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

Tools: Guiding Consensus seeking on values

The Process Of Stating Farming Values

Your first task in a consensus formation workshop is to find speakers familiar with the values in some particular area. For example, if the values are those which family farming provides the rural community, you need farmers and rural community residents. For farm labor values, you need workers and farmers who use hired workers. Once you get the values "on the black-board" for the audience to consider, suggestions of commitments to make those values real will follow quite naturally with the guidance of a good moderator. At the page CONSENSUS PROPOSALS you will find some farm-worker values cited in the 1999 California Farm Conference. These were suggested by a farmer whose operation is large enough to require three full-time year round wage workers. The ethical principles which followed were such things as: Whenever possible we should seek ways of providing permanent on and off-farm work so as to allow residential and school attendance stability to workers and their families. Or, by way of seeking a communally shared (mutual) commitment with respect to farm labor, the following is a further suggestion: Farmers and rural non-farm employers should join a compact to provide employment continuity to as many workers as possible. There is no reason why a workshop facilitator could not suggest such principles but it is more exciting and natural when the presenters or audience do this on their own. And it leads to wonderful insights as to why locally managed farms are so much more naturally poised to express values in a caring fashion: The farmer noted above raised this value of stability in schooling for workers families while describing a older worker whose recalcitrance to direction made him minimally useful to the ranch operation. She said that she and her husband hope to keep the worker on at least long enough to allow his daughters, whom they loved, to graduate from the local high school!

Like the Soul of Agriculture Project itself, your role is to guide the workshop deliberations toward an active and practical ethics and then perhaps toward conceptualizing of the institutions which can embody the principles and protect and create the values which are their goals. Toward that end what we provide below 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 we need to do to express ethical guides and capture the future they can support. Read what follows, then, as a guide and a structure which will increase the possibility that we will eventually have values statements and ethical principles that can be massaged into a grand and rich consensus!

First Task, Values
Values are goods worth pursuing or protecting. Ethical principles are statements mandating or recommending the pursuit or preservation of values. Hence values must be considered first, then principles.

Basic Values: Among the values of agriculture there are first the unchanging basic goals of agriculture, the goods which agriculture directly produces: sufficient, sustainable and healthy food and fiber supplies. Then there are other basic values which can be harmed or preserved by the choice of tools, practices and social institutions which define and limit its choice of tools. Examples are human dignity of labor, farmer well-being, beauty of the environment and animal welfare. In short, the values of the ends (goals) and the values impacted by the means (tools) of farming.

Goal Values: The productive goals of agriculture are so obvious that they seem not to need stating. But we encourage users of this document to reach a careful consensus on them. The satisfaction of essential human needs for food and fiber is what gives the fundamental undeniable nobility to the agricultural vocation. The maintenance of life itself contained in the goals of agriculture implies all sorts of qualifications and limitations on the means and other ends of agriculture. Powerful ethical imperatives grow out of connection of farming to life and health.

  • Sufficient: Many of the consultants in our deliberations so far have pointed out that "sufficient" food must mean accessible and affordable to all humans, and to all generations of humans.
  • Healthy means not just nutritious but delightful so that people will be enticed to eating what is healthful. "Healthy" also implies safe, non-toxic.
  • Sustainability has similar richness of meaning. But here it means the perpetual continuation of the end itself, namely sufficient healthy food and fiber supplies. Sustainability of the means of production is noted below.

This kind of reflection on the goals of production farming demonstrates how, in any vocation or profession, the first and controlling examination and choice of means must be goal based. Much current dissatisfaction in the medical profession is based on the experience among doctors that the means of making medical care available are beginning to degrade the quality of that care. Means are starting to take on a higher priority than the ends they are supposed to serve. A fundamental ethical absurdity! This has happened in agriculture, notably in the Third World.

General Tool Values:
Due to the obvious priority of the goals, the first values to be considered in the choice of tools, practices and institutions are those that are efficient in the use of resources, sustainable and safe. But each of you and your groups considering these values must examine the meaning of true efficiency, not neglecting resources which are limited but unpriced. Similarly the meaning of sustainability and safety must be elaborated and expressed in terms which fit local circumstances. These values may not be the first to consider in the order of time, since others more specific, such as the economic survival of the farmer, could be more urgent. But because their consistent neglect threatens the very purpose of farming, human life and health, they must never be absent from our new vision of farming. They are controlling values due to their unbreakable connection with the goals of agriculture.

Specific Tool Values:

1.)Those who do the work
It is intuitively obvious that tools are less important than their products, since they exist for their products. But the principal "tool" of farming is the labor of the farmer and farm worker. Humans cannot be treated as "tools" totally. Since they will not function well or consistently in a free society as producers if their human needs are not met with dignity, in the order of time their values come first. Almost any essential good needed in some modest proportion for a full human life is a legitimate value to consider. Since these are so many and so diverse anything pretending to be a full list would be presumptuous. Moreover the reasonableness of expecting a farming way of life to provide them will differ sharply from place to place. Just the lists produced in our consultations would take pages. Our purpose here is simply to help in your deliberations by a classification that may remind you of important elements.

a.) Values without which farmers and workers will not work at all

b.) Values without which they will not be able to farm with excellence

Under (a) are clearly adequate family income, income security, health, and bearable levels of stress and many others depending on local conditions.

