Awakening to Agroecology

Reader Contribution by Steven Mcfadden
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At first the word “agroecology” hits the human ear with the aloof thud of a complex, intellectual abstraction. But in truth it’s a term describing an approach to agriculture that is real, urgent, positive, earth-based, science-informed, and altogether of the heart. We need agroecology now, and we need it on neighborhood, heartland, and planetary scales.

In the universe of ideals for farms and food, agroecology has in recent decades captured international attention. Now it’s becoming better appreciated in North America. Now it stands out as a range of essential, broad, and wise pathways forward for humanity.

One way to think of agroecology is as an umbrella concept, striving to embrace and unite traditional indigenous wisdom ways, and concepts such as food sovereignty, community food, and food justice with the disciplines of ecology, sustainable agriculture and gardening, permaculture, biodynamics, ethics, economics, biology, agronomy, sociology, and more.

The manifold initiatives that readers of Mother Earth News have launched over the decades also, by my reckoning, fit under the broad umbrella of agroecology. Agroecology is, of course, very much a global work in progress, but the positive potential is formidable. That’s what we need.

Our entire relationship to the wider earth as well as to our specific local environments is being challenged. Hard evidence of these hard facts is mounting. Author David Wallace-Wells has brought this front and center with his new book, The Uninhabitable Earth. As the alarm clocks of climate change and environmental contamination continue to clang ferociously, agroecology exists as a way for people to either awaken to positive action, or to stay woke and amp up their efforts.

For the Future

For now and for the future, agroecology represents pathways for human beings to respond forthrightly and wisely to the chaos in our climate and culture. As I’ve come to appreciate about agroecology, the subject has depth, breadth, and sophistication. Agroecology offers a penetrating critique of the status quo, and a far-reaching, environmentally enlightened, justice-based vision of better ways to care for land, plants, animals, and people.

Agroecology is a concept that has been refined in recent decades, developed, and made ready for far wider global implementation. It’s seemingly new territory for many, in particular for many people who have been involved with chemical-dependent industrial agriculture. But it’s natural territory. In our present climate-change circumstances, farmers and gardeners cannot enter this territory successfully alone. They must be accompanied in various ways with the active, conscious support of the communities and households who depend upon their bounty, and take it into their bodies as the staff of their lives.

The basic ideas of agroecology embrace systems of farming and food that are clean, sustainable, humane, and egalitarian. In my view, native and peasant wisdom ways are core elements. These ways are the progenitors of agroecology, and we’ll need to keep them in focus as we go forward. In our North American universities – where the multi-faced disciplines of agroecology are setting roots – the subject is weaving together the academic understandings of ecology, agronomy, botany, zoology, sociology, anthropology, ethics, economics, sociology, and more. In many cases this dynamic, multi-discipline field is engaged with foundational indigenous wisdom about land, nature, values, and the human condition. That’s essential going forward.

In consilience (or convergence) all these ways provide a range of insight-yielding vantage points for studying the food system, for developing a broader set of criteria for evaluation beyond monetary profitability, and for doing the indispensible work of transforming our farms and our food in a manifestly healthy way. The potential is there.

Inevitably, there are multinational corporate efforts to co-opt the term agroecology, and to claim its meaning as relevant to practices that may, in fact, be antithetical to the healing spirit that lies at the heart of agroecology. Watchfulness, strong articulate voices, and wholehearted consumer support will be necessary to maintain the integrity and the promise of agroecology. At this stage of earth changes, agroecology is too vitally important to allow its integrity to be corrupted.

From my perspective, agroecology is our next natural, intelligent, and necessary evolutionary step. The way we farm the land, and the quality of the food we eat, will determine the destiny of life on earth. We human beings absolutely need to take a life-sized evolutionary development in maturity. Agroecology and deep agroecology (a subtle dimension of critical relevance and mystery) are foundational steps in that journey upward and onward.

Independent journalist Steven McFadden has from time to time experienced the thrill of breathing in the sparkling, living airs that course through the meadows of great mountains. Otherwise he’s hard at work, rooted in agrarian cyberspace wider work, and all of his nonfiction books, are at Chiron Communications.

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