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Executive Summary of the Draft:
CREATING A NEW VISION OF FARMING
State of the Question, Farmers, the Public
and the Future:
We are all familiar with the dominant model of agriculture
which threatens to be the future of agriculture and to be the
horror of many, both farmers and the public. It is agriculture
of astonishing production, intense concentration of ownership,
mechanization of the relationships between humans, animals and
the products of the soil, and alienation of food producers from
consumers. It generates great wealth from the countryside and
returns poverty to farmers and workers, harm to nature, depopulation
and disintegration of its communities, churches and civic organizations.
It is industrial agriculture.
Early in 1996, a group of us, farmers and others
concerned about this future, were struck by a theme in Paul
Thompson's Spirit of the Soil: the industrial "paradigm"
shores up its internal contradictions and excuses its external
harms by appeals to the ethical and religious ideals and traditional
values of conventional agriculture. Hard-work, practicality,
efficiency, prosperity as evidence of God's favor, all these
are colored as virtue beyond question, and are called upon as
the very reason for the rush toward industrialization.
But many of us who hold deeply many of those same ethical and
religious ideals do question its virtues. Industrial agriculture
was not defined or created by the ethics which shores it up
and rationalizes its destructive potential. The ethics of industrial
agriculture is cobbled together to rationalize an institution
whose design is based on non-ethical forces, market and technical.
It uses the undoubted value of abundant food to justify the
neglect and harm of many other values. Abundance in the service
of human needs sounds so invincibly noble. Yet it is not that
service, but the manner of achieving it which threatens so many
other human and natural values. A noble end still demands the
responsible use of means!
Some have found this appeal to a noble end so
abusive that that they seem tempted to deny its nobility and
question the very rightness of the soil producing a rich and
delightful harvest. It is as if our very sitting with all other
creatures at the banquet of life which does such harm to nature
rather than the tools and institutions of industrial agriculture.
We are somehow in the middle, sharing values of both sides.
We want to produce abundant and healthy food on our farms and
do so responsibly. We want to construct an ethics of farming
which can avoid the irresponsible destruction of any important
values whether of tools or goals of farming; whether of its
means or its ends. And we are suspicious of those who tell us:
"There is no other way to fill the table."
A New Way, A Renewed Ethics
We want to find another way. Thompson's writing convinced us
that this new way would have to be based on a more responsible
ethics. It would respect the principle that "the end cannot
justify the means." The costs of the means do matter. And
on the common sense principle that if a means, a technology
or an economic dogma, imposes great sacrifices, those sacrifices
must be really required by a truly urgent end. It must be true
that "there is no other way." We object to those policies
and institutions which tie food production to the destruction
of farm families, the impoverishment of labor, abuse of animals,
or poisoning of the environment. There are many ways to do farming
without such harms, but first we should reflect on what the
outlines of a true farming ethics would be. Rationalizing bad
farming damaged the ethics of farming. Now we need a renewed
ethics to be the foundation of good farming and of all the social
institutions needed for good farming.
Our Proposal: Four Tasks
We seek to engage all of you in stating clearly the values which
are the goals of agriculture, and values which are well or badly
impacted by the choice of farming tools and policies. The final
purpose is practical: A better agriculture. Hence we must:
1. Attain clarity and consensus on the values
of the means and goals of agriculture.
2. State clearly and attain consensus on the ethical
principles which can protect those values.
3. Depict attractive real and potential examples
of models, institutions and practices which put those principles
into action and make a better agriculture.
4. Face clearly the most painful questions about
the present state of agriculture and the institutions which
shape it. Get these questions discussed in the churches, farm
organizations, civic societies and environmental groups. Encourage
these groups to consider why they have not acted in concert
before and what can be done to overcome obstacles to cooperation
In our Vision Statement we deal each of the four points
above in an exploratory fashion in order to provide farm and
other public groups a starting point or framework for guiding
their deliberations toward an active and practical ethics. What
we provide is not our view of what the consensus on values,
principles and new models or institutions should be. It is our
view of the kind of work that all of us need to do to express
ethical guides toward a better future for farming and for those
impacted by it. A few samples of what the Vision Statement provides
First Task, Values:
We propose values of farming for discussion, distinguishing
those which are the unchanging basic goals of farming from those
other basic values which can be harmed or preserved by the choice
of its tools or practices and other social institutions which
define and limit its choices of tools. In short, the values
of the ends of farming and the values of its means.
a.) Under the ends or goals of agriculture
we take pride in our principal product: safe, nutritious
and abundant food and fiber supplies.
b.) Under the means we value achieving
these abundant food supplies in ways that are efficient sustainable
and safe. Our environmentalism is both close to our hearts and
practical. The importance of intimate knowledge and caring for
the local soils and environment leads to various gives value
to the maintenance of local presence and continuity of farm
personnel, owners, renters, managers and workers.
c.) Under both we express how the means
and end values of farming coincide with those of the public
in just rewards for farmers and workers, esthetic and practical
environmentalism, and care for animals.
