Food Issues Book Club - On The Soil and Health from Bringing It to the Table

Hello all!  Welcome to the NOiG Food Issues Book Club, wherein I read books about food stuff, summarize each book by chapter, and then attempt to apply that book chapter's ideas to the New Orleans food environment and/or my own experiences.  Fun right?!  Check out previous installations here.  I'd love it if you'd read along and join in!  And now, without further ado...

Bringing It to the Table: On The Soil and Health, 2006


In this essay, Berry speaks of Sir Albert Howard, one of Berry's main influences and - per Berry - the first champion of "organic" farming.  Howard's essay The Soil and Health was published in 1947, just as industrial farming practices were taking a firm hold in the developed world.  "World War II had proved the effectiveness of mechanical and chemical technology that in the coming decades would radically alter both the practice of agriculture and its underlying assumptions.  This 'revolution' marginalized Howard's work and the kind of agriculture he advocated."

When practiced properly, Howard's method of organic farming "was proven to be a healthful, productive, and economical way of farming."  Regardless, government agencies and agricultural schools alike ignored the success, much as they did Amish farming practices, and embraced industrialization.

The organic practices that have ostensibly grown from Howard's writings, though, have dramatically oversimplified his teachings, failing to "connect farming with its ecological and social contexts."  Modern organic farming looks much like industrial farming without the chemicals.  Howard had envisioned a far more holistic approach that closely mimicked the natural world.  Per Howard,
"The main characteristic of Nature's farming can ... be summed up in a few words.  Mother earth never attempts to farm without live stock; she always raises mixed crops; great pains are taken to preserve the soil and to prevent erosion; the mixed vegetable and animal wastes are converted into humus; there is no waste; the process of growth and the processes of decay balance one another; ample provision is made to maintain large reserves of fertility; the greatest care is taken to store rainfall; both plants and animals are left to protect themselves against disease."
From An Agricultural Testament by Sir Albert Howard

Berry's farming beliefs, then, echo Howard's nearly identically.  (Perhaps I should be reading Howard?)  Howard was, and Berry is, "fundamentally at odds with the industrial economy, which sees creatures, including humans, as machines, and agriculture, like ultimately the entire human economy, as an analogue of an industrial system."  Howard's beliefs were born both of science and of intention and observation.  He supported a style of agriculture that creates no waste and returns nutrients to the soil - two major deficiencies of industrial agriculture, which creates enormous waste and utterly strips soil.  By refusing to see anything in isolation, Howard saw all farming issues and their solutions in the context of a farm's ecosystem.


It must be noted that Howard performed his agricultural studies in colonized India.  The organic movement, then has at least some of its roots in British colonialism.  This is an unsurprising beginning, perhaps, for a food philosophy that remains almost completely dominated by the privileged and white, even while its products are grown largely on the backs of brown bodies.

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