This page is devoted to important discussions on the purpose,
progress and product of the Soul of Agriculture Project
("Soul" hereafter). The first three documents
on this page deal with the "pre-policy" goals
of Soul. There are ways in which that pre-policy focus could
be seen as naive and ineffectual. But there are also ways
in which the pre-policy focus is the only way to assure
that the unique work of Soul gets done and does not get
submerged in the latest policy initiative.
We are particularly eager to have your ideas and creativity
on techniques for making progress on the formation of a national
consensus on the values and ethics of family managed farming.
Just keep in mind that if you have a great idea, the Soul readers
might just ask you to create tools to carry it out!
Included on this page:
1. Ethics to Praxis,
by Leland Glenna
2. Discussion notes by Stan Dundon
3. Applied, Practical Ethics, Yes. Complete
Policy, No. by Stan Dundon
ETHICS TO PRAXIS
Reflections on Soul's Connection to Praxis
by Leland Glenna
(Notes are Stan Dundon's remarks.)
A social system is comprised of institutions and
social structures. An institution is comprised of a patterns
of human action and an ethic (or logic), which governs the pattern.
Social structures are the rules and resources that enable or
constrain human behavior to perpetuate or alter existing institutions.
If we want to alter an existing pattern of human action, we
need to do more than just articulate a new ethic. We need to
build social structures that will enable to the shifting of
human action into a direction that conforms to the new ethic.
The current agricultural system is comprised of
three major institutions: private property, expert-practitioner
relationship, and intensive production for export. The ethic
that governs these three institutions is an instrumental rationality.(1)
Human beings and nature are defined as commodities that serve
to produce commodities to be sold on international markets.
Food, people, and nature have no intrinsic value.(2) They are
commodities. Constitutional amendments and laws, public and
private financial policies, agricultural policies, ideologies,
and a number of other social structures serve to perpetuate
If we want to change the instrumentally rational
ethic to one that acknowledges the intrinsic worth of food,
people, and nature by promoting an agriculture that "contributes
to the stability, beauty, and integrity of the human and natural
community of life with which it interacts," we need to
develop social structures that will enable such a social transformation.
Therefore, if we want to meet our goal of institutionalizing
the soul of agriculture ethic, we need to promote patterns of
human behavior that will replace the existing institutions.
1. Farmers produce food for human consumption, not commodities
for global markets. 2. Farmers and producers share a personalized
relationship (the ideal would be face-to-face interaction),
not impersonal relationships that are mediated by commodity
processing firms. 3. Producers and consumers share the costs
and benefits of food production so that farmers do not need
to exploit their soil to survive. 4. Such a system would inherently
seek a balance between natural and social systems so that the
tap and sink potential of the natural systems would not be overwhelmed.
To meet our goal, we also need to create structures
that will promote these patterns. One structure may be market
research grants to be used to determine the viability of shifting
production patterns to more personalized and more environmentally
friendly institutions. Another structure may be start-up grants
that farmers could use to make the transition from commodity
production to food production. The land grant university system
may serve as another enabling structure. Rural sociology departments,
agricultural economics departments, crop sciences, and agricultural
extension services could assist farmers in determining how to
make the transition on their farms and in making connections
with consumer groups.
We would also need an organization or agency that
would determine who should receive these resources and to distribute
the resources. One possible distribution agency is SARE. Alternative
agriculture organizations (Community Supported Agriculture organizations,
food circles, farmers' markets, etc.) would be encouraged to
write grant proposals to SARE for market research grants and
start-up grants. SARE would then distribute the federal money
to the organizations that conform to the four criteria listed
(back to top)
Dundon Notes to Leland Glenna's Ethics
Note (1). I would restate those parts in
way that emphasizes a shared mental construct among the principal
agents in the institutions of "industrial" agriculture.
Modern commodity agriculture consists of:
1) An intention in agents and agencies to support
or carry out the use of owned or rented lands and other resources
for the production of food and fiber for profit.
2) The habitual and or institutionalized reliance
on professional experts for the choice of the means to achieve
that profitable outcome.
3) The shared commitment to a limited range of
means or tools (which tools include crop/planting decisions,
husbandry, target markets, processors and buyers) applied sciences
and customary ways of acting which together we can call professional
As a paradigm it has strength due to: a.) lack of a widely accepted
reliable competing paradigm. (Competitors would be such systems
as sustainable agriculture, organic agriculture, community food
security oriented agriculture, community supported agriculture,
etc..) b.) Some measure of reliability of its own in achieving
profit. c.) The inertial mass--resisting change--of all the
life-styles, acquired power and authority, invested capital
and familiar knowledge which appear to agents as desirable and
inherent in "good" food production.
Note (2). I have learned not to make assertions
about people's values which people who we wish to influence
would deny as being their values. In spite of what I asserted
in Note (1), I believe when industrial agriculture's defenders
appeal to "good" food/fiber production as the justifying
goal they would affirm the basic inescapable values of agriculture.
