The history of food production, like any history related to the human race, is complex and does not originate from a single place. Dating back thousands of years ago to today, we have learned many lessons from the development of our food system that teach us things far beyond the scope of farming practices. This week, we wanted to fast forward through the history of agriculture, from roughly 23,000 years ago to the present day, to explore the key lessons we should appreciate from this timeline.
Lesson 1: Value Thy Farmer
Archeologists continue to discover and debate about when agriculture, meaning the cultivation of the soil for the growing of crops and the rearing of animals, first started, however theories suggest that it became more established as populations grew in size and over-hunting threatened food supplies (1).
Agriculture transformed human history as it allowed for large settlements to remain in one place and for societies to spare “able-bodied members to specialize in activities not related to food” (2). In short, the introduction of agriculture was and is the cornerstone of civilization. This is a lesson we should not forget. If agriculture is the foundation of civil society, we should be valuing the stewards of agriculture, farmers, with greater value.
When you buy local, organic, or sustainably produced food, you are supporting farmers that are not only providing for today’s society, but who are also supporting the next generation. The next time you meet a farmer, thank them for the tireless work they do everyday for our community.
Lesson 2: Dare To Dream About That Which Seems Impossible
In the 19th and 20th century, agriculture in the Americas experienced dramatic change with the emancipation of slaves (3). The holdings of slaves in the United States is estimated to have represented 45.8% of the total wealth held by residents… [and] nearly 60% of the total capital invested in agriculture (4). During this time, although many dreamed of a free world for all humankind, many did not see how it could ever be economically-feasible, let alone socially accepted.
Today, we have evidence that those that dared to dream about that which seemed impossible back then were not necessarily dreamers at all; they were thought leaders and the changemakers.
Today, we also hear a new generation of courageous dreamers that imagine a world where society does not have to destroy nature in order to develop. Many say they are only dreamers, but history tells us that dreams can be foreshadows of something new coming. So we say, dare to dream big!
Lesson 3: Everything Is Interconnected
Post World War Two, agriculture transformed internationally once again with the introduction of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs), pesticides, and more advanced technology (5). This transformation, nicknamed the Green Revolution, was celebrated for its presumed ability to produce more food with less effort than ever before (6). Although these benefits were proven in many cases, there were other aspects of the Green Revolution that caused negative consequences. These consequences included higher input costs for farmers and a degradation of the soil on farmer’s fields (7).
As a result, while many farmers tended to grow more food, their actual income did not increase due to the extra costs associated with buying GMO seeds and new pesticides (8).
In short, the Green Revolution reminds us that everything- the environment, our economic prosperity, and our societal well being- is all interconnected. This is important to remember for when we seek to create a solution for something. We must consider how a change in one area will impact all areas or the solution will not be sustainable.
- (1) Tauger, Mark B. Agriculture in world history. Routledge, 2010.
- (2) Tauger, Mark B. Agriculture in world history. Routledge, 2010.
- Oxford Dictionary
- (3) Ibid.
- (4) Ransom, Roger, and Richard Sutch. “The impact of the Civil War and of emancipation on southern agriculture.” Explorations in Economic History 12.1 (1975): 1-28
- (5) Tomczak, Jay. “Implications of fossil fuel dependence for the food system.” Michigan State University (2005): 11-12.
- (6) Tauger, Mark B. Agriculture in world history. Routledge, 2010.
- (7) Rosset, Peter, Joseph Collins, and Frances Moore Lappé. “Lessons from the green revolution.” Third World Resurgence (2000): 11-14.
- Wilson, Clevo, and Clem Tisdell. “Why farmers continue to use pesticides despite environmental, health and sustainability costs.” Ecological economics 39.3 (2001): 449-462.
- (8) Rosset, Peter, Joseph Collins, and Frances Moore Lappé. “Lessons from the green revolution.” Third World Resurgence (2000): 11-14.