Day Two

SESSION 1 of 4: “Providing a Sustainable Food Supply”

Dr. Fred. Kirschenmann is a long-time national leader in sustainable agriculture. He is currently a distinguished fellow at the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture at Iowa State University, where he also teaches in the Department of Religion and Philosophy. Additionally, he oversees the management of his family’s 1,800-acre farm in North Dakota which was converted into a certified organic operation in 1976.

This opening session of Day Two outlined the challenges of shaping a sustainable agricultural system for a growing world population. Recognizing that synthetic agricultural inputs are cannot be sustained, maintaining the soil must be coupled with more natural and sustainable methods. As Kirschenmann noted in his talk: It is important to have these conversations on agriculture, since it will have an impact on our children and grand children. It is necessary to discuss these questions together.”

Providing a Sustainable Food Supply

Question is not solely about the supply, but a unity in the providing. The public media expresses this question as: How are we to feed nine billion people by 2050? This is a wrong question, since it considers these X billion people as a problem—simply a production problem. Those who have studied the situation have found that on the calorie-per capita basis we already produce enough food for 10 billion people. It’s not a problem of production today; with 7 billion people on the planet today, we still have one billion who go hungry. Why?

Clearly identifying the problem

The hunger problem is not a production problem: it is a problem of poverty; it is a problem of entitlement (meaning people don’t have access to the knowledge and materials to feed themselves); it is a problem of inequality; and it is a problem of waste. Examples of this are consumers’ waste of food and farmers’ disposal of food that the market will not take because of blemishes. In Europe, Kirschenmann said, they have taken these blemished foods and have sold them at discount prices to prevent this waste of food. The solution is not going to be found by only one party’s efforts: it takes everyone’s engagement.

The population problem: This is an uncomfortable question for many of us, but the world will eventually hit a point where it will be impossible to sustain everyone. Aldo Leopold, in his writings, said that nature always sets a density for a species; once a species starts breaking from this, nature will find a way to reduce that density. What is the “right” density (i.e., maximum population size) of humanity? Some say 3, others 5, billion. Is 7 billion already too much? Who is saying 9-10 billion (which is where we’re headed by 2050) is the right number?

Man’s place in the complex web of life

Aldo Leopold wrote that we are not the conquerors of the land community— domineering over the entirety of biotic life—but are rather plain members and citizens in this community. We are a part of Creation. Science tells that we are just beginning to understand the extent and amount of biotic organisms in the soil. There is more biotic life below the surface (or within the earth) than there is above the surface (or upon the face of the earth). These biotics are the basis of life and thrive in healthy soil. We need to consider and preserve them or we will undo ourselves.

Thus, we need to understand these complexities, and we need to begin anticipating the future. Minor adjustments to how we currently produce won’t solve or prevent the problems that are coming. Kirschenmann referenced Ernest Schusky, an anthropologist who wrote “Culture & Agriculture” (1989) which examined how we have fed ourselves since the beginning of our history. The modern industrial model is both unsustainable and inefficient due to cheap fossil fuels. As energy and food production becomes more complex and expensive, Western society will be forced into changing its diet to a more ecologically sustainable model.

The current “cheap food” era, Kirschenmann reiterated, will be a relatively short period of time because the cheap energy of fossil fuels will be exhausted sooner than later. Other agricultural inputs, such as potash and other minerals will become 5-6 times more expensive than they are now; fossil water (e.g., Ogallala aquifer) cannot be sustained if we continue drawing out water at the rate we are. “So imagine 20 years from now: $350 a barrel of oil; depletion of minerals (potash, phosphorus, potassium); half of our ‘fossil’ & fresh water supply exhausted; and climate change. Where will we be?”

Kirschenmann noted that the current “food production fight” between organic and conventional farming is not helping anyone. Given the changes coming at us, it won’t really matter what farming system you practice.

Wisdom of the Past

There is wisdom from the past that can offer us hope today, Kirschnmann said. Sir Albert Howard who wrote An Agricultural Testament (1943) made one point very clear: “The maintenance of the fertility of the soil is the first condition of any permanent system of agriculture.” Relying on minerals from other soils will rob good soil from future generations. “N-P-K additions won’t keep up,” Kirschenmann said, “and therefore we must rely on the model of nature.”

