New Clear Vision

constructive commentary for the chronically farsighted

Agriculture and Democracy

July 27, 2012 By: NCVeditor Category: Ecology, Economy, Evaggelos Vallianatos

Too Few Farms, and These Too Large

by Evaggelos Vallianatos

Walter Goldschmidt, 1913-2010, was an anthropologist who worked for the US Department of Agriculture. In the early 1940s, he brought to light the undoing of rural America by large farmers and warned USDA officials that large farmers were destabilizing rural communities in the Central Valley of California.[1]

Giant agriculture and democracy

Goldschmidt was the first American scholar in the twentieth century who documented the relationship between farming and democracy. He knew rural America had been under attack by large farmers for several decades. He witnessed American agriculture change from a way of life for raising food and sustaining democratic society to a business for making money and exerting political influence. This has had, as Goldschmidt predicted, unforeseeable deleterious consequences for nature, food, human health and democracy. One can visualize this giant agriculture as a massive factory that has taken roots in the land, industrializing both farming and food and farmers, making rural America a colony for the extraction of profit. Giant agriculture is leaving behind millions of broken family farms. It has contaminated water and land, disrupted and poisoned nature, and created a wounded rural America open to conquest by urban culture and power.

The trouble began in the nineteenth century when the mechanization of the world changed both society and nature. According to the 1884 California State Agricultural Society, the fear in the 1880s was that “there will be too few farms and these too large. A republic cannot long survive when the lands are concentrated in the hands of a few men. Any man will fight for his home, but it takes a very brave man to fight for the privilege of working for half wages.”[2]

This fear of large farms suppressing democracy materialized in the twentieth century.

F. H. Newell was the first director of the US Reclamation Service, implementing the 1902 Reclamation Act to water the desert in the American West for the purposes of creating family farms. Newell said in 1905:

“The object of the Reclamation Act is not so much to irrigate the land as it is to make homes. President Theodore Roosevelt … has emphasized again and again that the primary objective of the law was to make homes. It is not to irrigate the lands which now belong to large corporations or to small ones; it is not to make these men wealthy; but it is to bring about a condition whereby that land shall be put into the hands of the small owner, whereby the man with a family can get enough land to support that family, to become a good citizen, and to have all the comforts and necessities which rightly belong to an American citizen.”[3]

In April 1939, John Steinbeck published “The Grapes of Wrath,” in which he documented the tragic social effects and excessive political power of giant agriculture, especially in California. He portrayed the degradation of rural people fleeing a natural disaster, and the near slavery conditions they had to accept in the plantations of large farmers to avoid starvation. In the summer of 1939, W. B. “Bill” Camp, a pillar of the agribusiness community of California, supervised the burning and banning of “The Grapes of Wrath” from the schools and libraries of Kern County, California.[4]

World War II accelerated the closing of ranks between the state and large farmers. I define large farmers those owning more than 160 acres. Why 160 acres? Because the Reclamation Act forbade public water subsidies to any farmer with more than 160 acres of land. However, the US Department of Agriculture and the Department of the Interior, which has been in charge of federal lands and water, ignored the Reclamation Act and put all their eggs in the large farmer-corporate basket. They did that with huge subsidies that allowed large farms to remain large and in fact grow even larger. In the American Southwest the subsidies took the form of nearly free water, which converted deserts into farms and the Southwest into a hydraulic empire.[5]

The effect of state support of large farms is evident in the Central Valley, which is a huge valley taking up half of California. It is some 450 miles long and about 40 to 60 miles wide. It starts in the north, in Shasta County, and goes all the way in the south, to Kern County where large farmers burned Steinbeck’s “The Grapes of Wrath.” Most of the land of this 42,000 square miles region is flat and fertile, enriched by rivers, lakes, wetlands and great aquifers. Tulare County alone earns billions from its crops. According to its 2010 “Agricultural Crop and Livestock Report,” the county earned $4,863,705,000. Milk was worth $1,604,172,000. And fruit and nuts were valued at $2,091,230,000. Vegetables earned $20,245,000.

