The article, “Critical Agrarianism,” is published as a first view article in the journal Renewable Agriculture and Food Systems. This is one of the most refreshing views of agrarianism I have read, and the author nicely ties agrarianism to social justice and environmental sustainability in the food system.
The flow of the article is as follows (with some of my thoughts):
American agrarian thought was initially closely tied to land ownership, and thus belonged to white men: and farmers were the “bedrock of the nation’s morality and democracy.” (Think of the Jeffersonian ideal here).
Next, the conservationists – Muir, for example – were concerned with preserving nature in its wild state.
The next group – Leopold, Jackson, Berry and Kirschenmann – called for stewardship of the land, which suggested the best way to care for the land is through careful farming. The issues at hand were related to protection of small farms, threatened by the forces of agricultural industrialization. The solution to the moral crisis of urban life was to move back to the land, to the rural communities, to the farm.
The notions of the 4 modern agrarians are largely romantic, but moving. Yet farmers struggle with earning profits, buying land, and remaining viable. The work of Guthman is commended by Carlisle for bringing to light the fact that the financial struggles of the farmer – specifically related to land access – are an integral part of farm life, and this aspect is largely overlooked in the romantic agrarian view of the world.
Carlisle contrasts the white landed view of agrarianism with that of the black farmer, who, depending on how far back you trace, is likely historically an unlanded sharecropper or slave. Will Allen – a farmer with roots in both sharecropping and slavery – is held up as someone whose work seeks to bring social justice and environmental sustainability into farming.
A healthy future would be an agrarianism that celebrates farming, without having to declare its superiority. Building bridges across the rural/urban divide and local food markets/global food markets, for example, might facilitate the creation of policy addressing the social costs of agriculture.
The article is worth reading. It is uplifting and empowering, and is one of the rare essays that bring hope to this dismal scientist’s hear. I loved reading this paper, yet I fear I do little justice to Carlisle’s articulate discussion, so read it for yourself!