Another reference was to Liberty Hyde Bailey (Cornell University) who wrote The Holy Earth. [Note: Published in 1915 by Liberty Hyde Bailey, the Father of American Horticulture, this book exercised significant influence on early environmental protection programs. In addition to its reflections on the earth’s intrinsic divinity, it applied then-groundbreaking scientific principles to horticulture. The impetus for Bailey to write this book was his dismay over the increasing separation between people and the land. Bailey warned about the rise of industrialized agriculture and cautioned against the movement away from natural food. He urged a religious and ethical approach of the human relationship to the earth.]

Call for a New Land Ethic

We have to have a new attitude, Kirschenmann said, and to change our strategy and cooperate with nature. As Aldo Leopold foretold: “It was no doubt inevitable and desirable that industry should come to agriculture, but it will be exhausted if we do not change.” We need to marry our new-world science of ecology and resilient thinking with the wisdom of the past (reliance on nature) we could come up with a solution that would be self-renewing and self-regulating.

We need a new ethic: how to relate to the land. How do we adopt this ethic? Here Kirschenmann made specific reference to Sand County Almanac (1949) [Note: This book is perhaps best known for the following quote, which defines his land ethic: “A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise.”]

Kirschenmann said we need to develop an “ecological conscience” — concern not only for humanity, but the entire earth and biotic community. This new conscience is not going to happen overnight; our cultural history and religious beginnings did not explicitly consider “ecological conscience” at the time; only in time would social evolution incorporate this into our human conscience.

Reference was made to Thomas Berry ( who said that “moments of crises are moments of grace.” The pain of a crisis motivates us, it pushes us to develop, adapt and be creative. These moments become one of opportunity: We need to engage the entire human community as we strive to develop and adapt a sustainable agriculture, economy and culture.

Kirschenmann concluded his remarks with the prophetic words: “Let us eat of the tree of life, not the tree of knowledge” of good and evil.

RESPONDENT: Mr. Roger Johnson (President, National Farmers Union)

Johnson acknowledged the division, at least in public debate, between the organic and the conventional methods of producing food. Organic producers have long said their practices were “sustainable”; now everyone says it. Regardless of what side you might be on, Johnson said it is now clear that all agricultural practices must be sustainable. That is, all farmers need to work with the soil without depleting it.

In the agricultural community, Johnson noted, the majority are strictly commodity farmers. (Many no longer incorporate livestock into their farming operations.) This has much implication: farm animals use to replenish the soil with their manure. Commodity farmers will find that they have much to learn by studying the biotic life in the soil. It’s important to bear in mind that “we all are in this together” and it’s not just a farmer problem.

Johnson also noted that we are seeing enormous interest by consumers about where their food comes from and how it is produced. This is certainly the case for consumers looking for organic foods. But most farm operations are conventional and likely to remain so. That raises the question by farm groups and food advocates: How do we bring these types of agriculture – conventional and organic – together? “If we figure this out, we will be able to bring society together around food.”

Family farmer’s role in ending world hunger

In a post-script to his main presentation, Kirschenmann wanted to let the audience know about a recent article by Roger Johnson about the family farmer’s role in world hunger. Johnson had written that “family farmers are a model for the world to imitate.”

“If we want to solve the (hunger) problem,” he said, “we need to turn to these family farmers and work with them (many by women) in their own situations in their own countries. If we want to solve the problem of hunger then we need to enable them to work together and provide them with the know-how and resources to produce their own food.” He added that their surplus production will also help to solve the problem of poverty, assuming they have access to markets.

Johnson noted the solutions family farms offer to solving hunger and health issues around the world. Smallholder farmers consistently have healthier soil and larger yields, and those who have diversified their crops have been most successful in increasing consumption of nutrient-dense foods. “Healthier food production leads to a healthier planet,” said Johnson. “Family farms provide a model for the world to diminish major health and hunger issues.”


