Hitting the Books: THE Reading List from Agrarian Elders


Attendees of the second Agrarian Elders (& “Youngers”) Gathering in Big Sur, 2016. (Full list at bottom.)

Revised and reprinted with permission from Jim Gerritsen of Wood Prairie Family Farm.

The first Agrarian Elders Gathering was held in Big Sur two years ago.  The event captured the attention of the New York Times, and talented Noel Vietor created a masterful chronicle of the wisdom and ideas shared, which spanned the following topics:

  • Scale And Quality: How Large Can An Organic Farm Be?
  • How Small Farmers Survive And Thrive In A Co-Opted Market
  • Finding The Sweet Spot
  • The Challenge Of Certifying “Organic”
  • Regulation: The Burden Of Getting Big
  • The Limits Of Corporate Funded Scientific Agriculture
  • Honoring Observation And Intimate Participation With Nature
  • Is There A Perpetual Agriculture?
  • The Organic Farm As Organism And Ecosystem
  • How Monsanto Bought 10,000 Years Of Seed-Saving Power
  • The Crisis Of Participation
  • “Too Soon Old & Too Late Smart” – The Challenge Of Retirement
  • Succession Strategies That Succeed
  • Giving The Land A Voice
  • Community Education – A Natural Strength Of Organic Farming

There is great conscious of the critical need to generationally pass along knowledge. Therefore, this year’s Agrarian Gathering was re-constituted to bring together a dozen of the Elders along with a dozen Youngers selected for their leadership qualities from among the next generation of organic farmers.

As preparation for this Agrarian Elders Gathering, the well-known Eliot Coleman of Four Seasons Farm on the coast of Maine, took it upon himself to create and distribute a reading list for Elders to study ahead of time.

Eliot’s collection of pertinent articles and studies is nothing short of stunning.  We share with you Eliot’s treasure trove below.

Eliot Coleman’s 2016 Agrarian Elders Reading List

Note: “Some of these articles were included, not because I thought they had merit, (Nathaniel Johnson, Tamar Haspel, and Forbes are all shills for the Dark Side) but because I thought our discussions would be more focused if we were up-to-date on what the other side was saying.”

What are we doing? Why are we organic farmers?
Motivation? Inspiration? Goal? Wider picture? Long-term expectations?
It has been said that organic farmers “are the last beacons of light, the last autonomous independent examples of human beings who have not been co-opted by the system. Organic farmers are the only force preventing the total takeover of the food system by artificial, industrial thinking.”
Campaign For Real Farming: Key Ideas for Enlightened Agriculture
Campaign for Real Farming: How Farming Can Lead the World Out of Its Current Mess
Sustainable Food Trust: How To Farm Properly

Sustainable Soil Fertility: How best to achieve it?
Mixed Farming – Livestock plus field crops, vegetable crops, fruit, etc.
Fertility Without Fertilizers – Green manures, cover crops, crop rotation?
American Society of Agronomy: Sod-based Rotations
NY Times: Farmers Put Down the Plow for More Productive Soil
USDA: Are Some Crops Synergistic to Following Crops?

Organic Fertilizers – biological? mineral? foliar? sources? Sustainability index?
The Atlantic: Amish Farmers Reinventing Organic Agriculture

The Soil Microbiome – the Rhizosphere effect, no-till vs. mechanical tillage?
Wageningen Netherlands: Long-Term Organic Farming Fosters Above and Below Ground Biota
Science Magazine: The Littlest Farmhands
Sustainable Food Trust: Soil is the Stomach of the Plant

The Perpetual Farm – Soil organic matter? How sustainable are we in reality?
ACRES USA: SOS: Save our Soils!
Sustainable Food Trust: The Fungi Thing about Soil

The Future – The new realities of CRISPR and gene editing.
NY Times: Gene Drives Offer New Hope Against Disease and Crop Pests

Sustainable Pest Control: How does it work?
National Academy of Sciences: Total System Approach to Sustainable Pest Management
Elsevier: Soil Fertility Management and Insect Pests
Nature: Organic Agriculture Promotes Evenness and Natural Pest Control

Pests – What is going on when the crops are free from pests and diseases?
Trends in Plant Science: The Rhizosphere Microbiome and Plant Health
Elsevier: Colorado Potato Beetle Response to Mineral Balance
NRDC: Are Pests the Problem – or Pesticides?

Getting The Message Out. What does the public understand?
How do we communicate better what we do and its importance?
Who are the best and most effective spokespeople for alternative ag?
How do we maintain the integrity our customers have come to expect?
Is “organic” already so compromised that we need a new word?
What are the pitfalls ahead in defining “organic”?
Washington Post: Why Everyone Who Is Sure About A Food Philosophy Is Wrong
Forbes: Is Organic Agriculture ‘Affluent Narcissism’?
Cornucopia Institute: Is the Organic Label Worth Saving?
Washington Post: Are These Beautiful Lettuce & Tomatoes Really Organic?
Grist: It’s practically impossible to define GMOs

Marketing and Distribution: The economics of small farms?
Scale of production, retail or wholesale, high workload, moderate level of
income, etc. What are their effects on the viability and longevity of family farms?
Refinery 29: The End of Organic Farming Might Be Sooner Than We Thought
AlterNet: What Nobody Told Me About Small Farming: I Can’t Make a Living
Huffington Post: Despite What You’ve Heard, Small Farmers Are Doing Just Fine

About Wood Prairie Maine Certified Organic Seed Potatoes, who first published this article.
New York Times
 article about the first Agrarian Elders Gathering in 2014.
Summary report of the first Agrarian Elders Gathering in 2014.

Attendees of the 2016 Gathering were: (Kneeling, front row, left to right) Andrea Hazzard, Hazzard Free Farm IL;  Anne Schwartz, Blue Heron Farm WA;  Carly Delsignore, Tide Mill Farm ME;  Anne Lazor, Butterworks Farm VT;  Clara Coleman, ARC Farm ME. (Kneeling, second row)  Nash Huber, Nash’s Organic Produce WA; Travis McKenzie, Grow the Future NM;  Tom Willey, TD Willey Farms CA;  Eliot Coleman, Four Seasons Farm ME;  Kari Bernard, Green String Institute CA; Jack Lazor, Butterworks Farm VT;  Andrew Still, Adaptive Seeds OR.  (Standing, third row)  Josh Volk, Slow Hand Farm OR;  Zoe Bradbury, Valley Flora Farm OR;  Jack Algiere, Stone Barns Farm NY;  Dru Rivers, Full Bully Farm CA;  Emily Oakley, Three Springs Farm OK;  Pete Johnson, Pete’s Greens VT;  Don Bustos, Santa Cruz Farm NM;  Michael Ableman, Foxglove Farm BC;  Frank Morton, Wild Garden Seed OR. (Standing, back row)  Paul Kaiser, Singing Frogs Farm CA;  Dave Murphy (Observer), Food Democracy Now! IA;  Bob Cannard, Green String Farm CA;  Jim Gerritsen, Wood Prairie Family Farm ME; Wood Tasch (Facilitator), Slow Money CO;  Amigo Bob Cantisano, Heaven & Earth Farm CA.  Missing:  Barbara Damrosch, Four Seasons Farm ME;  Patty Huber, Nash’s Organic Produce WA;  Zach Wolf, Locusts on Hudson Farm NY.

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