The Agricultural Revolution was a result of advances in chemistry over the past two hundred years, which produced the scientific knowledge, wealth and technology that enabled more systematic approaches to manufacture commercial fertilizers, pesticides, and agricultural machinery. Consequently, industrial agriculture took hold as monoculture farming and selective breeding became the norm. This agriculture practice of planting one crop or plant species over a wide area for a number of consecutive years destroyed soil fertility and depleted necessary soil nutrients. But, man could remedy these woes with "steroid injections" to temporarily offset detrimental effects. These miniature "boosts" came in the form of man-made fertilizers and machinery for soil tillage. Even though these practices dug deep roots in civilized societies, weaving their way through academic institutions, governing bodies, and food manufacturing companies, a quiet organic movement opposite in philosophy, practice and principles commenced in response to the raping of Earth's natural ecosystems. History paints the intricate relationship between humans and agriculture and explains how human needs drove the Industrial Revolution. With a closer look at these details, history also reveals how solutions to humans needs were driven by mankind's worst enemy: fear.
Archaeological evidence reveals an explosion in agricultural advancements around 12,000 years ago. Some call it the time when Adam and Eve were created in the Garden of Eve and gave birth to the lineage of man. Others refer to it as human evolution when apes who could walk upright grew bigger brains. Either way, this wide-scale transition of many human cultures from a hunting and gathering lifestyle to one of agriculture and settlement marks the Neolithic Revolution when techniques such as irrigation, crop rotation, and the application of rudimentary fertilizers were developed. This lifestyle transition supported the increase in population, but humans were still limited to self-sufficient farming. Advanced civilizations like the Ancient Egyptians were able to harvest large amounts of produce, but the vast majority of the population was needed to produce food at that capacity, and what was produced was only enough to sustain the population for that crop year. The weather largely determined the amount of food harvested. Famines were always a threat, and occurred frequently.
The most significant strides in agriculture took place over the past 500 years. Between the 16th and the mid-19th century, new agricultural practices like enclosure, mechanization, four-field crop rotation, and selective breeding enabled a massive increase in agricultural productivity and net output; thereby, supporting an unprecedented population growth and freeing up a significant percentage of the workforce.
Enclosure was an English process ending the feudal open field system, in which the land became deeded or entitled to an individual owner; thus, ceasing to be land for common use for mowing meadows and grazing livestock. Subsistence farmers cropping strips of land in common-held fields and splitting up the produce was inefficient and reduced incentive to improve the productivity. Building a fence around the land to denote private ownership also enabled the land owner to adopt better farming practices. Naturally, an increase in crop yields, livestock output, and labor productivity followed, and in turn, a surplus of labor. Characteristic to humans, idle hands did not stay idle for too long. So the story of man continued to unfold with ingenious advancements.
Four-Field Crop Rotation
One such genious landowner from the Enclosure Movement was Charles Townshend. Townshend became the 2nd. Viscount Townshend of Raynham in 1687. An accomplished politician, reaching the position of Secretary of State during the reign of George I, he retired from politics in 1730 and turned to the country life on his estate in Norfolk. After astute observation, he introduced a new type of crop rotation. He noted crop yields in the field decreased over time if a crop was not rotated. He divided his fields up into four different types of produce with wheat in the first field, clover (or ryegrass) in the second, oats or barley in the third and, in the fourth, turnips or swedes. Using the four field system, the land could not only be "rested", but also could be improved by growing other crops. Clover and turnips grown in a field after wheat, barley or oats, naturally replaced nutrients into the soil. None of the fields had to be taken out of use whilst they recovered. Also, where animals grazed on the clover and turnip fields, their droppings helped to manure the soil. Voilà! The four field system proved a success and ultimately, food production increased.
On to the Darwin Effect in the 19th century... The work of Charles Darwin created the scientific foundation for plant and animal breeding that led to explosive impact over the past 150 years. In 1838, Darwin happened to read the dismal observations laid out by the renowned Thomas Malthus in his Essay on the Principle of Populaton. He noted its assertion that human "population, when unchecked, goes on doubling itself every twenty five years, or increases in a geometrical ratio", a geometric progression so that population soon exceeds food supply and forces itself to return to subsistence-level conditions, also dubbed a Malthusian catastrophe. This macroeconomic theory was birthed out of fear. Malthus feared the immigrant population and overpopulation of the poor in the European nations of the 19th century would result in chaos and anarchy from them staging a radical coup fueled by fear unleashed by the teeming masses. Fear of what? Well, starvation of course. These fears have come to fruition in actual circumstances surrounding the USSR famine of 1932 and China's Great Leap Forward. Some pessimists speculate the Oil Crisis of 1973 could have resulted in a Malthusian Catastrophe. Let's face it: the Malthusian Catastrophe is just as it sounds: horrific and nightmarish. Imagine societies that must scavenge for food. In these types of times, food scarcity promotes fear, paranoia, anti-social or phobic behavior. The main phobia being self-centeredness in regards to one's neighbors looking out for themselves. What a sad state that would be: no sense of community, no love, no self-control, no passion driving the principle treat others as you wish to be treated. Rather, this theory implements a savage theory that when pressed to the limit of sheer survival, a human will only look after itself first and foremost. Hmmmm. Certainly gives food for thought.
But, back to Darwin! He was backed with the knowledge that all animal species struggle for sheer existence. He also observed farmers tend to breed their best animal stock. Common sense? Mate the biggest bull in the pasture and not the sickly looking one; thus, proliferating and preserving favorable variations while eliminating unfavorable traits. An Ah Ha! moment occurred, and Darwin's theory of natural selection was born. As seen with the New Leicester sheep, Darwin initiated a process of inbreeding to maximize desirable traits. The same could be done with plant breeding. Hence forth, varieties, cultigens, and cultivars came to be.
