Aminata S. De Groot

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Abstract 1

Agriculture in modern day society has had all sorts of ramifications that have been detrimental to the earth. Our belief that the world is ours for the taking has led us to the plummeting availability of resources. The world is our commons and we have kept adding more and more humans to the mix, which makes it so less will be available for future generations. Many factors led humanity to shift from being mostly hunter-gatherers to agriculturalists. Jared Diamond introduces us to the theories in which the rise in agriculture is caused by the tragedy of the commons, population density, want for stability, advancement in technology, and climate change. Can agriculture be a choice? Can we learn from hunter-gathering societies to lessen or slow down our reaping of the earth’s resources? Hunter-gatherer societies have slower birth rates, and work much less than agriculturists to acquire food. (3)

At the farm I worked at over field work term, Quail Springs Permaculture; the community’s goal was to have a totally self sufficient village set up in 200 years where food could be harvested from the food forest created there and they would acquire meat by hunting the native boar, deer, and turkeys that would begin to thrive once the canyon was revitalized. Can this return to a hunter-gatherer lifestyle be viable in 200 or 500 years for the rest of the world?

It may not be possible to return to a hunter-gatherer society for the majority of the world, but there is something to learn from that “back to nature” ideology. As W. Cronon stated in his article, The Trouble with Wilderness, we must adapt to nature instead of forcing it to adapt to us. Our methods of agriculture should embrace a more naturalistic method. We should work with the land in a way that mimics nature; using plants to deter weeds and harmful insects, creating fertilizer from animals on the farm, and using animals to minimally till the land using Holistic Management Practices. I have looked into the work Allan Savory does with reviving desertified grasslands, and also at Green String Farm’s Bob Cannard. Both men are revulotionaries in alternative agriculture and pastoral methods, which mimic nature and enables their systems to be sustainable.

Hunter-gatherer societies always tend to be smaller and very interconnected, (3) having smaller communities and localized food systems is beneficial for sustainability and a healthier lifestyle. If we organized our cities to be more self-sufficient in food production, and integrated more communal aspects of culture, perhaps this would give rise to a more mindful society. Industrial agriculture must shift into nature-based farming, which is absolutely possible on a large scale, as Bob Cannard has demonstrated. I do not believe that agriculture was the best thing that happened to Homo sapiens, it has caused our population to explode and exploit the commons, therefore it may be beneficial to look into hunter-gatherer societies as an example of adapting to our environment.

(1) Bingham, Sam. The Holistic Management Model: Enabling Scientists to Grasp Complexity as Well as Villagers Do. SANREM/CRSP Scientific Research Meeting - November 28-30, 2001, University of Georgia.

(2) Cronon, William, ed., Uncommon Ground: Rethinking the Human Place in Nature, New York: W. W. Norton & Co., 1995, 69-90

(3) Diamond, Jared M. Guns, germs, and steel: the fates of human societies. New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 1998. "Green String Farm." Green String Farm. N.p., n.d. Web. 11 Mar. 2013. <>.

(4) Oota H, Pakendorf B, Weiss G, von Haeseler A, Pookajorn S, et al. (2005) Recent Origin and Cultural Reversion of a Hunter–Gatherer Group. PLoS Biol 3(3): e71. doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.0030071

(5) "Quail Springs Permaculture." Quail Springs Permaculture.Web. 11 Mar. 2013. <>.

Adegroot 02:05, 11 March 2013 (UTC)

  • Your question -- "Can agriculture be a choice?" -- seems maybe most important here (and I think it's at the core of Diamond's thinking). Of course it's a 'choice' at the most immediate, individual level; individuals do choose whether to plant or not. But is it/can it be treated as a choice/option at societal level? How would address this? Have society's chosen to abandon ag? If so, when, how, why? (The linkage to 'tragedy of the commons' thinking is likely immportant, yes -- but maybe doesn't lead simply to just one conclusion...)Kwoods 14:47, 13 March 2013 (UTC)
  • "Should" may actually not be a strong enough word, as used in your last paragraph. I would argue that "should" makes it sound as though it is an ethical preference, when really, in the long run, it's looking like a survival imperative to amend the way we subsist. I'm totally with you ideologically, but I think that not only should we change, we must change - the very definition of unsustainable. Either we change deliberately and voluntarily (which indeed may not be politically possible on a large scale), or we change due to a resource crisis. Maybe, if we are lucky, the "crisis" will happen over a long-enough period of time for us to adapt to discomfort but not complete collapse. p.s. that FWT location sounds amazing. p.p.s. Just saw use of "must" in last paragraph - agreed. Dhoagland 17:24, 14 March 2013 (UTC)
  • I really like your point about looking to hunter-gatherer societies to adapt to our environment. It seems true that the more we develop food production the further we come from its roots, and forget about the affects of it. There has been more of a shift towards local and organic food in last few decades which has made us all look at where our food is actually coming from, but I think there is more focus on how it affects us rather than how it affects its environment, both of which I think can be equally important for health and sustainability.

Mguyer-stevens 17:41, 14 March 2013 (UTC)

Abstract 2

In ScienceNow's article, Are Humans to Blame for Africa's Lost Rainforests?, the theory that humans caused environmental degradation 3,000 years ago in Central Africa is presented. The evidence is provided by a paper that looks at the shift in the weathering patterns of rocks that happened 3,000 years ago. This was a time of climatic change but it also coincided with the northern expansion of Bantu farmers into this region (Nuyer 2012). Their speculations propose that the Bantu's instilling of yam and pearl millet crops, and cutting down large swaths of the rainforest, may have shifted the seasonality of the region and exposed the rocks to higher levels of rain and sunlight exposure (Nuyer 2012). Before this period in time, Central Africa was mainly rainforest and the ecosystems shifted to savannah and grasslands around the Iron Age (Nuyer 2012).

This article parallels many examples of research into the environmental impact of early farming societies. We know that CO2 and Methane levels started to rise at the time of agriculture's expansion in Europe (7,000 years ago) (Ruddiman 2005). The rise and fall of civilizations may also have had environmental —humans causing environmental degradation, and the limitation of resources causing them to relocate or fall. This type of research is based on archeological and geological evidence. In Rachel Nuyer's article, the sediment levels of the Congo River are examined for the concentration of aluminum, hydrogen, potassium, among other elements. The rate in which these elements ran off the rocks in the Central African forest and were deposited in the Congo River rose steeply coincidently with the expansion of Bantu farmer's into this region.

However, these theories are not always accepted in the science community. In the original scientific paper on this theory, the authors acknowledge that it is possible that the ecology of the area may have changed gradually and the Bantu farmers could have moved in when the ecological makeup of Central Africa had developed into a more farming-friendly way (Bayon 2012). After looking at the paper, Katharina Neuman believes that it is invalid since rain forests have rapid secondary growth after they have been cleared (Nuyer 2012). Secondary forests tend to slow down erosion and therefore would reduce the rate of weathering of the rocks in the African rain forests. I would disagree with Neuman since the instillment of Bantu agriculture would not have been in such a short period of time that it would allow the rain forest to have secondary growth. The farmers were likely clearing the forest as they needed and possibly clearing out areas where secondary forest was starting to grow. This continual infliction of agriculture on the rain forests would contribute to the shift in ecology of the area, this would create a snowball effect and would disallow the forest to grow back.

Although it is difficult to assess such ancient evidence, with improving technologies it seems as though archeologists and paleontologists can be more confident in looking at early agriculture and it's effects on the environment. Interestingly, it seems as if archeologists, geologists, and paleontologists all come at these problems from different angles; they look for different evidence, and come to differing conclusions. Therefore, it is understandable how many might refute new theories about humans effect on the local and global climate since the development of agriculture up to 7,000 years ago (Ruddiman, 2005). I believe that it is very likely that early human agriculture may have been pulling the stop on the drain for the climate change as we see today. I have come to this conclusion through all our readings and the additional resources I have looked into.

Bayon, Germain. "Intensifying Weathering and Land Use in Iron Age Central Africa." Science 335 (2012): 1219-1222. Science AAS. Web. 27 Mar. 2013.

Nuwer, Rachel. "Are Humans to Blame for Africa's Lost Rainforests? - ScienceNOW." Science/AAAS | News . N.p., 9 Feb. 2012. Web. 27 Mar. 2013. <>.

Ruddiman, William. "How Did Humans First Alter Global Climate?: Scientific American." Science News, Articles and Information | Scientific American. N.p., 25 Feb. 2005. Web. 27 Mar. 2013. <>. Adegroot 17:47, 27 March 2013 (UTC)

  • So we've repeatedly seen these debates in the scientific literature; one researcher builds a story/hypothesis and others argue for alternative interpretations. On the one hand, this is how science works; alternative models fight it out until accumulated work excludes all but one. On the other hannd, it's a challenge for the 'non-expert' in a particular area to know what to make of the conflicting ideas while the process is working itself out. Perhaps the greatest risk is to let our own predispositions influence our choices. In any case, yes, this is yet another in an accumulating body of work on many past cultures suggesting long-time, deep human influences on ecosystems... Kwoods 13:15, 13 April 2013 (UTC)

Abstract 3

In our recent discussion about ecological succession we looked at how well ecosystems such as the woods in France return back to their pre-agricultural state. It takes a millennia for it to come full cycle in this example. I wanted to look at ecological succession through an anthropological lens. Are humans constantly moving "forward" and developing or is their a "state" that we could return to just as the forest reaches its community climax? I would like to define humans' "climax community" as a state in which humans can live a sustainable and satisfactory life. Sustainable here would mean the continuity of this satisfactory life for humans and existing with ecosystems in a way that would support the longevity of the human species and the ecosystem.

In a book I once read, Ishmael, David Quinn argues that the ideal human state is a tribal or indigenous community and that agriculture was this ideal state's downfall. I would argue that agriculture was inevitable and essential in many parts of the world because of the human ingenuity and foresight. For example, on Orchid Island the cultivation and storage of grain enabled the community to get through unpredictable years. The problem in seeing a world populated with hunter-gatherer tribal communities is the tragedy of commons. As I talked about in an earlier abstract, The Commons of the planet could not contain a world of hunter-gatherer tribal communities because they might deplete the planet of all edible animals. Quinn may have been right in his belief in the re-indiginization of populations although I see it in more of a cultural and intellectual re-indigenization. The use of native and local species for example is a way to re-indigenize agricultural practices. I believe there must be a happy milieu where indigenous methods can influence our agricultural practices and our community life. Instead of returning to a hunter-gathering tribal society, we can instead learn from these ancestors to create a sustainable modern world.

The communities living in the Orchid and Shetland Islands before the Vikings took over had created a system that enabled their community and their ecosystem to exist much in harmony. Their agricultural practice of using midden as a fertilizer made the land more fertile and livable than it had been before and by hunting wild animals and fishing they never had to depend solely on their barley fields. Their use of midden provided a longterm resource as fertilizer. There are ways in which our agricultural practices can be a benefit to ecosystems. Natural process-based agriculture improves soil by careful fertilization, aeration, and cultivation. It is a practice that copies natural ecosystems so that they can be self-sustaining. Green String Farm is an example of natural process-based agriculture. Social re-indigenization involves a change in education and politics. Farmers, educators, and politicians need to look at the longterm outcomes of their actions. Instead of 50 years we could be looking forward to the next 200 hundred years. Our political system is based around the progress of our economy, why is it not centered around a satisfied "climax community"?

Dockrill and Bond, 2009. Sustainability and Resilience in Prehistoric North Atlantic Britain: The Importance of a Mixed Paleoeconomic System. Journal of the North Atlantic. 2:33-50.

Quinn, Daniel. Ishmael. Bantam trade pbk. ed. New York: Bantam/Turner Book, 19951992. Print.

Nelson, Melissa K.. "Re-Indigenization Defined." Original instructions: indigenous teachings for a sustainable future. Rochester, Vt.: Bear & Company, 2008. 253-264. Print.

Adegroot 17:45, 18 April 2013 (UTC)

  • Some writers have, like you, developed parallels between the way in which natural/ecological systems behave and the way human societies might/could/should behave. The hard thing is to figure out the role of human planning (or human 'will' if you like); just how much of the development of human society is 'mechanistic', like ecological succession (it happens that way because of the processes that are inherent to it, not because there's some sort of drive to a goal or end). Are you suggesting then, that we might develop a sort of 'willed' socio-economic succession to achieve an equilibrial state of society? Maybe the question is whether that would be sufficiently 'satisfying' for people?? Kwoods 00:08, 6 May 2013 (UTC)

Abstract 4

There seems to be no perfect solution for the production of energy to meet our demands while simultaneously creating as little impact on the environment and people as possible. I was unaware of the severity of the environmental and social impact due to farming sugarcane in Brazil. I think that I am one among many people who thought that biofuel is a more sustainable and "cleaner" energy than fossil fuels or fracking. Luiz Martinelli and Solange Filoso's article, Expansion of Sugarcane Ethanol Production in Brazil: Environmental and Social Challenges, does not weigh the scales to see which energy source is more sustainable and ecologically safe but gives evidence to its ecological and social consequences. Brazil began growing sugarcane to manufacture biofuel as a measure of independency and possible solution to slow down global warming (895). However the authors shake their fingers at Brazil for claiming "that ethanol is a clean or sustainable fuel" (894). At the time this article was written, in 2008, Brazil's total land area used for the production of sugarcane for the making of Ethanol was 7 million hectares (886). They plan on expanding the production to include 14 million hectares of land (886). The environmental consequences include deforestation, erosion, deterioration of adjacent aquatic systems, pollution, and possibly increasing global warming by burning the crops. The farming practices also have social effects; the workers are underpaid and overworked, the smoke has been effecting the health of surrounding communities, and the economic benefits of this industry are received only by the people who are already at the top socio-economically. The current practices for farming sugarcane in Brazil are hardly sustainable and are likely not lessening global warming.