Key Ideas to Further Explore

Table discussions following Kirschenmann’s presentation and Johnson’s remarks continued on the ideas of (1) family farms as best model to imitate and (2) “ecological conscience” as a movement to build. Regarding the first item, reference was made to the 2009 “global report” titled Agriculture at a Crossroads. As part of the International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD), this major report assessed the impacts of various agricultural practices and technologies in respect to:

  • reduction of hunger and poverty;
  • improvement of rural livelihoods and human health; and
  • socially, ecologically and economically sustainable & equitable development.

The National Farmers Union strongly endorses the family farm model to meet these societal goals for every region of the world. However, other forces counter this with the need for greater capitalization, industrial technology and corporate management of global agri-food markets to efficiently meet consumer demands.

In respect to building an “ecological conscience” among producers and consumers alike, it will be critical to identify the complex factors that pertain to agricultural production. This means moving beyond an ecological sentiment, although that is necessary pre-condition, and developing an ecological expertise of the land and its biotic community.

As a possible third idea to explore, Kirschenmann had made reference to our agrarian history and how it shaped our lives – and indeed still does and will continue to do so. In brief, human life in pre-historic times was almost exclusively a daily foraging of food. Early humans were completely dependent on the plants and animals that nature provided.

The invention of farming about 12,000 years ago gave humans access to vast new food and energy resources. This transformed the way humans lived: Farming dramatically increased population growth; humans to settle in larger, denser communities. This in turn led to the development of cities and civilizations, and history played out as innovations – writings, architecture, weapons, transportation, political and market systems – led to starts and fits of great societies.

Industrialization caused the second substantive transformation of human societies, and that industrialization penetrated into agriculture as much as the other sectors of national economies. As Kirschenmann alluded to, this modern “neocaloric” era is dependent on a non-renewable source of energy: fossil fuels. That is passing, perhaps during the lifetime of those born this century.

The transformation from the previous agrarian era to the industrial age was a tumultuous one. How will we handle the next great transformation? What will that mean for our agricultural leaders?


Session 2 of 4: “Sustainable Agriculture”

Mr. Roger Johnson – President, National Farmers Union

A tireless advocate on behalf of America’s farmers, Mr. Roger Johnson has been the president of National Farmers Union since 2009. Prior to his election, Johnson served as North Dakota’s Agricultural Commissioner. He was also the president of the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture from 2007-2008, and played a key role in crafting the 2008 Farm Bill to include provisions that benefited agricultural producers. Johnson is a native of Turtle Lake, N.D., and graduated from North Dakota State University with a degree in agricultural economics.

His luncheon session presented some of the public policy points for sustainable agriculture; these covered benefits to the land and natural resources as well as to rural communities. Johnson stressed that there is a crucial role for consumers and people of faith to play in advocating for such policies at state and federal levels.

The Multiple Facets of Sustainable Agriculture

Modern agriculture is faced with new and tremendous pressures. Climate change presents great challenges for agriculture, as well as opportunity to help mitigate some of its worst effects. Yet, agriculture is also faced with challenges that have plagued it for more than 100 years — including variation and instability in farm income and monopolistic practices.

A sustainable food supply is one that takes into account environmental health, economic profitability, and social and economic equity.

The term “sustainable agriculture” means an integrated system of plant and animal production practices having a site-specific application that will, over the long-term:

  • Satisfy human food and fiber needs;
  • Enhance environmental quality and the natural resource base upon which the agriculture economy depends;
  • Make efficient use of non-renewable resources and on-farm resources and integrate, where appropriate, natural biological cycles and controls;
  • Sustain the economic viability of farm operations; and
  • Enhance the quality of life for farmers and society as a whole.

The definition does not include specifics about production methods or styles, but rather contains themes of stewardship, viability, and meeting the needs of the population. Most farmers seek to be good stewards of the land as they pursue a variety of different strategies of production.

Sustainability must also include viability not just of farm operators, but by extension rural communities. Rural America prospers when farms do well. Family farmers not only support all of the businesses that provide them with agricultural inputs, but also the banks, restaurants and stores in rural America. About 17 percent of the U.S. population lives in rural counties, and nearly every state in the country, but that percentage is decreasing. Yet during the aftermath of the 2008 recession, rural America was one bright spot of economic growth.

Increasingly, consumers want to know how their food is grown, where it was grown, and who grew it. Sustainability in the food supply will provide greater transparency in the food system. Chief among the issue of transparency is food safety. Food safety encompasses everything from food-borne illnesses to antibiotic resistance.

A sustainable food supply is one that addresses all of these concerns and encourages transparency.

Agricultural Leadership and the Role of Public Policy

Public policy has and continues to play an important role in supporting farmers to produce adequate food, while incentivizing protection of natural resources:

  • Agricultural trade issues continue to be a major public policy issue. Of utmost importance to family farmers and ranchers, the trade agreements ought to include consideration of trade balance, fair compensation for farmers and minimum standards for environmental, food & product safety, and consumer information.
  • Protecting farm income is another major objective of agricultural policy. The farmer’s share of the retail food dollar is only 15.8 cents of every food dollar that consumers spend on food. For an 18-ounce box of cereal that costs $3, the farmer receives only 5 cents. It is farmers that take on incredible risk in the most volatile industry. Support in the form of crop insurance premium subsidies help to mitigate some of this risk to ensure adequate food, feed, fiber.
  • Farm policy also helps to encourage conservation and enhance environmental quality. Notable programs are the Conservation Stewardship Program, a working lands conservation program that works to improve soil, water, air, and habitat quality; Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) that provides financial assistance to producers to help implement approved conservation practices on eligible land; and the Agricultural Conservation Easement Program, a voluntary program to help conserve agricultural lands and wetlands.
  • Farm policy is increasingly shifting towards creating a more diverse set of producers. Programs like the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program provides mentoring, training, and education to folks interested in agriculture, including veterans, socially disadvantaged beginning farmers or ranchers, and limited resource farmers and ranchers. Public policies such as these work to address the significant potential consequences of the reduction in farmers and aging farm population.
  • Funding for public research is another significant component of agricultural policy in the US. The Sustainable Agriculture Research & Education grant program funds competitive grants to farmers, researchers, extension agents, and nonprofits to advance innovations that improve profitability, stewardship, and quality of life by investing in research. In addition, National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) addresses many of the current challenges related to food and agriculture through science including food security, sustainable energy, food safety, and climate change.

Unfortunately, Johnson noted, public agriculture research funding has trended down over past couple of decades. That has led to greater dependence on private research, which tends to benefits larger operations and corporate interests over small and mid-size farms.

  • Public policy can also play a vital role in ensuring fair markets for growers, particularly for livestock producers. Due to concentration and vertical integration of the industry, poultry growers in particular have received gross mistreatment through contracts and retaliation. The 2010 GIPSA rule has been gutted through the appropriations process. The National Farmers Union continues to work with allies and Congressional partners to include funding for USDA to implement GIPSA in future appropriations bills.
  • Climate change is the biggest issue likely facing mankind. Johnson noted that family farmers and ranchers across the U.S. are feeling the impact of increasing weather volatility. He also noted that family farmers are good stewards and seek opportunities to work to mitigate climate change. He mentioned NFU’s policies supporting acknowledgment of carbon sequestration and emission reductions through agricultural practices, biofuels and renewable energy. Whereas family agriculture in the U.S. has much to offer in the fight against climate change, Johnson said our farmers and ranchers need policy support from the federal government in order to make their best contributions.


Session 3 of 4: Culture and Agriculture: First Nation Perspective

Dr. Clifford Canku, retired professor of Dakota Studies at North Dakota State University, is a revered elder of the Sisseton Wahpeton Dakota Oyate. Dr. Canku, whose first language is Dakota, is an expert on Dakota history, culture, and language instruction.

Dr. Craig A. Hassel is an associate professor in the Department of Food Science and Nutrition at the University of Minnesota. He explores issues of food and health with cultural communities that hold knowledge that does not correspond to Western science perspectives. Dr. Hassel’s work aims to create models of cross-cultural engagement that reform scientific inquiry to be more respectful of diverse ways of knowing. Additionally, Dr. Hassel is an extension nutritionist, and works closely with Native American communities in Minnesota to develop and implement culturally-based food and nutrition programs.

This interim session was an opportunity to reflect on cultural understandings of land, nature and food. The perspective of the original people to Minnesota – Dakota Nation – was outlined in contrast to industrial and commercial agriculture.

Native Tribal Relationship to Land and Food

According to the traditional beliefs of the Dakota Nation, they have always lived in the area of the Minnesota River and the Mille Lacs Lake. Thereby the Dakotan has a historical, cultural and religious connection with the state of Minnesota.

According to Dakota philosophy, there is the belief that all living things originated from a great mysterious Creator, referred to as “Wakantanka.” The people in their traditional original teachings were taught that they were created as children with a relational connection to their Creator, who is also the Creator of all of life. Thus, there is a spiritual and natural connection of responsibility to care for the earth and to care for and nurture all its living spirits.

This traditional relationship is all expressed in the original teachings of the Seven Council Fires, passed down from generation to generation. This is an understanding to be a good caretaker of all of God’s gifts over all of the universe including the earth, lovingly called “Unci-Maka” or mother the earth. Its body is the land, and its gifts are water, flowers, fruits, vegetables, animals, fish, fowl, and flesh bearing peoples.

Dakota Relationship to Land:

The Dakota notion of land was different from the European colonizers; the Dakota believed that land cannot be divided because it was used by everyone (Meyer 1993, p. 40). The earth is a gift to be shared with all people and not be to individually owned and modified in human machinations.

“Relational connection to their Creator: this connection is very, very strong. We can do nothing until we connect to Him. We do not put ourselves above creation, we are all from one Creator and children of one mother earth. We are genetically/naturally empathetic towards creation.”

Dakota Relationship to food:

The Dakota notion of foods was different as well; Dakotans believe that food in its natural state such as wild rice, turnips, squash, potatoes, onions, fruits, embodies a natural & nutritious gift from the Creator.

Example of Wild Rice:

Canku explained that wild rice — called “P’sin” in Dakota and “Manoomin” in Ojibway — played an important role in tribal life. Wild rice was endowed with spiritual attributes; its recounted in legends and dreams; and it was used ceremonially as well as for food. Its harvest promoted social interactions in late summer each year.

The commercial production of wild rice is troubling for the Dakota people. Canku explained that tribal people view modern agriculture production practices as unnatural and violate the natural gift of relationship such as sulfate, sulfate is an ion containing sulfate and oxygen, iron mining and ore studies indicate elevated levels which may affect wild rice growth in near by streams.

Dr. Canku summarized by saying that all natural ecology is connected and resides with the original genetic relationship of Creation to the Creator. Natural ecology and spiritual ecology cannot be separated.

Response: Dr. Craig Hassel

“Difficult truths,” said Dr. Hassel. “Indigenous truths have been disregarded. Two hundred years ago this place, where we sit now, was inhabited by and cared for by the Dakotas. There are many sacred places here. Land ownership for them was as strange as our thought of owning our mother or other family members. We have gained this land with treaties that were first forced and then broken. This symposium is an important step in much needed healing and reconciliation between us and the indigenous peoples.”

“Indigenous people from across the continent, by their agricultural plants, have given us medicine, foods, fibers and dyes. They found uses for over 4,000 different kinds of plants. There is a natural ordering to creation. This ordering reflects back on our creator. Thanks to Descartes, the interiority of thought and spirituality was divorced from objective reality. His dualism led to lack of subjective perception of objective reality. This philosophical development has an inertia that persists through to today. Dr. Canku demonstrates that not every culture has embraced this dualism.”

Hassel called for critical thinking to avoid the narrowness of self-interest. Some “intellectual virtues” as he called them assist towards this:

  • Intellectual humility: realizing what we do and do not know
  • Intellectual courage: facing facts even though emotional backing not there
  • Intellectual empathy: imaginatively place oneself in the positions of others (this calls for an acknowledgment of our egocentric tendency)
  • Intellectual perseverance
  • Intellectual intelligence

In respect to these intellectual virtues, Hassel said there are areas of science that are more related to “Wisdom” than to “Knowledge.” We need to adapt to this higher knowledge, but we also need guidance in the ethical and spiritual dimensions of this higher knowledge.

He concluded his remarks by saying that we are fortunate to have other cultures that have maintained an awareness between the natural and spiritual. There are those in the field—scientific or agricultural—who are incorporating spirituality into their practice. We need to examine our own thinking in order to insure that we have an openness to this wisdom.


Session 4 of 4: Biblical Environmental Ethics

Dr. Calvin DeWitt, an expert on faith-based environmental stewardship, has been a professor at the University of Wisconsin’s Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies for more than four decades. His early work focused on the stewardship and care of wetland ecologies. An Evangelical Christian, Dr. DeWitt is also a leader among faith-based coalitions that aim to connect Christian theology and ethics with environmental stewardship.

This session provided a decidedly Christian perspective on the stewardship of creation and how this applies to agriculture and food production. The articulation of an environmental ethics, based on biblical scriptures, calls us to a new understanding of cultivation and caring for the earth.

“Our Commission of Con-Service” / Biblical Environmental Ethics

Doxology: “Praise Good from whom all blessings flow.”

DeWitt began his presentation with a doxology, or praising of God, in respect to Creation and our ability as human beings to see ourselves in relation to all created things. Our belief in one God, creator of all things and all life, is the foundation of a spiritual ecology.

DeWitt set forth a number of thought-provoking slides:

“Creation is a symphony of material and life cycles, empowered by Earth’s star the sun, whose energy drives global circulations of air and water — flows shaped by unequal heating and varied topography of land above and below the sea.”

“Solar energy captured by green plants fuels molecule-to-molecule & organism-to-organism transfers helping to weave Earth’s integrative biogeographic and trophic fabric that interlaces all life.”

Given our human consciousness – to know that we know – we have the ability to learn from God’s Creation. DeWitt said we also have the ability to learn from God’s Word. These are gifts not of mere learning, but inspired learning through the working of the Holy Spirit within us.

“Christianity, and the ideas that lay behind it, is a religion and a philosophy of creation. It is preoccupied with the Creator, with the things He created and their relationships to Him and among themselves.” (Clarence J. Glacken, 1967, p.168)

Using the title words of the symposium, Dewitt said:

FAITH incorporates what we believe about the world in which we live. What we believe about ourselves and the world relates strongly to the institution of the Church and the institutions inspired by and affected by the Church.

FOOD: God’s gift to every person, and to every creature. “I have given you every plant yielding seed…and every tree with seed in its fruit; you shall have them for food.” (Genesis 1:29) “(T)o everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.” (Genesis 1:30) “Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you; and just as I gave you green plants, I give you everything. Only, you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, with its blood.” (Genesis 9:3-4)

ENVIRONMENT: God’s gift to every person, and to every creature. God’s bountiful care breathes in the air, shines in the light; streams from the hills and descends to the plain; sweetly distills in the dew and the rain. (see Psalm 104)

We gratefully practice the principles of Earth-keeping (Gen. 2:15) and fruitfulness (Ez. 34:18) and Sabbath (Ex. 23:10-11). Genesis 2:15 gives us the commission of stewardship to avad (cultivate) the Garden and to shamar (care for it).

  • The Earth-keeping Principle: SHAMAR

As the Lord keeps and sustains us, so we must keep and sustain our Lord’s creation.

  • The Fruitfulness Principle: We should enjoy – but not destroy – creation’s fruitfulness. (Genesis 1:22-28; 6-9, Ezekiel 34:18)
  • The Sabbath Principle: We must provide for creation’s sabbath rests.

(Exodus 23 and Leviticus 25 & 26)

VOCATION: Agricultural leaders who follow Christ will apply Scientia (Knowledge of Creation) in respect to Ethics (Biblical Teaching) and make this their Praxis (Putting into Practice). This triad of Science-Ethics-Praxis (which is comparable to See-Judge-Act as presented on Day One of the symposium) poses these questions:

  • Science asks: How does the world work?
  • Ethics asks: What ought to be?
  • Praxis asks: What then must we do?

As people of faith, following a vocation, “We must practice what we believe.” (see Ezekiel 33:30-32 and Luke 6:46-49) We as human beings should not take the services of creation and creation’s goods without returning services of its own. (Con-Servancy Principle, DeWitt, Earth-Wise, 2011) The idea of agricultural sustainability centers on food production that makes the best use of nature’s goods and services while not damaging these assets.

Vocation of the Christ-Follower & Agri-Cultural Leader:

  • To glorify God with Gratitude and Praise for Creation and its Service.
  • To Safeguard Creation; to Safeguard Food; as Gifts of God’s Love.
  • To Return the Service of God and God’s Creation with Service of Our Own.

Are there examples – paradigms – of what can be done within and through our institutions? Yes, and one of these is the subject of a comprehensive study by Jules Pretty, professor of environment and society at the University of Essex. (See his book, “The Earth Only Endures: On Reconnecting with Earth and Our Place In It”)

With his colleagues, Pretty studied more than 4,000 certified organic farms in the United Kingdom that met the standards for sustainable agro-ecological systems.

[Six slides of charts are shown that call for a restructuring of whole farm systems.]

Service to the Agrarian Majority

For the 2.5 billion people around the world whose livelihood is in farming, stewardship of land held in trust over the generations largely remains the cultural and ethical norm.

The strategic objectives GGIAR — Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research ( — are:

  • Food for People: Create and accelerate sustainable increases in the productivity and production of healthy food by and for the poor.
  • Environment for People: Conserve, enhance, and sustainably use natural resources and biodiversity to improve the livelihoods of the poor in response to climate change and other factors.
  • Policies for People: Promote policy and institutional change that will stimulate agricultural growth and equity to benefit the poor, especially rural women and other disadvantaged groups.

Institutions and Beliefs

As noted at the beginning, faith incorporates what we believe about the world in which we live. What we believe about ourselves and the world relates strongly to INSTITUTIONS: the Institution of the Church and the institutions inspired by and affected by the Church.

Faith incorporates what we believe about the world in which we live. Belief about ourselves and the world are what Douglass North calls “internal representations of the world.” BELIEFS, therefore, are internal representations that together form our worldview which include:

  • Ourselves and what we believe makes for good personal character and wholesome relationships within our families & communities.
  • What we believe to be our purpose in life.
  • What we believe about everything beyond ourselves:

– the rest of human society and culture

– our view of our biosphere from outer space

– our biogeophysical world

– the biospheric economy, and

– our planet’s ecosystem services.

INSTITUTIONS are ‘external manifestations’ of these BELIEFS. Institutions are the social constructs that frame human action in the world — whether that be at the level of Ford, BP, national governments or the Worldwide Fund for Nature.

North emphasizes that our internal representations can displace the ‘rationality’ of market economics, maximization of profit, and attempts that might be made to disconnect the present from culture and history. The ‘uncritical acceptance of the rationality assumption’, North warns, ‘is a major stumbling block in the path of future progress’, and its currently wide acceptance ‘forecloses a deeper understanding of the decision-making process in confronting the uncertainties of the complex world we have created.’

There is another warning needed, and that is the falsehood that the human economy ‘trumps’ the biospheric economy. The uncritical acceptance of this assumption may prevent ongoing recognition of increasing unsustainability, and may foreclose the critically necessary decision-making and urgent action that is required within our institutions and institutional structure.

Institutions and Institutional Structure must be developed and maintained to match the changing complexity of the dynamic biosphere; the broadening ‘reach’ of human actions that affect the biosphere and its ecosystem services; and human values and aspirations toward a world of justice and vibrant human life and culture.

Otherwise institutional decay and ineffectiveness result, persist, and increase.

In short, institutions and institutional structure need to mirror the biospheric economy and human values. As they better mirror the economy of the biosphere and human values, they reshape human relations with the biosphere.

Agrarian Culture (versus Industrialization and the Market)

Where agrarian culture remains, stewardship of land held in trust over the generations largely remains the cultural and ethical norm. As corporate agribusiness and its shorter-term interests take hold, agrarian culture is degraded and destroyed; soil stewardship is practiced only insofar as it brings immediate gains.

“We show that, empirically, the emergence of large farms in many developing countries was based on power relations and distortions, and that the international competitiveness of these farms is often maintained by subsidies, associated with significant social losses.”

— Hans P. Binswanger (World Bank), Klaus Deininger (Univ. of Minnesota), and Gershon Feder (World Bank) 1993. Agricultural land relations in the developing world. Amer. J. Agr. Econ. 75:1242-1248.


                       > Contrasting Biblical & Utilitarian Worldviews <


                                     ECONOMY OF THE BIOSPHERE:

  1. Earth-keeping                                               1. Earth-consumption
  2. Fruitfulness                                                   2. Expendability/substitutability
  3. Restoration/Sabbath                                   3. Continuous exploitability
  4. Fulfillment and limits                                  4. Unlimited human population

                                  ECONOMY OF HUMAN BEHAVIOR:

  1. Regulation by Sabbath                                 5. Crisis Management
  2. Contentment                                                  6. Discontentment as best condition
  3. Seek system integrity first                          7. Self-interest as best motivation
  4. Put beliefs into practice                               8. Dualism of belief & practice as best


Context for Stewardship in our day

Our civilization seems to be emerging from some two centuries of neglect of the stewardship tradition. This long lapse means that we cannot simply pick up the tradition where we left it at the beginning of the Industrial Revolution. Instead, we need to size up where we are in the stream of time and identify the major happenings in our world and have this help to inform and shape our understanding and substance of stewardship for our time.

Among the most significant developments during these past two hundred years have been those of…

(A) understanding the biosphere and its climate system

(B) understanding human impacts on the earth, and

(C) understanding of worldwide transitions in human communities.

Dynamic Stewardship shapes and reshapes human behavior in the direction of maintaining individual, community, and biospheric stability. When we are in accord with the way the biosphere works, we are “imaging” God’s love for the world.

Dr. DeWitt concludes his powerpoint presentation with reference to two of his books: “Earthwise: A guide to hopeful creation care” and “Song of a Scientist”.


“Environmental Ethics” – A Response

Dr. Mark Neuzil, Director of Office of Mission, University of St. Thomas, also has fifteen years of journalism experience with organizations such as the Star Tribune and the Associated Press. During his time as a reporter, Dr. Neuzil developed a specialty for covering environmental subjects. This interest has carried over to his academic career; among his published works are Mass Media and Environmental Conflict: America’s Green Crusades and The Environment and the Press: From Adventure Writing to Advocacy.

Dr. DeWitt is one of the most thoughtful commentators on environmental ethics working today. His perspective emphasizes the primacy of scripture as formative for Christian environmental ethics. I have heard him speak of the “book of God’s Words” and the “book of God’s works” – a two books worldview.

In this tradition, God is the ultimate provider and caregiver. He is also the ultimate artist, the creator, and the designer. As such, his works deserve respect, but more than that, they deserve to be taken care of – to put it simply, stewardship.

We might think of this stewardship as an anthropocentric view – this is in line with the great Western religious tradition, after all – but some, such as the famous essay by Lynn White Jr., argue that the Judeo-Christian tradition created the environmental problems we have. (See more about “The Historical Roots of Our Ecological Crisis” at,_Jr.)

In many ways, Dr. DeWitt in his emphasis on Genesis is calling for a return to an older way – the patristic or perhaps medieval period when the church incorporated the whole of society with the natural world. What happened between medieval times and now? How did our thinking change? (Reference to DeWitt’s “broken triangle” of scienta-ethos-praxis.) One argument is that Protestant Reformers abandoned nature to science (scienta); it was among the important eras of scientific discoveries, after all. Consider that a few years before Martin Luther’s Reformation (1517+), Copernicus placed the sun in the middle of the solar system (1508). In the following century, scientist such as Gallileo, Kepler, William Harvey, Newton, van Leewanhoek, Robert Boyle and Liebniz were all hard at work. And Calvin was writing in the same century.

The doctrine of creation that previously connected Christian thought to the whole of nature was reinterpreted. [God is now seen as separate from the world. Man follows accordingly.]

But Christianity is not static. It may have some static thinkers, but the religion is more dynamic. In the Protestant tradition, for example – and here is what I think Dr. DeWitt is getting at – Protestants are best at recovering neglected Biblical themes and here we can return science and nature to faith. Restoring stewardship – now we are back to Genesis – is where we need to be headed in environmental ethics. We are to serve and to keep. This is the dynamic of keeping the garden.

Let’s continue to think of ways to connect faith, farming and the environment.