Final Thoughts on Large Scale Agriculture

Over the past semester, my thoughts on conservation of the Bay has stayed very similar to what it was in regards to buffer zones, large scale agriculture, and recreation on the water, but I have additionally gained more understanding to modern day agricultural processes in specific. With this new understanding to practices on the land, I am able to further compare its importance to the region despite implications such as runoff and land exhaustion to works of Wendell Berry who suggests for a scaling down of the modern day farming process.

 

Proper land or animal husbandry comes up many times throughout much of Berry’s works, which as he describes it allows for the farmer to become more connected to his livelihood. From advancements in mechanization, chemicals, and standards that come with new styles of mass producing monocultures, Berry strongly suggests there is a great disconnect between the land and its people. For me I strongly disagree with this in that Berry goes along the lines of the fact that through new styles of  agriculture a sense for care or husbandry is lost. While visiting with local farmers this week it is exactly opposite. You do have people who adapted new styles to stay afloat as farmers, but it really was apparent that they style held so much pride for their work and land they earn a living from every day.

 

Specifically in Berry’s essay, he introduces the problem that even some of the earliest tractors posed on the husbandry of the land. This issue presented was the loss of time spent recuperating during work by hand. He elaborates on the process of working a tractor by concluding, “tirelessness and speed enforce a second, more perilous change in the way the boy sees the farm: seeing it as ground to be got over as fast as possible and ideally, without stopping, he has taken on the psychology of a traveler by interstate highway or by air” (Berry, 92). To me basing his observations solely on speed of practice should not determine one’s connectedness to land. More is clearly involved in today’s practice because of the tractor that is increasingly mitigating the impacts on land such as the ability to implement cover crops to reduce runoff and restore nitrogen levels in the soil during months where harvests of any crop aren’t common. This can further elaborate on the increased soil husbandry of the land because of the tractor.

 

To me the writing was on the wall for food production in america to increase at the rate it did especially after the mid 1900s and WWI and WWII. To feed america, one must note that even with the technologies made to increase yield per acre, more land was to be needed for production. The tractor was also a must for the farmer, and as time went on as Berry made mention, the tractors and technologies became more grandiose and now from what we have seen have lead to a point where a tractor can cost upwards of a half a million and practically drive itself. This does not mean however that the farmer should think any less of the land and clearly needs to have good measures to follow in order to have the highest yield so much consideration is placed for the land. More specifically technologies that large scale farmers use such as Trey Hill of Harborview Farms have allowed for progression to protect species of pollinators, and other creatures that otherwise would be harmed by such processes.

 

In Berry’s vision, the ideal farm could not work in a capitalist society today as a business. The sort of methods would require food prices to skyrocket to keep up with labor costs. The yields of cheaply sourced food production have already gained a stronghold on most food markets in america. Though the sound of production sourcing the most purest ways of farming seems all well in great, it could only work for hobbyists.

 

In conclusion, my viewpoints at the beginning of the semester really focused narrowly on how the land impacts the water and that these poor influences need to be mitigated. The argument is much more in depth with the fact that on land practices first greatly impact the land itself first and foremost. This is through mainly commercialised farming which to some seems impure but to me still holds much of its primal connections to proper husbandry to the environment in contrast to works of Wendell Berry. One must also note the complete dependence for these practices which justifies its practicality.

 

Berry, W. (2009). Bringing it to the table: on farming and food. Berkeley: Counterpoint.

 

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Comparative Compromise

 

Throughout the comparative study portion of the Chesapeake Semester, many parallels can be made between communities and lifestyles of the peoples in these two very different places. The theory of cultural materialism brought forward by famous anthropologist and professor at New York’s Columbia University Marvin Harris, can be applied to this comparative study. In his 1968 publishing of “Rise of Anthropological Theory”, the main premise of the phenomena known as Cultural Materialism, is the rise and advancement of society in aspects such as politics, social life, and infrastructure based primarily on natural resources available. As mentioned this goes hand in hand with how the societies of the Bay and Belize evolved so similarly due to  available natural resources. These juxtapositions of the attitudes, way of living, and means of income in these regions can be based upon the theory of cultural materialism.

 

For how cultural materialism applies to the comparative study portion of our trip, we are able to first analyze the similarities of Tobacco Caye to Smith Island. Tobacco Caye is an island situated in the Belize Barrier Reef Reserve and was once primarily a fishing village due to its relative proximity to abundant resources. The same can be said for the purpose of establishing a community on Smith Island. This exemplifies the theory of cultural materialism with its application to the resources available which are flourishing fisheries, then the establishment of a village based solely upon income derived from that market. Surprisingly attitude towards climate change can also be analyzed as an impacted ideology based on cultural materialism. Similar attitudes of fishermen Mark Kitching of Smith Island, and Dave Geban on the relative lack of impact climate change has on their way of life. Overall the basis of their argument lies with the fact that island degradation is caused by erosion. The impact of cultural materialism is evident here especially through their dependency and prioritizing of earning money due to increased stressors on their fishing market, rather than preoccupying their time with something not noticeable to the naked eye. This also plays a role in how the cultures of both are slowly shifting from watermen communities to more profitable industries like tourism mainly. This then leads to a decline in local culture which overall can be traced back to the availability, or lack thereof of natural resources.  

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(Photo taken on Tobacco Caye of Dave Geban, a local fisherman)

In addition, to the comparison between Smith Island and Tobacco Caye, I was also able to compare our practices of large scale monocropping to agriculture present in Belize. In Belize there certainly is a lack of large monocropping unlike here in the United States and more specifically the Eastern Shore. In the village of Blue Creek this monocropping style is present, but only with the Mennonite people who immigrated to Belize around the 16th century reformation period in Northern Europe ( “Mennonites.”). The other more indicative side to agriculture is of the Mayan peoples which relies almost exclusively on subsidence. This reflects upon the early development of the Mayan during the period of Mayan rule over this region. Because of resources like a year round planting season and ample acreage to utilize, the Mayans like Native Americans of the Chesapeake utilized slash and burn style agriculture. The only difference is what came next for these civilizations which is the introduction of foreigners to the land. Tobacco soon dominated the Chesapeake region due to its importation to the area and relative demand from the old world markets. Again, we are able to analyze the resources like soil and availability of the growing season plus a hint of coincidence that the settlers actually profited off this industry here and not elsewhere with similar growing conditions. This further allowed for this shift in the Chesapeake region from one monoculture to the next because of a very interconnected global and state wide markets to supply the actual peoples of the Bay region with necessities. This can compare to the sustenance growth of the Maya for over 1,000 years of their existence, being that they established a system where they did not need help from other areas let alone countries to live, thus balancing a way of life in one main location with many different crops year round. To conclude, it is because of resources like the long growing season, and settlement of foreigners based on the lands resources, which ultimately led to the shift to monoculture here in the U.S. but not in Mayan civilizations in Belize and Guatemala.

 

Lastly, we can apply cultural materialism to technologies seen in both regions that were developed due to similar fisheries. Starting with the Lobster Industry of Belize, elements of technology based on the needs of harvests of spiny lobster are indicative of that society and the one’s of the Chesapeake Bay. Smacks, or small streamlined wooden sailboats were developed around the 1950s in Belize to improve accessibility to more distant fishing grounds as well as making longer trips on the water than ever before (Miriam). These  wooden boats first reflect the accessible resource of wood as a building material still in the 1950s, but also exhibits the need to increase harvest rates to feed a demand in market allowing an economic gain for the fishermen. Similarly in the Bay, oyster harvest replicated a scenario comparable to how Belizean fishermen were led to build Smacks. The establishment of a variety of multipurpose boats in the oystering industry exemplified a shift in resource availability which cause a shift in technology and eventually cultures present on the bay. For example, the scarcity of oyster beds accessible to tongers who only could harvest in depths their wooden tongs allowed them to reach established a need for a new style of harvest with increased efficiency for deeper environments. This strategy was known as dredging and required the need for boats to become faster under sail, so vessel styles that satisfied this need were developed in the 1800s such as Bugeyes and Skipjacks which soon after were scattered all over the Bay (Miller). Like the Smacks, here we can analyze the given resources of wood to build these ships to allow for fishermen to benefit untapped resources of the harvest of lobster and oyster alike which soon after allowed for a cultural transformation to new styles of working.

 

In summation, cultural materialism is responsible for explaining how the built society and ways of its people are ultimately influenced and can be traced back to resource availability. For instance, the fisheries available in the Chesapeake Bay and Belizean reef system are responsible for the development of places like Smith Island and Tobacco Caye as well as the mindsets of people working and living on them. Furthermore, the agricultural harvests of the two regions can be traced back to the origins of settlement. Mayans, because of their solidarity as a sustenance culture based on agriculture and a longer growing season, they did not have a use for monocropping and still do not unlike historically here on the Bay. Lastly, due to fluctuations in harvests of lobster in Belize and oysters in the Chesapeake Bay, people of that region used what resources were available to tap into other aspects of the annual harvests of the two species they couldn’t before, thus changing the way they fished having a significant cultural impact. To conclude, it is clear that the cultural world in regards to how people work, live, and think are shaped or can be traced back almost exclusively to what natural resources and changes in the environment are present. This theory of cultural materialism can then be applied to places like the Chesapeake Bay and Belize through our comparative study on the Chesapeake Semester.

 

Works Cited

 

Buzney, Catherine , and Jon Marcoux. “Cultural Materialism.” Department of Anthropology, The

University of Alabama, anthropology.ua.edu/cultures/cultures.php?culture=Cultural

Materialism.

 

Huitric, Miriam. “Lobster and Conch Fisheries of Belize: a History of Sequential Exploitation.”

Ecology and Society, The Resilience Alliance, 25 Apr. 2005,

www.ecologyandsociety.org/vol10/iss1/art21/.

 

“Mennonites.” Northern Belize – The Culture of Northern Belize with complete information

about the Mennonite culture in the Corozal and Orange Walk Districts of Belize.,

Naturalight Productions Ltd. , http://www.northernbelize.com/cult_mennonite.html.

 

Miller, Henry M. “The Oyster In Chesapeake History.” Historic St. Mary’s City,

http://www.hsmcdigshistory.org/pdf/Oyster.pdf.

Two Sided Assessment On Industry and The Environment

Rob Nixon, an english professor currently working at Princeton University, wrote a book in 2011 called Slow Violence And Environmentalism Of The Poor which outlined a major theme of industry and the environment which is waste. The overlying point of focus on this matter Nixon stressed is the injustice of large industry based on their waste displacement on poorer communities. This plays a two sided issue, the first being the moral disconnections of those using poor countries to their advantage, and the second is in regards to waste in general. My take on the major themes is that yes morally it is not correct to just use weaker nations/places to dispose of waste, but it is hard to just wish waste away. To do this in the most cost efficient way economically makes all the sense in the world. For example in the chapter “Of Vampire Suids and Resource Rebels” highlights the negatives on the costs for a large business to use powerless communities as disposal sites.

 

Before based solely on economics, I was slightly blinded to the health risks associated with this phenomena, in particular the infringement some industry has on infrastructure. This was especially apparent when Nixon wrote the following: “Under such circumstances, visual reminders of theft through modernity’s infrastructural invasions–by oil pipelines or massive hydroelectric dams or toxic tailings from mines–foment rage at life-threatening environmental degradation” (Nixon, 2011 p. 42). Sympathising with the issue now becomes more easy for me to do based both on humanities and economics. Yes it is never acceptable to continue to act once many lives are put in jeopardy because of an industrial decision. Economically this can be assessed by more of a cost of abatement based analysis vs total cost and analyzing marginal cost associated with these two scales. Let’s say figuratively a company sets up an industrial headquarters in a poor part of the country, or a distant country. They do this to maximize profit with low rent/cost of property owning in a place like these mentioned above. Say they have a pipe excreting waste material directly into a controlled lake. Environmentally fish are now found with increased toxins, which then affects humans indirectly through contamination and people become sick. If there is now a lawsuit made against this company asking for “x” amount of dollars, the company should have the right as long as they are still abiding by law to continue using this lake. What the company should do is factor in the cost of cleaning up the waste/paying out the people in the lawsuit vs their total profit. If their is a decrease in profit and a further decreased benefit for people using the lake then the company should make an economically based decision not to if it in their eyes is all about money.

 

Let me elaborate more on the environmental side of things in relation to marginal benefit that speaks to me as an avid fly fisherman. Many new dams are being created in up and coming areas especially in the west and the northwest. For me as a passionate fisher, I look at these dams with a negative view solely based on the fact that they prevent treasured fish like trout and salmon both for recreation, the environment, and intrinsic reasons. On many forums, magazines, and social media sites, it seems like everyday that I get an update on a new petition  

To remove or stop a dam from obstructing native runs of fish species. I never sign them but regardless, if there is such a loss in marginal benefit to an area because of its establishment, then dams should not be utilized. My only internal argument against this is that is the profiting is high, job creation is also high, and based on the fact that it is green electric that is being made then it makes up for its shortcomings environmentally. Overall it is not an issue that should be looked at one sided like Rob Nixon has formulated his argument from. You have to factor in other important features of industry rather than immediately assuming all they are is bad.

Immediate Steps For Smith Island

There are only a few societies in this country that remain as disconnected as Smith Island. This community lies 13 miles from Crisfield Maryland in the Chesapeake Bay. Over the past half century the problem many associate with this area as well as other islands in the Bay is erosion and sea level rise. This problem is chronic to islands of the bay, however it should not be thought of as the number one issue on Smith Island. Smith Island will need to focus more on their existence in the short term, strengthening themselves economically and structurally to protect their culture. The constant fear of the economy crashing on the island due to the loss in population numbers, and the need for new industry has me convinced that for its long term preservation this should be addressed first. Specifically, for the people of Smith Island who are not too convinced in the changing water levels, building a stronger economy is more feasible to rally behind.

 

Overtime, especially in the past 30 years, Smith Island has experienced a great reduction in population numbers which has both imposed on their way of living. For perspective, at a population of around 500 people in the 1990 census of the island, this number now is just under 300 people (Smith Island Vision Plan Released, 2015). A loss of community with that proportion is detrimental to their ways of sustaining decent economic standing on the island (Smith Island Community Profile)As of 2000 the mean income per person on Smith Island was $23,996, with women making around 9.5% more income than men (Smith Island Community Profile). The primary full time male employment opportunity on the island historically has been seasonal watermen making up 32.5% of jobs on the island (Smith Island Community Profile). The issue here is apparent that this job is slowly becoming less and less appealing to men and which can lead them to seeking job opportunities else where such as the main land (Smith Island Vision Plan Released, 2015). To help protect this business we can assess the Released Final Vision Plan for Smith Island. This was produced in response to rebuilding after Hurricane Sandy and the proposed buyout of homes on Smith Island, and was directed to how the small island can prosper and not tank economically. The number one goal brought forward from the council is to protect the watermen culture that exists on the island. The hope is to revitalize the industry by setting up crabbing coop operations that will retain more money locally, as well as pushing for MD fisheries Advisory Committee to allow for increased licensing opportunities for watermen (Smith Island Vision Plan Released, 2015).  

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(Photo taken by myself of a local waterman at Smith Island)

The other side to the overall influx of money to Smith Island is tourism. Tourism lies in a situation of what could possibly be the true future of smith island especially with what some islanders describe as fluctuating fishing industries. The main issue seen when traveling to an island like this is a focused job market. Apart from being a watermen, working at the info center, waiting at the restaurant, or possibly working at the elementary school, it is hard to visibly see opportunity for a job on Smith Island. Tourism could in fact help boost job opportunity on this island. Surprisingly when visiting Smith Island there are little hands-on ecotourism opportunities being that the island is described by many as the “pearl of the Chesapeake”. There are no active tours to explore the marina’s or soft shell pound houses to learn about the most iconic feature of Smith Island which is its soft shell crab harvest. In addition, currently only one sportsman’s outfitter runs out of Tylerton (Smith Island Community Profile). This to me is shocking due to the biodiversity of underwater systems present in the area. While looking deeper into this, common harvest of fish off of smith island are most notably Rockfish, Red Drum, Black Drum, and Bluefish. All species of choice for sport fishermen over the Atlantic Coast. To market this as a larger industry with more available boats to take out and accessible lodging could increase longer term stays on the island rather than the day visitors that frequent the restaurant and museum.

 

With the thought in mind to diversify the island’s economy, a new sustainable harvest can be set in place for watermen to both ease pressures on local fisheries and the pressures of wild harvest numbers. This opportunity is present in oyster aquaculture. This idea made perfect sense when brought up by local Watermen Mark Kitching who is starting to dabble in this industry with a partner from Philadelphia, PA. To gain a better understanding of the possible incomes obtained by medium scale oyster farming operations, a report released by the Virginia Institute of Marine Science was released documenting profit margins of this business. Situationally let’s use a model based on somewhat average repercussions like having a mortality rate of 40%, and an average market price of $0.30 an oyster. With raising of upwards of 250,000 to 1,000,000 oysters, a waterman can make a gross profit of $104,266, and a net average of $66,266 factoring in expenses for new equipment needed for the process (Medium Scale Cultchless Oyster Crop Budgets, 2012). The amount of income possible in this industry could truly diversify the economy of Smith Island, as well as attract more job seeking individuals to the area. These estimates can easily be surpassed with an increase of oysters planted, thus giving us a rough middle ground approximation. There is a need however for investors in this industry because it takes around three years for an oyster to reach harvestable size. Finding the right investors or banks to aid Smith Island in this industry could take pressure off of both local watermen financially, and provide a whole new industry for them to capitalize on.

 

In summation, when trying to achieve long term success, short term practical goal setting is the first step. The example present with an already worsening economy on Smith Island and a lack of opportunity is a larger threat to its existence. For me it would be an interesting economic assessment to see how a pretty controlled community is or is not able to shift trends to a positive direction. Really the present markets that should be tapped into is the increase of tourism or the revitalization of the watermen industry. Both these tasks require a ton of planning and investing, but could also payoff more in the short term rather than the creation of a totally new industry like oyster aquaculture as aforementioned. For long term markets that very well could sustain a steady income to Smith Island, oyster aquaculture could be a viable solution that does require much investment, but will eventually pay off within a decade or less based on current models. With a strengthened economic state the Island then also stands a better chance with developing upon its infrastructure to overcome other issues that may challenge their existence such as hurricanes, erosions, and rising sea levels. Overall there is hope for this Island in the rich culture that lives there, it’s just a matter of proper planning and the correct investors to help rebuild this community.

 

Works Cited

 

Medium Scale Cultchless Oyster Crop Budgets , Virginia Institute of Marine Sciences, www.vims.edu/research/units/centerspartners/map/aquaculture/docs_aqua/Examplemediumscaleoysterbudget.pdf.

 

Smith Island Community Profile. NEFC/NOAA.GOV, www.nefsc.noaa.gov/read/socialsci/pdf/MD/smithisland-md.pdf.

 

Smith Island Vision Plan Released | CBI – Consensus Building Institute, CBI, http://www.cbuilding.org/news/smith-island-vision-plan.

Smith Island Expectations

I first visited smith island on a mission trip for church back in 2012. This little island sparked my imagination of both its existence and the environment around it. It really stood out to me that how could a little group of people last for as long as they have in such an unforgiving body of water such as the chesapeake. I was only introduced to concepts like food and culture of the island on my first visit, but after recently reading Bay Country by Tom Horton last year, I could see there are other complexities facing this community. The most notable in Horton’s piece is how the island is slowly on a downhill spiral through its population, economics, and rising sea waters.

 

With people migrating away from the community of Smith Island as well as an elderly population left behind, there is an inherent danger on this community which is total loss of population. In Bay country, Reverend Henry Zollinhoffer is highlighted as a kind of spokesperson for Smith Islanders. The strong presence of the Methodist church in the community almost means that Zollinhoffer has a good idea of the happenings at all time. In regards to the population Zollinhoffer has noted, “that in six years here he had buried nearly 10 percent of his friends and neighbors” (Horton, p. 115). This means that in such a small community a loss of this many people in the 80s could reflect an overall decline from the population of 800 fifty years prior to 600 people in the 1980 census (Horton, p. 115). “This is almost a one third loss in population in half a century” Horton mentions, which seriously hinders the overall progress/stability of the island (Horton, p. 115).

 

This decline of population as well as other factors such as lower oyster and crab harvests also can explain the worsening economic standings of Smith Island. The main source of income of the island is either tourism or the seafood industry, and to have a community on the decline, this dissuades any waterman to want to come to the island (Horton, p. 115). The only things that keep people coming to Smith Island is best noted by Horton when he notes that, “day-tripping tourists and retirees or second home owners lured by the ridiculously cheap prices of property here” (Horton, p. 115). It really is a fear that the loss of an economy here could directly impact the island’s appeal to newcomers or keeping people here to work and live which could in result in the overall loss of this Smith Island’s rich culture.

 

Another issue facing the island which was briefly noted by people of the island highlighted in Horton’s Bay Country is the loss of island. This to the people of Smith Island has one key factor which is erosion, but to many studying the bay as well as Smith Island has another key factor which is water levels rising. In some areas the land accretion can be marked by nearly 600 feet which clearly is an issue whether it be due to erosion or rising sea levels (Horton, p. 133). When learning about this contradiction in viewpoints of Smith Islanders and claims made by environmentalists it is clear that Smith Islanders are quick to reject climate change as a possible factor in the loss of land overall of their island. It is interesting that a community so engaged in the environment could be so indifferent about scientific evidence which to me could just be a part of their culture. When visiting I would like to gain a better understanding on why they are so against the ideas of sea level rise.

 

All in all, it is hard to fathom that after first visiting the Island once and now studying it especially through the works of Tom Horton there are so many inherent dangers facing its existence. These dangers do not look like they are improving in any way either. The worsening conditions of population size, economics, and loss of land all can provide deeper insights to the future of Smith Island which does not look bright. Visiting it a second time in the upcoming weeks will be much more intriguing to the current happenings on the Island especially with the aspects of its culture and people.

 

Horton, Tom. Bay country. Johns Hopkins University Press, 1994.

Convenience of Photography

The connectedness to your surroundings can be expressed through art. From this semester, I have developed my sense of place through photography. Being consumed enough in photography, I have brought my camera around with me outside the course to document hunts, and other excursions in the area. Reflecting on these pictures allows me to remember the scenery and details of the memory very well. After reading an article recently called “Why you should stop taking pictures on your phone–and learn to draw“ posted by The Philosophers’ Mail highlights the usefulness of drawing in comparison to simply taking pictures.

In class this week we practiced drawing skills like contour and gesture drawings to express our visual sights and emotions in a documented piece. The only problem I faced in this was my ability to draw and allow myself to enjoy the activity like I do with photography. A main point the article previously mentioned makes is that with drawing more detail is analyzed. The article highlights the thoughts of John Ruskin on painting vs photography. Ruskin worked to campaign for four years in the late 19th century to get people back to drawing while the camera was currently gained popularity(The Philosophers’ Mail, n.d). The main goal of his campaign was that drawing teaches people to see regardless of their skills (The Philosophers’ Mail, n.d). For me I can see his argument being that I have little artistic skill, yet drawing makes me focus more on the shape and structure of the scene rather than just pointing a camera and making sure it’s focused.

I disagree with the fact that the majority of people should convert back to drawing because of the pure convenience photography has. In a fast moving world, photography can be more appealing and detailed to the common person’s eye. Even back then, painting requires much time and unless you are very skilled with a trained eye, it is hard for someone else to look at your quick contour or gesture drawings or sketches. With photography one can easily show another a picture which then can be further interpreted by the individual. I feel much more connected to a photo documenting exact colors and depth rather than looking at someone’s drawings and struggling to interpret what exactly the scene looked like of felt like.

In summation however there are perks to a painting, I just don’t believe that it is better for everyone in their documentation methods. I personally enjoy photography and find the convenience of it much more accessible than pausing life to create a depiction of a moment that other people probably will have a hard time to connect to. Photography can also be widely shared through technology as well which also makes it easier to communicate its meaning and importance. There could be a point in my life where I can see myself drawing at a much later age, but this world moves too fast for society to try to keep up with a sketch. With my new interest in photography, I have communicated more thoughts and emotions to people who view them than is possible with my poor drawing skills. It should also be noted that for me in the journeys of semester to stop and put learning aside to compose a half hearted drawing that lacks many details does not lead to an efficient learning process. I may try to give drawing a chance when I have the time, but for now photography has me convinced about its effectiveness. IMG_7977.JPG

(This photo is both convenient to send to people via technology, as well as its ability to provide absolute details of the scene I was surrounded by coming back from my farm the other night)

Citation

“Why you should stop taking pictures on your phone –and learn to draw.” The Philosopher’s Mail, The School of Life, thephilosophersmail.com/perspective/why-you-should-stop-taking-pictures-on-your-phone-and-learn-to-draw/.