The Central Valley was also fertile in the late 1930s and early 1940s when Goldschmidt made it his laboratory. He detected signs of agricultural and political aggression and social and political decay. He focused his research on Arvin and Dinuba, two towns that captured the assets and problems of the Central Valley. Senior USDA managers tried to suppress Goldschmidt’s study, but it was too late. Goldschmidt passed his report to the US Senate Small Business Committee that published the report in the Congressional Record. USDA fired Goldschmidt.

I met Goldschmidt in the 1980s in Washington, DC, and Florida. He was an elderly scholar, by then professor emeritus of anthropology at UCLA. The moment I mentioned his Arvin-Dinuba study, he lighted up and defended his findings vigorously, saying the situation was getting worse, and not merely in the Central Valley. He had contempt for USDA, large farmers, and for most scholars who stay clear of controversial issues like the relationship between agriculture and democracy. The image of Goldschmidt never left me. His study and our brief meeting turned him into a hero in my mind. I always wanted to visit Arvin and Dinuba.

Finally, I fulfilled my Arvin and Dinuba wish in February 2012. I wanted to get an idea of the impact large farms had on those two towns. Were Arvin and Dinuba still towns? My mind kept racing to the fact that I was about to look at Arvin and Dinuba I knew merely from reading the pioneering study by Goldschmidt dated some 70 years ago.

I found only one person who recognized Goldschmidt’s name. This was Linda Barkley, Deputy City Clerk in Dinuba. Her colleagues described her to me as local historian. I talked to Barkley and a few local people in Arvin, Dinuba and the nearby towns of Hanford and Visalia. Very shortly after arriving in Arvin and Dinuba, I could see destruction all around me. The shopping malls, the few streets with nice-looking homes (only in Hanford), and the incredible number of cars everywhere, cannot hide the social and ecological disintegration brought about by large farms in the Central Valley.

My informants were cautious. They live in Arvin, Dinuba and Hanford of the Central Valley. One of them, a large farmer, grows walnut trees in hundreds of acres of land. The stories I heard from my informants complement scholarly research. In addition, they put meat and bones to usually abstract studies.

The emperors of rural America

Large farmers, with farms thousands of acres, tens of thousands of acres, and hundreds or thousands of acres in size, have tremendous power. You can visualize that power standing on the border of any such large farm. You see nothing but the horizon in the far distance touching the flat land. Coming as I did from Greek culture where farms are tiny, each bordering the neighboring farm with beautiful small stone walls or trees, the vast expanse of merely land without any fences or houses or trees, is always shocking. But after my bewilderment wears thin, I realize the monstrous farms I am examining produce most of America’s food. Large farmers are the emperors of rural America. The federal government lavishes more than $20 billion of subsidies on them every year. USDA has hundreds of scientists and dozens of laboratories devoted to serving large farmers. The country’s 65 agricultural universities do the bidding of large farmers: justifying their existence by equating what they do with science. For example, land grant universities invented and developed pesticides and the machinery of agribusiness. They also provide the numerous entomologists, crop disease specialists, soil scientists, agronomists and other experts monitoring the extremely vulnerable system of the one-crop plantations dominating the farming of America. The same agricultural scientists invented the genetic engineering of crops, now the mainstay of corporations like Monsanto.

Another example: In 2003-2004, I was a visiting professor at the University of Maryland, which is a land grant university. I was teaching agrarian-environmental politics in a department known as “Natural Resource Sciences.” My colleagues were agronomists, soil scientists, biologists, and water experts. Yet, with the exception of a soils professor, the others did not even use words like sustainable or organic or family farming. They only studied and taught agribusiness. Large farmers were their models. This blinded them to the real threat of water contamination by chicken factories in Maryland. Indeed, chicken pollution is killing the Chesapeake Bay, the natural treasure of Maryland. Yet the agricultural scientists of the University of Maryland remain silent. They prefer the high-stakes political game of agribusiness to a healthy environment and a flourishing family farming economy and society.

While at the University of Maryland, I also discovered that all fast food chains had a niche in the student cafeteria. This is unfortunate because Maryland is a small state that could easily have been a model of good food, family farming, and environmental protection for the rest of the country. In 2011, Maryland had 12,800 farms whose average size, according to the Maryland Department of Agriculture, is 160 acres. Only 90 of these farms are organic.[6]

Large farmers right away dismiss the hazards of pesticides. They know they could not be large farmers without them. That is why they defend pesticides, toning down their risks, equating them with modernity and science. Large farmers have also purchased the allegiance of the medical and scientific and regulatory establishments. This “purchase” does not take place out in the open. The process of corruption in America, for example, starts at the universities where scientists work very closely with the industry, which pours in money to professors for research. The government also blesses this relationship by funding academics and delivering their inventions to the industry. Then the industry sends its lobbyists to convert Congress and the government to its agenda. The product of this government-industry-universities complex is as much the nuclear bomb as it is industrialized agriculture. In fact, Rachel Carson decried this complex in her great book, “Silent Spring”. She spoke passionately against both the bomb and pesticides. Another American scientist, Robert van den Bosch, distinguished scientist and professor of biology at the University of California-Berkeley until his premature death in 1978, wrote “The Pesticide Conspiracy”, a scholarly book in which he accused the industry of behaving like the mafia. He was equally critical of the government and the academic community for their questionable and shady connections to the industry.[7]

Paul Ehrlich, professor of biological sciences at Stanford University, wrote the Preface to “The Pesticide Conspiracy.” Ehrlich praised van den Bosch for his original contributions to ecology and biological pest control. He agreed van den Bosch was right directing his anger against the industry-government-academic complex that perpetuates the poisoning of our food and the natural world. According to Ehrlich, Robert van den Bosch documented a story of “stupidity, venality, and corruption”: “the suppression of research on alternative [farming] systems, the sale of the honorable traditions of the Entomological Society of America for a mess of booze, the pressure put on scientists in state universities to suppress results unfavorable to the ‘pesticide mafia,’ the disgrace of the [US] Department of Agriculture, the rape of the [US Environmental Protection Agency] EPA – the whole tragic story.” The University of California Press honored van den Bosch by reissuing “The Pesticide Conspiracy” in 1989. In the Foreword of the new edition, the members of the Division of Biological Control of the University of California at Berkeley and Riverside described van den Bosch as “one of the world’s foremost experts in the field of biological control [of pests].”

Invisible disease and death

Ehrlich called van den Bosch an “insider” to the business of pest control. I was an “insider” at the EPA and I am not surprised by the revelations of “The Pesticide Conspiracy.” Van den Bosch reported the truth, the whole tragic truth. Thus under the veneer of science and democracy we have lots of activity — the writing of legislation, the appropriation of money, appointments to the highest ranks of government, decisions not to enforce the law, industry lobbying, outsourcing of vital government responsibilities to profit-driven businesses, testing of chemicals by the owners of chemicals, and risk assessment — that may be illegal and probably unethical. Out of this context, relationships between scientists, business and government become suspect. They make an extremely abnormal and dangerous situation – the poisoning of our food and drinking water and the natural world — quite normal.[8] After all, the residents of the Central Valley, like the residents of any other agricultural region in societies with industrialized farming, are getting a huge dose of pesticides year in and year out. They breathe, touch and eat the chemical stuff. Their rate of disease and cancer in particular must of necessity be high. In fact, it is. According to unpublished US EPA data of the 1980s, farmers and those living close to farmers — in this case all people living in the Central Valley — die at twice the rate from cancer than non-farmers. Yet, you would not know that if you rely on published official and academic studies and statistics.

The public also is in the dark about the ecological costs of large farmers who ignore things they borrow from future generations like the huge amounts of water they use daily. Farming Central Valley is profitable but demands profligate amounts of water.

I met one of those large farmers. He has cancer but declares pesticides innocent of all harm. He said to me his doctor assured him “pesticides had nothing to do” with his cancer. This farmer, an exceptionally kind and hospitable man, also thought nothing about global warming, dismissing it as a hoax. And when I urged him to slowly abandon his conventional agribusiness practices for organic farming methods, he laughed. He said, “Socrates, you are eating my food and it is not organic. I use the minimum amount of water for my trees.” (He called me Socrates because of the trouble he had in pronouncing Evaggelos.) He said his troubles are solely with regulators. He employs about 10 workers from Mexico but has no confidence that white American citizens would be interested in working for him or any other farmer.

Behind his home, he has a workshop filled with machines: several tractors, a variety of trucks, and specialized machinery for the cultivation and harvesting of walnut trees.

But the man also likes guns. His wife said there’s a state prison not far away from her home. Her husband, she said, must be prepared for all eventualities. This meant owning lots of guns. Their armory even includes a replica Civil War cannon. The heavy cannon was on a truck platform. I asked him if he ever fired the cannon, and he immediately invited me to see him use the cannon. His wife and I got into his truck. He drove the truck, already hooked to the platform carrying the cannon, to the middle of his property. This was a country road next to a cement ditch. The countless walnut trees looked naked. Like soldiers in a geometrical pattern and without leaves, they hugged the evening air and declining light. The sun looked red, painting the western sky with bright color.

Meanwhile, the walnut grower climbed on the platform and slowly prepared the cannon, which he blasted twice. Instead of real cannon balls, he uses bowling balls. I watched the cannon carefully but saw no balls coming out of the cannon. A terrible sound and smoke covered the platform. Instinctively, I moved backwards. I looked at my smiling farmer friend with disbelief and delight. His political views, like his cannon, are more in accord with those of Republican politicians, though he is liberal on religion.

My large farmer friend invited me on a tour of a family dairy holding some 200 cows. The animals looked healthy and the dairy was clean. A dozen cows at a time went within iron enclosures where machines milked them. One did not see a drop of white milk, only tubes grabbing the teats of cows for a few minutes, sucking all the milk. A worker in tall black plastic boots walked next to the iron enclosures inspecting the milking machines. Then, suddenly, the enclosures opened and one cow after another, their ears labeled with bright large numbers, walked away relieved of their milk until the next period of milking.

I looked at some of the cows and a few young calves in the eyes, trying to get close to them. They backed off. Neither of us felt comfortable with the other. The cows behind bars are forced to a rigid regimen of feeding, milking and, in two years, slaughter for hamburgers. Perhaps this awful fate has become encoded in the cows’ genes. I noticed there was no green field for the cows to eat grass. Next to the enclosed space holding the cows, there are small mountains of feed. Every so often, a truck would move slowly next to the fence enclosure and spill feed all along the length of the fence. The cows, taking their time, would perpetually be munching on the palletized food. Unwillingly, they had been made into milk and meat machines. The owner said to me he had the dairy since 1969.

I told my host about Goldschmidt’s findings: large farmers sucking the life out of small towns. They buy their feed and tools and machinery from big manufacturers; they borrow money from large banks; and there are few of them in control of most of the available land. This trade all but kills small business and local taxes; thus the town shuts down in large measure. My friend, however, rejected that argument, telling me he has worked hard for many years benefiting his hometown. He also admitted he joined the Tulare County Farm Bureau just recently because, for several years, he did not agree with the politics of the Farm Bureau. Thus this large farmer is his own man.

Arvin and Dinuba

Yet Arvin is a fact. Its downtown is desolate. Most of its houses are tiny and temporary. Approaching it was like going through a waste dump. The stench was unbearable. Perhaps the odors came from the dairies on its borders. Most dairies around Arvin and Dinuba are large farms. And large farms ruined Arvin. It is nothing if not a huge rural animal, mechanical, and chemical slum. I was taking pictures of what looked like an immense grapevine, when a shining white truck stopped next to me. The driver was a Mexican man working for one of the vast table grape farms of Arvin. He said he had been working for 40 years and now he was the manager of the workers. However, he owned no land and his children had no interest in following on his footsteps. He saw nothing wrong in few farmers owning vast tracks of land. He disagreed that Arvin was a colony of large farms.

However, people living in Arvin are mere cogs in the agribusiness colossus. Table grape farms and almond plantations, thousands of acres in size, dominate the lonely flat land. The almond trees, in their white flowers, were beautiful. But I would not like being a honeybee pollinating almond trees during the spray season. Behind each blossom there would be death in the form of poison mist or fatal danger in microscopic babbles full of nerve poison. Some 60 percent of honeybees visiting an almond plantation die.[9] Armies of Hispanic farm workers harvest the crop, moving on trucks or stooped in the fields, shabbily dressed, and, often, obese. They keep this thriving empire of one or two crops alive.

If you make the effort to find the “town” of Arvin, you see a settlement, not a town. Arvin has no hospital or entertainment. Its public library is open 3 days a week. In fact, even that little library belongs to the county, not Arvin. Its 20,000 people are mostly from Mexico and Central America. They barely speak or understand English. They buy their food from only one Mexican supermarket.

Dinuba also has about 20,000 people. Dinuba fares better than Arvin because it has had a stronger agrarian base than Arvin. Dinuba in the 1940s had plenty of small family farms that took care of their community. But in the last 70 years that base has eroded to the point that now, in the place of small farmers producing good food and wealth for themselves and the community, giant corporate citrus and dairy farms dominate both society and economy. Add to that Wal-Mart, the giant store putting small stores out of business, and the effect is crippling on Dinuba.

I spoke to Joanne Cedbetter, a Dinuba rancher, teacher for 35 years, and a volunteer at the Dinuba Historical Society. This Society is housed in a handsome house that used to serve the Southern Pacific Railroad. Dinuba and other small towns came into being in the late nineteenth century to serve the railroad. A huge room of the “Depot Museum” is pasted with pictures outlining the agricultural history of Dinuba. A large picture highlighted the “raisin day” of 1915. One sees uniformed musicians next to horse riders ready for a parade. Raisins remained at the top of Dinuba crops down to 1960s where, in another picture, Dinuba is called “Raisinland — USA: Home of the Emperor.”

Cedbetter said to me Dinuba no longer has a “downtown” or a small business class. She recounted the good old times when, indeed, Dinuba was a thriving rural town with a middle class. She, too, put the blame for the decline and fall of rural society in the Central Valley on the shoulders of industrialized large corporate farms. The population of Dinuba, like the population of Arvin, is overwhelmingly Hispanic.

This population reversal from white to Hispanics in both Arvin and Dinuba is as ominous as the disappearance of the middle class. The people I met told me that whites were in the vast majority down to the 1960s. Indeed, whites from the dust bowl states of Oklahoma and Kansas would also harvest the crops in the Central Valley. But the take over of farming in the Central Valley by large farmers undid society so thoroughly that now the Central Valley has become entirely a plantation with a tiny number of white large farmers owning the land and a vast number of Hispanics doing the work. This is an unsustainable and dangerous precedent in a society still calling itself democratic. You cannot have democracy when so few control the land and have to import foreigners to do the work. That is why I am bothered by this perverse reality. I am not against Mexicans or any other foreigners. I immigrated to the United States from Greece. I love democracy and I will continue to highlight its advantages like making possible the flourishing of small family farmers who raise wholesome food as much as healthy communities and civilization, including protecting the natural world. But this extraordinary fact of the wholesale destruction of rural America by large farmers relying on imported cheap labor is rarely being discussed because the politically correct sociologists and other academic experts avoid it like a plague. After all, what would the alternative be? Redistribute the land to thousands to recreate a small class of family farmers? I would say, yes. And while large farmers are still the emperors of rural America, who would harvest the country’s food? So better be quiet, the nameless thousands of farm workers from Mexico are doing us a favor.

