they would not be better off in some other occupation, even if they could make more money.  Common sense also tells them they can't continue to take from nature without giving something back to nature, no matter what new technologies science may bring.  Common sense tells them that positive relationships with other people, with their families and communities, make their lives better, regardless of where they might choose to live. 

Our common sense tells the rest of us that we must help farmers develop farming systems that can meet the needs of the present while leaving equal or better opportunities for the future.  Our common sense also tells us that our food and farming systems must be ecologically sound, economically viable, and socially responsible, if they are to be sustainable over time.  And, our common sense tells us that an industrial, corporately controlled agriculture is not sustainable.

Our common sense also tells us that we can and must find ways to live
and work that nurture the personal, interpersonal, and spiritual aspects
of our lives.  We know that we must accept responsibility for ourselves
-- that our individual well-being is important to our quality of life.
But we know also, that caring for other people is not a sacrifice, but
instead, that compassion for others adds to the quality of our own life.
And, we know that taking care of the land is not a sacrifice, but
instead, stewardship of the earth helps give purpose and meaning to our
lives.  We know the quality of our life is enhanced when we make
conscious, purposeful decisions to care for the earth and for each

We need not condemn ourselves for having failed to rely on our common
sense.  Even the founding fathers of our country sometimes denied their
common sense in favor of conventional wisdom.  The rightness of owning
slaves was conventional wisdom until well into the 19th century - it had
always been done.  Until the 20th century, women in the U.S. were denied
the right to vote - the conventional wisdom: their husbands should vote
for them.

Conventional wisdom today says that farms must become still larger and
fewer if farmers are to survive economically.  Conventional wisdom says
that agribusiness corporations can take better care of the land than can
family farmers and that "fee markets" will ensure that all are well-fed.
Conventional wisdom says that family farms and rural communities are but
nostalgic memories of a past that never was.  But, the conventional
wisdom concerning American agriculture is wrong.  It's time to reject
the conventional wisdom.  It's time to use our common sense.

No comments: