The 50-Year Farm Bill

Wes Jackson is one part familiar and one part completely unpredictable. Listening to him last night at UC Berkeley’s International House, I was prepared for the charts and data on soil erosion, for the refrain of historical context, for the research coming out of The Land Institute. But I did not expect  phrases like, “economics as it stands now is a form of brain damage” as he argues for a new model of economic development looking to natural ecosystems instead of the bacterial logic of the petri dish. His relaxed speech makes his digressions and explanations feel casual and yet phrases like this remind you that Jackson is not mincing words and that his is a tightly defined and researched mission.

And last night he outlined that mission with pointed narration. For those who aren’t familiar, he advocates soil conservation and an agriculture that invests in the roots as part of a long-term nutrient and water management system, reducing the need for fertilizer, reducing water waste, managing nitrogen, reducing dead zones (the infamous hypoxia off of the gulf coast is only one of many), and restoring the logic and efficiencies of natural ecosystems. His research focuses on genetic mixes (breeding not gene splicing, he is sure to point out) to create a hearty perennial wheat and hopes to expand to corn, which currently dominates 90 million acres of U.S. land.

The United Nations, though stopping short of creating a program like that outlined by Jackson, recognizes the damage current agriculture is doing to our land naming agriculture the single biggest threat to biodiversity in their Millenium Ecosystem Assessment. If that doesn’t do it for you, consider the statistic Jackson presents that the 22 year old has been through 54% of the total oil consumption to date. And the answer isn’t a technological substitute for oil because, as Jackson reminds us, there is no technological substitute for soil, for water. The revolution is necessary. Last night Jackson requested that the audience take action, and so I’m asking you to take action as well. Write to the Secretary of Agriculture, Tom Vilsack, and ask him what’s preventing him from supporting the 50-year farm bill.

The 50-Year Farm Bill will help outline a new government-sponsored program devoted to the soil and the roots, increasing the percentage of land and subsidies dedicated to perennial grains, (annual) vegetables, fruits and nuts, and increasing the percentage of livestock which graze on pasture. Download the Bill yourself, a short 19 pages, to see how it will stop “the deficit spending of ecological capital.”

And once you’ve reviewed it, write the Secretary of Agriculture and ask why he has not responded to the Bill’s developers Wes Jackson and Wendell Berry. Write to: U.S. Department of Agriculture
1400 Independence Ave., S.W.
Washington, DC 20250

Or try emailing: or the email for the Office of the Executive Secratariat responsible for policy advising at Good luck.

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