When a rural town is in the midst of large farms, Goldschmidt said, it becomes like a transient camp, its public services all but disappear, and small business shuts down. Democratic life declines. The only jobs left in the town are jobs serving agribusiness. Goldschmidt described these symptoms of disease now afflicting Arvin and Dinuba — Arvin being in a state of coma, Dinuba barely hanging in. As for farmers with farms as large as 160 acres or more, whenever they find themselves in the company of agribusiness, they are forced to abandon farming. That also happened to the small farmers of Arvin and Dinuba.

In 1990, Linda Lobao of Ohio State University published the results of her sociological study on the effects of industrialized farming on rural communities. She picked up where Goldschmidt had left off. Her data came from 3,000 US counties. Like Goldschmidt, she found decay in communities dependent on large farms. In 2006, Curtis Stofferahn of the University of North Dakota updated the work of Lobao. In summarizing the findings from 50 years of social science research, he reached the following conclusions: Industrialized agriculture “disrupts the social fabric of communities… poses environmental threats where livestock production is concentrated; and is likely to create a new pattern of ‘haves and have nots.’”[10] In other words, Lobao and Stofferahn confirmed the conclusions of Goldschmidt, indeed, the fear of the 1884 California State Agricultural Society: that large farms are bad for society and democracy.

The application of poison in the natural world

Carl Buckingham Koford, an American ecologist, reported the ecological upheaval caused by pesticides, without which large-scale monoculture farming is difficult or impossible. In 1958, he attended an international ecological conference in Poland. He decried the barbaric habit of ranchers, farmers, and government agencies using sodium fluoroacetate, a chemical known largely by a number, 1080, which exterminates wildlife, especially beneficial rodents.

“Aside from killing prairie dogs,” Koford says, “continuous distribution of compound 1080 has had other effects on animal communities. The chemical is extremely toxic and kills other grain-eating mammals, such as cottontails. The poison is stable, even in animal tissue, so that carnivores which feed on poisoned rodents are often killed. Coyotes (Canis latrans) have nearly disappeared from the plains because of secondary poisoning. In addition, application of poison brings about a cataclysmic alteration in the relative populations of different mammals, followed by various coactions between species and changes in their effects on plants and soils.”[11]

A cataclysm is a destructive upheaval, a blotting out of culture and life, an exact metaphor on what industrialized agriculture has been doing to nature and rural society alike. Koford was right. Spreading poison in prairie dog ‘towns’ was annihilation to more than the dogs that ate the poison. Just as rural towns fall apart when their family farmers go under, so does the community of wild animals around a prairie dog town go to pieces when prairie dogs get into trouble. Koford’s affection for prairie dogs was the affection of a biologist who understood nature. Rodents, he said, were beneficial species to man. “They improved the soil and checked unwanted plants and shrubs. They were food to other animals, and enlivened the scenery. What more could we expect of any animal?”

The only wild animal I saw in the Central Valley was a wolf. This was the time when the walnut grower was about to fire his cannon. The wolf was running at some distance away from us among the walnut trees. He saw us and he saw danger.

A modest proposal

I have spent some 30 years studying the behavior of human beings toward land, agriculture and the natural world. And since I live in America, most of my theoretical knowledge and experience about land, agriculture and nature reflect in some way what I learned in the United States. The situation is dire. “The Pesticide Conspiracy” is still there in a more virulent form. Cigarette science and policy has become the model for the industry in the United States and the rest of the world. America is fighting wars. It has no patience or courage to defend and protect public health and nature. To some degree it outsources science policy and environmental protection to polluters. And just like the government protects banks “too large to fail,” the government is also protecting large farms. Thus, solutions are not easy.