Second Task, Principles:
We propose basic and derived ethical principles for the vocation
of farming. Ethics is the orderly and consistent expression
of the principles and practices which can secure valued ends
by good means, Therefore we attempt to make explicit from the
wealth of implicit moral convictions of reasonable and mature
humans some of those which apply to and can secure the values
of farming. We express these principles in terms general enough
to embrace a wide range of more precise locally conditioned
practical principles. The list is incomplete and suggestive.
In this manner discussion, development, consensus and finally
creative action on a locally effective level will be promoted.
a.) Principles which secure the ends of agriculture:
1. The dedication of land, water and other critical
resources to farming is fitting in nature and to be presumed
moral unless, in special cases, circumstances show otherwise.
2. The conditions of farming for farmers and farm-worker
must be rewarding and healthy enough to assure that the vocation
will not be abandoned or seriously damaged.
b.) Principles which guide the means of agriculture:
1. Although used and even consumed in production,
natural beings, plants and animals are the sacred gifts of Creation,
given for our use, not abuse. They are worthy in themselves
of being treated with respect. Their diversity and the harmony
of their coexistence is prima facie good and should be protected
2. Serious harm to nature's balance in both wild
and cultivated states and serious suffering imposed on animals
must be measured with humble estimates of the importance of
the human utility achieved.
3. It is morally abusive to regard trivial increases
in human utility as a justification for serious harm to nature
4. Our use of resources must be conditioned by
the humble recognition that our generation's needs are not inherently
superior to those same needs for future generations. The pursuit
of sustainability is a moral obligation.
We suggest many additional principles on the limits
of free market forces, on protecting the value of ownership
and consensus principles for managers, on local knowledge and
decision making and on the obligation to continually seek more
benign and sustainable technologies
Third Task, Models:
We then suggest, in thumbnail sketches of the ethical
principles being applied, in imaginative scenarios as a stimulus
to discussion and action. These are word- pictures of farms
highly diversified in crops, value-added enterprises, animals,
marketing, integrating whole farm planning into closed nutrient
and energy cycles approaching independence in these basic resources.
Owner operated or managed by farmers committed to the new ethic,
these beautiful farms draw freely and in different degrees from
benign farming alternatives whose productivity and reliability
are becoming accepted.
There is pictured a growing diversity of marketing
practices with those favored which increase the consumer-farmer
relationship, with farmers gaining confidence in the public's
desire for a wider variety of especially nutritious and delightful
crops. Consumers and local stores will grow in loyalty to local
Farmers will join together in cooperative sharing
of information, experience with alternatives, in cooperatively
owned processing and value added enterprises, and in utilizing
each other's resources as by-products of diversified systems
and good rotations. And together they will advocate in policy
arenas for the continuation of this progress. They will join
with local communities in spreading the knowledge of the benefits
and delight in the new changes through farm tours and internships,
school presentations, religious festivals and community celebrations.
Fourth Task, Hard Questions and Actions:
We list questions to engage new thinking and actions to promote
a new future. This document is intended to enlist the help
of persons and groups interested in the well-being of farmers,
the excellence of farming, in its products, the rural environment
and its communities. We suggest actions and study questions
which can assist farm and community organizations, church, environmental
and consumer groups in bringing a new production ethic into
active existence. It is such groups who will use this document
to promote the expression and adoption of a consensus ethics..
But, as laid out in the beginning, ethics is a means to the
preservation of cherished values--the value here being the survival
of the family farm and with it the rural community. The groups
addressed: environmentalists, rural churches and farm organization,
will all themselves either pass out of existence with the loss
of the farming communities, or will find that farmers have been
replaced by industrial managers with no power to alter corporate
policies. We ask these groups a series of painful questions
about the obstacles to our coming together to establish a shared
farming ethic to restore trust and promote communication.