Center for Respect of Life and Environment (CRLE)
Thomas Berry Award & Lecture
Center for Respect of Life and Environment (CRLE)


Towards A New Production Ethic


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

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 these institutions.(3)

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 above.
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Dundon Notes to Leland Glenna's Ethics to Praxis

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 paradigm.
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" to eat.

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.
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By Stan Dundon

Explicit Values
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).

Attractive Futures
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 those values.

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" ethical principles.

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.

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