My perception of clean energy has been challenged once again by this article. Is there a way that we could produce energy without taking too much from the environment? Should we instead just focus our efforts on reducing energy consumption? A question I would like to ask the Martinelli and Filoso is how Brazil biofuel initiative compares to other ways of obtaining energy? Is one better and one worse or should we obtain energy in as many different ways as possible so that less is being taken from those particular outlets? From this article I can determine that, for now, what needs to be done is the reformation of the agricultural methods being used for the farming of sugarcane. Methods such as the burning of sugarcane crops to remove most of the straw and leaves (891), the inefficient use of fertilizer (890), the dumping of agricultural byproducts into aquatic systems (888), and the removal of riparian forests (891) have had detrimental effects for surrounding ecosystems and communities. Brazil intends to outlaw sugarcane burning by 2021 (892) and has dealt with vinasse pollution (a byproduct of ethanol) by creating legislation that requires the producers to recycle the vinasse back into the fertilizer for the sugarcane. These solution seem to be small steps for creating a clean energy and cannot be a bandaid that Brazil puts on so that it can say that they are producing sustainable biofuel.

Martinelli, Luiz A., and Solange Filoso. "Expansion Of Sugarcane Ethanol Production In Brazil: Environmental And Social Challenges." Ecological Applications 18.4 (2008): 885-898. JSTOR. Web. 2 May 2013.

Abstract 5

Throughout this class I have been struggling to justify my beliefs about my own choices about food. I have grown up eating really great food whether it came from the many wonderful restaurants in Providence or from my own kitchen. I think I started to really become aware of how much I cared for food in the last five years. I think about five years ago, my parents began to pay more attention to where their food was coming from. My dad started only shopping from Whole Foods and the farmer's market at about this time (mostly because he wanted to impress his new girlfriend with his skill in the kitchen). My mother has shopped at Whole Foods since the chain started yet in the past five years she has favored buying produce that doesn't come from so far away, and only eating fish that isn't farm-raised or overfished in the wild. I really appreciated my parents shift at the time and appreciated their new interest in shopping locally. However, is this just a new sort yuppie elitism that has blossomed in this decade?

I want to make a difference in the food system by my purchase power and my possible future as a farmer. How can I make a difference if agribusiness, fuel companies, and the government are so interconnected? How is it possible for other consumers to have a choice when organic and local produce and food is so much more expensive than conventionally grown food? Is sustainably grown food only for those who can afford it? It seems as if sustainable agriculture practices should be cheaper and more effective than having to invest in new technologies, seeds, pesticides, and herbicides every year. Composting, rotating crops, permaculture, growing perennial and nitrogen fixing flora do not seem like very expensive practices. In a conversation with Celia the other day we were discussing how import and export prices are totally distorted. When trying to find answers for why it seems so impossible to have economically viable sustainable farms we kept circling back to the issue of cheap oil.

Without cheap oil, industrial agriculture could not be so reliant on tractors, pesticides, and herbicides which are all derived or run on fossil fuels. Import and export would be a lot more expensive as well therefore locally grown produce and animals would be cheaper in comparison. Will we have to wait until fossil fuels run out until we can make the big changes we (the "food elitists") would like to see in agricultural policy? Is being a "food elitist" really helping change agricultural policy? Consumers choice does have a lot of power but it seems as if only a small percentage of the population has the opportunity to make sustainable food choices. The issue of famine raises ethical questions which seem to favor technological advances such as GMOs. I shy away from fast, high-tech solutions in the agricultural field but is it our ethical obligation to combat hunger in this way? The article we read The Impact of Genetically Engineered Crops on Farm Sustainability in the United States gave solid arguments for the production of genetically modified crops such as rice that is more nutrient rich. What is our ethical obligation when it comes to food choices and agricultural reform? Is the "green movement" just "fashionable" as Charlotte said in class?

"The Impact of Genetically Engineered Crops on Farm Sustainability in the United States." National Academies. N.p., n.d. Web. 5 June 2013.

Pollan, Michael. The omnivore's dilemma: a natural history of four meals. New York: Penguin Press, 2006. Print.

Disparities in Neighborhood Food Environments: Implications of Measurement Strategies Michael D. M. Bader, Marnie Purciel, Paulette Yousefzadeh and Kathryn M. Neckerman Economic Geography , Vol. 86, No. 4 (October 2010), pp. 409-430 Published by: Clark University Article Stable URL:

Schlosser, Eric. "Why being a foodie isn'€™t elitist€™." The Washington Post. N.p., 29 Apr. 2011. Web. 16 May 2013. <>.

Adegroot 04:36, 16 May 2013 (UTC)

Organic and locally grown foods are expensive, but how much of this is due to the current system by which they are sold? Could more cooperative community based buying systems offer less wealthy people high quality food? I think it might be possible. I have worked among individuals attempting to bring high quality food to lower income people and believe there to be much potential in alternative systems. -- Asa Sapse