Nevertheless, millions of people know this abnormal situation cannot last that much longer. Those valuing human health, life, democracy and the natural world, can redress the gigantism of American agriculture by, among other things political, eating organic food. Their dollars for organic food will multiply the number of organic farmers and, indirectly, diminish the power of large farmers. Ideally, of course, large farmers owning more than, say, 160 or, at most, 320 acres of land ought to be directed to sell the excess of their land to landless farmers. The sacrifice would not affect too many farmers as the USDA reports that, in 2011, the average size of farms was 418 acres.[12] The government ought to use all the subsidies to giant agriculture (which amount to more than 20 billion dollars per year) to fund this modest land reform.

Downsizing large farms is very practical as well. It would be good for democracy, job creation and better and healthier food and cleaner and safer drinking water. Fewer Americans would be afflicted and die from cancer. Smaller farms would also bring rural America back to life. No more rural towns would have the fate of Arvin and Dinuba. Another significant consequence of a new human-scale American agriculture would be a boost to the natural world: fewer birds and beneficial insects and plants (weeds) dying, less pollution, more biodiversity, and more resilient ecosystems. The country’s contribution to global warming, for example, would be reduced. Finally, the comeback of small farms would challenge the dominance of genetically engineered crops, which are suited to large monocultures and to ‘farming without farmers’. The signal from such a metamorphosis would be a new lease on life on the planet as the rest of the world would, in all likelihood, follow a return to ecological farming and rural development.

Evaggelos Vallianatos, former EPA analyst, is the author of several books, including “Poison Spring” (forthcoming, Bloomsbury Press).


1. Walter Goldschmidt, As You Sow: Three Studies in the Social Consequences of Agribusiness (First published in 1947, Montclair, NJ: Allanheld, Osmun and Co., 1978).

2. Transactions of California State Agricultural Society (1884), 285.

3. Quoted by Senator Gaylord Nelson in Will the Family Farm Survive in America? Joint Hearings Before the Select Committee on Small Business and the Committee on Interior and Insular Affairs, United States Senate, Ninety-Fourth Congress, First Session, Part 1A, Federal Reclamation Policy, July 17 and 22, 1975 (Washington, DC: US Government Printing Office, 1976), 184.

4. Rick Wartzman, Obscene in the Extreme: The Burning and Banning of John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath (New York: Public Affairs, 2008).

5. Donald Worster, Rivers of Empire: Water, Aridity, and the Growth of the American West (New York: Oxford University Press, 1985); Marc Reisner, Cadillac Desert: The American West and its Disappearing Water (New York: Penguin Books, 1987); William deBuys, A Great Aridity (New York: Oxford University Press, 2012).

6. Maryland Department of Agriculture, 2011; USDA, National Agricultural Statistics Service, Maryland and Delaware Agri-Facts, February 24, 2011.

7. Robert van den Bosch, The Pesticide Conspiracy (New York: Doubleday, 1978).

8. Rachel Carson, Silent Spring (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1962); G. M. Woodwell, W. M. Malcolm and R. H. Whittaker, “A-Bombs, Bugbombs, and Us,” in The Subversive Science, ed. Paul Shepard and Daniel McKinley (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1969), 230-241; Frank E. Egler, “Pesticides – in Our Ecosystem,” in Ibid., 245-267;Evaggelos Vallianatos, This Land is Their Land: How Corporate farms Threaten the World (Monroe, Maine: Common Courage Press, 2006); Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. Conway, Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming (New York: Bloomsbury Press, 2010).

9. Evaggelos Vallianatos, This Land is Their Land, 68-71; US National Research Council, Some Pollinator Populations Declining (Washington, DC: National Academy of Science Press, October 18, 2006);Evaggelos Vallianatos, “Honeybees in Danger,” Truthout, 12 April 2009.

10. C. W. Stofferahn, Industrialized farming and its relationship to community well-being: An update of a 2000 report by Linda Lobao. Prepared for the State of North Dakota, Office of the Attorney General. For case: State of North Dakota versus Crosslands, North Dakota District Court, September 2006, 6-11, 30-32.