The land-grant agents and the PR people (at least) of agribusiness
would grant that food production must be healthy food (not poisonous,
at least), sustainable (for the future) sufficient (for now)
by the use of just means. The well-being of consumers and the
human race are simply not spoken about because, until we catch
them offending those ultimate (i.e. basic and final) values,
the more urgent values (profit) are allowed to function as the
sole determining factors. Verbal scurrying about by USDA officials
over the "Terminator" contained many assurances that
no threat (at least nothing more than already present in hybrid
grains) to community food security is intended or likely in
the terminator technology. But only a fool would believe that
community food security was much on the minds of the designers
of the technology. The USDA was clearly more concerned with
intellectual property rights than people's "right"
Note (3). Two recent events underline the validity of
Glenna's claim that humans are not considered as of inherent
value in this system. USDA and some land-grant researchers were
astonished at the world-wide revulsion over the anti-food security
aspects of the the "Terminator Gene" controversy,
as if local control of viable seed supplies were not relevant
to the economics of "good farming." The second is
Steven Blank's work on the "End of American Agriculture."
See his book and the exchanges in Winter and Spring, 2000 issues
(Vol. 17, no. 2 &3) of the UCDavis Magazine. Noticeably
missing in his calculations is what would be the impact on the
food supply, labor opportunities and general social stability
of the rural and urban poor of the Third World countries which
would take over the task of feeding Americans at costs that
would be cheaper (given storage and shipping costs) than domestic
U.S. products. That their land has a primary ethical focus of
feeding and employing them does not function in his calculus.
(back to top)
APPLIED, PRACTICAL ETHICS, YES. COMPLETE
By Stan Dundon
I see Leland Glenna's essay as helpful in examining the role
of The Soul of Agriculture (hereafter Soul) project because
he showed how a reasonable analysis of the present state of
agriculture would find fault with its constricted view of the
final purpose of agriculture: profit and profit mainly by large
commodity sales and export. The absence of known or knowable
human beings, of familiar personal communities of consumers,
workers, rural communities, of non-human animals and nature
is underlined by him. To bring these values back to the explicit
attention of agents and agencies will require that they change
or else to ignore the valuesimmediately after asserting them.
It is a principal task of Soul to return to explicit
recognition and policy-effective presence at least the goal
values of sufficient, healthy and sustainable food/fiber supplies
by means which respect the rights and dignity of all impacted
parties (including nature).
It is also the task of Soul to describe scenarios, environments
and relationships in which further values such as satisfying
direct contact of farmers and consumers, the beauty of countrysides,
well being of farm families, vigor and variety of rural social
institutions and labor, the humane care of farm animals can
flourish. Leland goes further in suggesting changes and incentives
to change that can move agriculture toward the recapturing of
Policy or Not?
A point being deliberated within Soul is whether it should promote
policies and incentives (a kind of policy) which have the potential
to do that recapturing of values.
I answer by first making a distinction between
precise, detailed policy and broad generic policy. Values rule
ethics and ethics should determine policy. And policy at a basic
level must be explainable as an applied ethics. In this the
draft document Creating a New Vision of Farming already agrees
with Leland in advocating policy in a vague and general way.
See for example Second Task, Ethical Principles, "Farmer/Consumer
Relationships" . There the more person-to-person relationships
are clearly advocated in the practical ethical principles listed.
Probably underlying those recommendations are intuitions about
humans. E.g. that consumer satisfaction directly experienced
is a great motivator and reward for good work, that moral constraints
against poor or dangerous production practices are more vividly
felt when personal knowledge between farmer and consumers are
present. And, more generally, absentee relationships can easily
become morally coarse.
What "Farmer/Consumer Relationships"
does not do is advocate the detailed kinds of incentives which
Leland mentions. These incentives are clearly more detailed
and more like what most people call "policy", and
were they included in SARE's mandate in a new federal farm-bill
they would be policy. But Leland's earlier four criteria are
still broadly enough stated to be considered "pre-policy"
Applied to Soul Dialogues
What does this all mean for consensus formation dialogues in
Soul? In my opinion the following two conclusions seem true:
(1) It would be extremely silly, even persnickety,
to cut off some dialogue which had embraced the essence of "Farmer/Consumer
Relationships" or even Leland's four criteria when someone
asked: "For instance, how could we get this done?"
and then wanted five minutes of imaginative proposals to list
as possible policy. This is only too natural a progression.
But there would be no need to get a consensus on them nor to
include them in a statement except as an appendix or a footnote.
It might even be appropriate to seek a consensus on an addition
to "Farmer/Consumer Relationships", such as: "Incentives
to make direct marketing financially and procedurally more attractive
should be encouraged. Unjustified disincentives should be removed."
(2) The strong majority of Soul advisors and supporters
do not want its dialogues and facilitated consensus formation
activities to pursue on their own the precise policy language
such as one would find in a new Farm Bill.. Soul has a unique
task in getting the values discussed above back into the active
political/intellectual forefront of people's thinking so that
the aridity of "mass commodities for export" Leland
depicts can be remedied and USDA operatives will no more forget
food security than medical institutions can forget curing patients.