Industrial Agriculture in Evolutionary Perspective

Essay Exceprt

The farm operator is the local-level actor who mediates among the imperatives of farm, family, industry, and state. Though increasingly constrained, the farm family determines the use of resources, the adoption of technology, and the response to changing societal values. Maladaptive decisions on the part of regulators may hurt the larger system but usually will not challenge the regulators' elite status or economic security. Farmers must face a situation in which the long-term impacts of each decision are unknowable, but the immediate consequences of farm loss are often too visible. (Barlett, 148) 

About the Author

Dr. Peggy Barlett is a Professor of Anthropology at Emory University. Her current interests focus on sustainability in higher education as a tangible arena in which to understand and enact sustainable development more generally. Living in Atlanta, until recently one of America's "most livable cities," she had watched it become the poster child for sprawl.  Like many U.S. cities, Atlanta struggles to achieve clean air, clean water, affordable housing, good public transportation, and a way of life that supports a flourishing society while recognizing the earth’s finite living systems of which we are a part. Sustainability—what Aldo Leopold called a land ethic—is a complex paradigm shift emerging in many parts of the world, envisioning a different future for agrarian and industrial society.  Sustainable approaches work to reverse damage to biological life support systems, to sustain healthy livelihoods, and to increase social equity and participation in decision making. She particularly enjoys the ways that, sometimes quite invisibly, today’s sustainability movement builds on several generations of anthropological work on viable lifeways in human history and around the world.

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