296 pages, 21 illus
Offers a crucial insight into the future of a viable sustainable agriculture movement in the United States. Based on interviews and years of close interaction with more than sixty Iowa farm families, Bell answers two critical questions concerning sustainable agriculture: why some farmers are becoming sustainable farmers and why, as yet, most are not. The first part of the book describes how the structure of agriculture - that nexus of markets, regulations, subsidies, and technology - has created a situation in which farmers are paid to undermine their own economic and social security as well as the security of the land. The second part explores why most Iowa farmers carry on with these destructive practices. Farming is a pressured endeavor, and farmers find themselves relying on recipes of knowledge to get them through the latest crisis, with little opportunity to explore some other way - even if they think what they know how to do isn't likely to work very well for them. And yet some farmers resist the tide of big agriculture. In the third part of the book, Bell examines Iowa's largest sustainable agriculture group, Practical Farmers of Iowa (PFI), and he finds a new model of social relations at work. Members of PFI seek to create an agriculture that engages others - farmers, university researchers, government officials, and consumers alike - in a common conversation about what agriculture might look like, without insisting that a common conversation requires a common vision. Instead, PFI members come to relish their differences as sources of learning and new ideas. Through dialogue, these PFI members seek to cross-breed knowledge, to create pragmatic knowledge that gets the crops to grow in ways that sustain families, communities, societies, economies, and environments. Herein lies the heart of the cultivation of practical agriculture, an agriculture that roots action in dialogue and dialogue in action and thereby sustains them both. In an increasingly fractured and untrusting world, this is a cultivation worthy of all our interests. This book gives us the opportunity to explore the possibilities for social, environmental, and economic change that practical, dialogic agriculture presents. It therefore represents an important step forward in our search for a viable sustainable agriculture in the United States.
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