Under (b) are the knowledge and caring which make excellence both possible and attractive. Under knowledge and promoting it are such values as long-term familiarity with soils, cropping systems, markets and weather of a given region. Under caring and promoting it are the rewards that come to families from the promise of long-term living in a safe, beautiful, and reliably productive environment. These values are all captured by local continuity of caring, intelligent personnel. The family farm is clearly one very natural form of this continuity, but others are possible.

2.) Impacts on Animals and Other Living Systems

a.) Animals: Caring, even love, for animals who serve human needs, like most forms of caring, is most commonly and naturally found in those who know and work with the animals. For others such caring may be a kind of abstract commitment . Effective knowing and caring for animals is clearly diluted as the scale of animal agriculture grows. It is not impossible to maintain it in very large operations, but it is increasingly difficult to make that caring effective. The inherent value which animals have and which we recognize even while accepting their appropriate use by humans is a value which in turn gives value to continuity of management and moderate scale in animal husbandry.

b.) Other living systems: These, insects, plants, even soil micro flora and fauna, have intrinsic value also, but they are too mysterious for us to penetrate their inner lives. It is the stunning beauty of their individual outward structures and the harmony of their collective ecology which bring us to our knees in admiration. This unity in diversity serves the ongoing vitality of nature, and serves humans too who recognize its potential. It is useful. But it is above all beautiful and it calls for a response of caring from the human heart. It is a value within which agriculture can be located in a non-destructive fashion and from whose fertile diversity it can learn. Our new vision of agriculture includes holding that value as both sacred and useful.

A comment here is appropriate. The Soul of Agriculture project has had the goal of involving sympathetic environmentally concerned members of the public in its work. The environmentalism of intelligent farmers and workers who, with their families, must live in the farming environment is a very reliable environmentalism of the heart, provided only that they have the means to practice it. Poverty and suffering in the farmers will lead to poverty and suffering in nature. They are often more personally and directly affected by environmental disasters in agriculture than any other group. If their identification with a local environment is secure and their ability to protect it is also secure, to that extent the environment will be secure. Given that they live on the land and know it, their intelligent caring can be relied on.

Without moving to the statement of ethical principles, these reflections already suggest a preferential value for forms of farm management which are local and of a humanly graspable scale. To that extent they are also prima facie assumptions against any kind of "absentee management" whether by automation, centralization or plain neglect.
Many consultants pointed out that there are many ways of "living on the land" and that while land ownership is a natural way to secure it, in today's world it cannot be the only way. Some of these alternatives are discussed below. But the value of presence and intimacy with the land and environment would be common to these alternatives.

3.) Values of Farmer to Farmer Relationships

a.) Sacred: Friendship is a sacred value, i.e. a good enjoyed for its own sake and not for some use to be made of it. Life is hardly worth living without it. But nothing prevents good friends from being useful to each other. Helpfulness, in fact, is the most natural and happy expression of the love we call friendship. In spite of its claim to some basic Judeo-Christian values, industrial agriculture contains among its contradictions a corrosive level of competition which weakens friendship, instead of being a friendly stimulus toward excellence. It attacks one core value of the Judeo-Christian tradition, the love of neighbor.

b.) Useful: The consultations and meetings of the Soul of Agriculture were laced references to the need for cohesiveness among farmers in the pursuit of the new vision. The powerlessness of the isolated individual in the face of economic and policy forces is obvious. But the solidarity needed is not just political, it is as a source of helpfulness, of sharing of knowledge and skills, of mutual support with the uncertainties and risks of innovation and a foundation for certain cooperative farming practices.

4.) Values in Community and Consumer Relationships
In the scenarios depicted in the Third Task (in the full version of Creating a New Vision of Farming) are new ways in which farmers may reach their clientele. The underlying value of these innovations is clearly the very human pleasure in being appreciated for a good product, the outcome of one's intelligence, labor and caring. It is another priceless value. But like friendship, it is a useful value in restoring consumer confidence and in giving a farmer guidance in reaching and securing a loyal market.

There is an equally pleasurable value in living in peace with one's community. As a kind of friendship, it is both priceless and useful. By maintaining this value the mutual benefits and mutual sharing of burdens of farming activities and community needs between farmers and their communities are facilitated.

Integration of Values:
The values noted separately above are interlaced and mutually reinforcing. If one is significantly neglected, the others are likely to suffer. And they all share the coloring of friendship. Like friendship they cannot exist without deliberate cultivation by both sides in the relationship. Many of the innovations, both existing and imaginative, suggested at consultations were motivated by the desire to create or strengthen these values.


At the PROPOSE page you will notice the outcomes of some early workshops. You can show your presenters items #4B and #5b to help them organize their presentations. (Or down-load them and edit them to suit your purposes.) Also you will find there some materials prepared for an overhead projector transparency which guided a farmer discussing the values of family farming for the local community. If presenters have such guides and outcomes in mind they will be able to structure their remarks so as to make moving on to the exercise of stating principles quite natural.



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