11. Carl B. Koford, “The Prairie Dog of the North American Plains and its Relations with Plants, Soil, and Land Use,” Symposium: Ecology and Management of Wild Grazing Animals in Temperate Zones (Warsaw: International Union of Conservation of Nature, 1960), 340.

12. USDA, National Agricultural Statistics Service, Maryland and Delaware Agri-Facts, February 24, 2011.

0 Comments to “Agriculture and Democracy”

  1. “The trouble began in the nineteenth century when the mechanization of the world changed both society and nature.”

    While mechanization and industrialization offered the technology for a shift away from the agrarian life, it was political policy and it’s handmaiden, war policy, that drove the transition. The Civil War became the template for what American industrial capitalism would do to the tradition of independent family farms and Jeffersonian democracy, both at home and abroad.

    From Why America Failed: The Roots of Imperial Decline by Morris Berman (2012):

    Nearly everything in modern American history turns on the Civil War, because the nascent ideology of America…requires us to “fix” traditional societies and eliminate obstacles to progress. With the Civil War, these two goals converged.

    Charles Beard, in The Rise of American Civilization (1927), saw the war as a struggle between two conflicting economies, the watershed division between the agricultural era and the industrial era in American history. For him, slavery was more of a footnote to the war, as the most obvious result of the war was the ascendancy of Northern capitalism and the emergence of a plutocracy in the United States.

    Historians James McPherson and Eric Foner see the conflict as a clash of worldviews…and conclude with the “conviction that North and South represented two social systems whose values, interests, and future prospects were in sharp, perhaps mortal, conflict with one another…An attack not simply on the institution of slavery but upon southern society itself was thus at the heart of the Republican mentality.”

    “Nowhere”, writes the Italian historian Raimondo Luraghi, “has the industrial revolution…ever been achieved except by compelling agriculture to pay for it”

    Between 1800 and 1860, the proportion of the labor force engaged in agriculture in the North dropped from 70% to 40%; in the South, the proportion held fast at 80%. One tenth of Southerners lived in urban areas; 25% of Northerners did.

    In the antebellum period, the idealization of the self-made man was largely a myth. During that period, 4% of the inhabitants of New York City controlled 50% of the wealth, and only a tiny percentage of the wealthy were self-made; the vast majority being born into wealthy families. As for “free labor” – autonomous or entrepreneurial labor – the reality is that…[i]n 1859, almost 60% of the workforce was employed by another, not economically independent (self-employed).

    “Wage slavery” was a popular phrase in the Gilded Age (during the 1870s and 1880s, the U.S. economy rose at the fastest rate in its history) – a concept that Southerners were bandying about decades earlier. Southerners saw the Linconesque vision of a “race for life” grotesque. They looked North and saw a society of frenetic activity, selfishness and greed and wanted no part of it.

    The treatment of the South by the North was the template for the way the United States would come to treat any nation that got in the way of progress: not merely a scorched earth policy, but a scorched soul policy…What the Cincinnati Gazette called introducing “the Northern system of life” later became the American way of life, exported at the muzzle of a gun.

    Lincoln told an official of the Interior Department in 1862 that, as of 1863, “the character of the war will be changed. It will be one of subjugation… The South is to be destroyed and replaced by new propositions and new ideas”. There was an incessant repetition of the theme of how it was necessary to “Northernize the South”. Thaddeus Stevens, leader of the radical faction of the Republicans in the House of Representaives, believed this would have to “involve the desolation of the South”, and in his speeches of 1865 he said that the Southern institutions “must be broken up and relaid…This can only be done by treating them and holding them as a conquered people.”

    By 1865, the South was “an economic desert”. A quarter of the Confederacy’s white men of military age perished, along with 40% of Southern livestock, 50% of Southern farm machinery and thousands of miles of railroads. Whereas in 1860 the South had 30% of the national wealth, in 1870 it had only 12%.


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