Marriage of Agriculture and Conservation: The Cover Crop Aspect

As I reflect on the ebb and flow of the Chesapeake Bay in regards to the ever changing harvests, I am drawn to the works of Aldo Leopold, a famous philosopher and conservationist. In his  piece “The Land Ethic” from his famous work of A Sand County Almanac published in 1949, he tells of such issues between land use and ecological health. As described by Aldo Leopold the main motive for decision making and the environment is driven through an anthropocentric point of view. This is made mention especially in the chapter called “Substitutes For Land Ethic” when he discusses the flaws of conservation regarding the issues economics plays on it. He brings up the point of this decision making through the mindset of landowners by explaining:

 

When the private landowner is asked to perform some unprofitable act for the good of the community, he today assents only with outstretched palm. If the act costs him cash this is fair and proper, but when it costs only forethought, open-mindedness, or time, the issue is at least debatable (Leopold, 1949).

 

This makes a fair point for one who depends on his or her land to make a living, but lacks proper land ethic in concerns for ecological health. For example, in the Bay region it is widely understood of the harms to the environment both on land and the water from large scale agricultural practices. The landowners practice agriculture of mainly corn and soybeans in the area which entails the use of some 980,000 acres of farmland in 2016 (USDA/NASS, 2016). One particular issue seen when planting crops like these is the sedimentation runoff from the land into the Bay. Though costly, a solution to this is to plant what is known as a cover crop which is planted typically in the fall after a harvest of a crop like corn. The benefits to establishing a field of a cover crop, typically in this region winter wheat is used, is varied and in a statement released by Maryland.gov they, “ have a proven track record of protecting waterways from nutrient runoff, controlling erosion, suppressing weeds and improving the soil for the next crop” (Maryland Department of Natural Resources, 2017).

Why in the world would a farmer, who is connected deeply to his or her land, not want to implement such a beneficial system? The clear answer to almost all conservation measures from the thoughts of Aldo Leopold is money. The concern for the land owners well being financially over the health of the land further can be explained by the government’s attempt to incentivize this agricultural program through a subsidy to grow the cover plant winter wheat. A grant for $75 an acre was established by the government to provide the incentive to grow this plant in a harvested field, thus explaining the flaws of conservation through an economic purpose (Maryland Department of Natural Resources, 2017). Still this appeasing offer hasn’t caught the attention of all farmers in MD. In the same year that 980,000 acres were planted for corn and soybean harvest, only 360,000 acres of the cover crop was planted (USDA/NASS, 2016).

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(This is a photo I took of a typical soybean field in Kent County which can also be seen all around the state of Maryland)

One would imagine that it is in the best interest of the farmer to follow through with this program, but clearly the 36% of acreage participation has not convinced the total farming community. This flaw of placing a price tag on conservation is clearly seen here and because of the lack of support now, will only grow if the payout for the implementation of cover crops increases. Now matters are left in the hands of government spending which creates a new issue driven solely by economics. By analyzing Leopold’s claims made in his works of A Sand County Almanac, it is clear humans are and will continue to be driven to conserve only if it benefits them.

In my eyes, though government spending requires active taxation from the people of this country, I believe it is the only way to come to a compromise with land owning and conservation. They most likely would not implement a practice like this not out of the goodness of their heart, because to provide the cropping of winter wheat it requires both money and time. This is where conservation and having a farm like business can coexist although it isn’t ideal based on having true land ethics as a landowner.   

 

Works Cited

Leopold, Aldo. A Sand County Almanac. London, etc., Oxford University Press, 1949.

Maryland Department of Natural Resources, “Maryland’s 2017-2018 Cover Crop Program.” mda.maryland.gov/resource_conservation/Pages/cover_crop.aspx. Accessed 1 Oct. 2017.

USDA/NASS 2016 State Agriculture Overview for Maryland,“2016 STATE AGRICULTURE OVERVIEW.”www.nass.usda.gov/Quick_Stats/Ag_Overview/stateOverview.php?state= MARYLAND. Accessed 1 Oct. 2017.