A 50-Year View

Wendell Berry and Wes Jackson have proposed a 50-Year Farm Bill, a bill designed to transform our industrial, soil-stripping form of agriculture into one that can feed people for centuries to come. Katherine Dalton has some useful comments on the matter.

Here is the plan in a nutshell: The 50-Year Farm Bill proposes the government set aside $50 million annually for eight years to sponsor 80 plant breeders and geneticists to develop perennial grain, legume and oilseed crops, plus 30 agricutural and ecological scientists to develop the needed agronomic systems. (I should say here that Dr. Jackson and his co-author Fred Kirschenmann of the Leopold Center do not want money for their own organizations.  The Land Institute will offer its germplasm to other researchers for free.)

Most of us, with an agrarian bent, have at least some sympathy for such ideas. A year or so back, I was blessed to get to share a dinner with Jackson. He’s a fine human being and conversationalist, a far cry from some of the other policy wonks that you might encounter now and again.

I don’t get a vote in Congress. My senators aren’t returning my calls. But I do believe that I could profit from creating a 50-year bill of my own. Will my gardening, my chicken-raising, my pork empire, and whatever else I pursue continue to be practical in 50 years? Will I take two percent of the vitality of the land out each year, leaving it used up, or will I preserve or improve it? How valuable is such a question whatever our life’s activities might be.