Rural life has significantly changed over the past 100 years. Within the United States, we seem to be experiencing the end of subsistence farming and community agricultural practices that once enabled small-scale and diversified farming to thrive. Programs that once helped to establish stability within farming communities and create a sense of boundedness through agriculture are being eliminated. In this new era of agriculture, a new set of social and economic challenges are emerging in rural communities. Some suggest that the spirit of cooperation that was present in rural communities is being replaced with forced competition.
On the other hand, the planet’s population is expected to reach 10 billion by 2050, demands for food—and the water, land, and energy necessary to produce this food— is likely to increase with pressing urgency. New farming strategies, technologies, ideas, and policies are also likely to emerge to address the challenges of farming for the future. Many suggest that we should focus on the pressing need for efficiency and not spend too much time lamenting a past era of agriculture.
These challenges invite us to wonder: What will the future of agriculture and rural life look like? What do we want it to look like? Which values inform our hopes for the future?
This project will explore the public policy possibilities surrounding the issue of agriculture and rural life. We will examine goods that are derived from the cultivation of land, which includes food for humans and animals, energy, textiles, medicinal plants, and microorganisms. Various dimensions of agriculture will include, but are not limited to: environment (land, water, and energy use; erosion, climate change, fertilizers), technology and research (genetic engineering, farming practices, big data, information dissemination), economy (subsidies, regulations, labor, big business, exports), governance (national, human, and environmental security), food (sustainability, security, public health, production, storage, quality, distribution, rights).
Importantly, this project will also focus on the culture of rural life. We will examine in what ways identity, traditions, community, sense of belonging, and ethical norms are derived from our relationship with land. We will examine this specifically in rural spaces, where connections to the land seem to be deeply rooted, intimate, but also fragile if not potentially fleeting.
The following questions may be asked of discussion panelists to help frame and initiate the exploration of this project:
- What might farming look like in the future? How might technology continue to impact farming? How might traditional practices or practices that are more harmonious with the land shape the future of farming?
- What role does agriculture play in building community? How does it connect us to one another and to non-human life? What role might it play for communities in the future?
- How, if at all, is rural identity connected to agriculture?
- How does industrialization affect rural life and our relationship with land? How has industrialization brought a depersonalization to farming or agriculture? What benefits has industrial efficiency offered?
- What would it look like to support a human-scale economy?
- What sort of policies, pressures, and incentives would improve rural culture?
- How might rural life be reconstructed? Should it be?
- What sort of economic pressures and political policies associated with the growth of industry and commerce contributes to the depletion of rural culture?
- Can or should the principles of industry be applied to agriculture? What would it look like if the principles of farming were applied to industry or other segments of the population?
- What kinds of rights might we have or want when it comes to land use?
- What are our global or transnational concerns about agriculture? How might the issue of farming unite or divide nations?
- What type of policies would contribute to the health and prosperity of the people and communities that produce our food and other raw materials?
- What is the future of rural schools and hospitals? What challenges are they facing now that they have not faced over the last few decades?
- What types of knowledge are being lost as children move away from the family farm or rural life?
- What health issues or concerns do we associate with rural living? How do we make sense of these?
These are just a few of the questions that we will be exploring in the Agri-Culture Project. Discussion panels will be meeting in 2016 around the Manhattan, Kansas area as well as the Madison, Wisconsin area. We are also organizing a series of developmental discussions in other locations and with local partners. For example, we are working with the Berry Center in Kentucky to organize discussions with local farmers, producers, and students of agricultural studies. If you would like to learn more about the project or have suggestions for collaboration, please contact Shannon Wheatley Hartman at [email protected] or 480.326.3887 or contact Dennis Boyer at [email protected].