Big brains invented machines to improve the efficiency of various agricultural operations, such as the gasoline-powered general purpose tractor in 1901. Inventions allowed farming tasks to be done with speed and on a scale previously impossible, leading modern farms to output much greater volumes of high-quality produce per land unit.
These four major breakthroughs, dubbed the British Agricultural Revolution (as they mostly took place in Britain), ultimately developed the means to improve arable land by counteracting the loss of the soil's plant nutrients. What were the nutrients though? Well, with all of this surplus of labor going on, some people were free to make observations in the realm of science. Discoveries in organic chemistry revealed to man the primal elements of soil composition, such as nitrogen. Scientists set off to solve the main problem in sustaining large-scale agriculture in one place over long periods of time: the depletion of nutrients, namely nitrogen levels in the soil. Nitrogen was discovered by Daniel Rutherford in 1772, while John Dalton published his theory of atoms in 1807.
The scientific investigation of fertilization began at the Rothamsted Experimental Station in 1843 by John Bennet Lawes. He investigated the impact of inorganic and organic fertilizers on crop yield and founded one of the first artificial fertilizer manufacturing factories in 1842. Fertilizer, in the shape of sodium nitrate deposits in Chile, was imported to Britain by John Thomas North as well as guano (birds droppings). The first commercial process for fertilizer production was the obtaining of phosphate from the dissolution of coprolites in sulphuric acid. The Haber-Bosch method for synthesizing ammonium nitrate represented another major breakthrough and allowed crop yields to overcome previous constraints. It was first patented by German chemist Fritz Haber. In 1910 Carl Bosch, while working for German chemical company BASF, successfully commercialized the process and secured further patents. In the years after World War II, the use of synthetic fertilizer increased rapidly, in sync with the increasing world population.
The Green Revolution refers to a series of research, development, and technology transfer initiatives, occurring between the 1940s and the late 1970s that increased agriculture production around the world, beginning most markedly in the late 1960s. The initiatives, led by Norman Borlaug, the "Father of the Green Revolution", credited with saving over a billion people from starvation, involved the development of high-yielding varieties of cereal grains, expansion of irrigation infrastructure, modernization of management techniques, distribution of hybridized seeds, synthetic fertilizers, and pesticides for farmers.
Thomas Malthus famously predicted the Earth would not be able to support its growing population, but technologies such as the Green Revolution have allowed the world to produce a surplus of food. High-yield varieties of common staple grains such as rice, wheat, and corn were introduced as a part of the Green Revolution. Synthetic nitrogen, along with mined rock phosphate, pesticides and mechanization, greatly increased crop yields in the early 20th century. Increased supply of grains led to cheaper livestock. The Green Revolution exported the technologies (including pesticides and synthetic nitrogen) of the developed world to the developing world.
After World War II, mechanized agriculture produced a dramatic increase in productivity of agriculture, and the so-called Green Revolution greatly increased crop yields, expanding the world's food supply while lowering food prices. Bingo! Now the masses could afford to eat. The whole marketing industry exploded in the 1950s with the realization of the American Dream. Mom could stay at home and not slave all day on food production. She could buy a frozen TV dinner and even utilize Proctor and Gamble's invention of Crisco for a number of household tasks and even remedies. Woah! Life was getting grand! So much for the farm life and all of those stinking chickens and cows to feed and clean up after.
The Agricultural Revolution between the 16th and 19th centuries was a major turning point in history. The population of England in 1750 reached the level of 5.7 million, just as it had done in the past around 1350 and again in 1650. This time, instead of a Malthusian catastrophe occurring from plague or famine, the population growth remained sustained. Outside of Britain, famines continued to sweep the globe through the 20th century. Through the effects of climactic events, government regimes, war, and crop failure, millions of people died in at least ten famines between the 1920s and the 1990s. Throughout the 20th century though, developments in agriculture pushed forward with characterizations of increased productivity, the substitution of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides for labor, surplus labor forces, mass exodus from farm country to urban areas, development of monoculture, and the depletion of natural ecosystems.
Today's reality in industrialized nations lies in a global, mechanized worldview. But resources are finite and the costs of living are rising. As the 1950s gave birth to the "middle class", the beginning of the 21st century has already revealed a demographic shift. The middle class is shrinking and becoming more taxed by the costs of living or the costs to maintain the lifestyles of which people have become accustomed. Resources are limited, as population continues to grow. Is a Malthusian check inevitable? The innovation of man has allowed for nutrients to be replenished in the soils, met the food demands of the population, utilized the Darwin factor, but at what costs? People don't even ask or understand from where their food comes. What need pushes them? Food is no longer sacred, it is an afterthought. As Hugh Jackman stated in Kate and Leopold, "Where I come from the meal is the result of reflection and study. Menus are prepared in advance, timed to perfection. It is said that without the culinary arts, the crudeness of reality would be unbearable." A collective sense of the sacredness of food was replaced with an insatiable drive for scientific progress and material prosperity without any sense of limits or responsibility.
Luckily for humans, a few recognized the threat humans pose to the planet. Activists began the organic movement in the early 1900s as a reaction to the widely used intensive agriculture practices. In recent years, growing awareness has led to buzz around organic farming, permaculture, heirloom plants and biodiversity, the Slow Food movement, and ongoing discussion on sustainable agriculture. This is good news! The gifts of mankind are great, for we were not given a spirit of fear but of power, love, and self-control (2 Timothy 1:7).
Organic farming can be thought of as food grown without the assistance of man-made chemicals.
Organic farming uses fertilizers and pesticides that are considered natural, but it excludes or strictly limits the use of various technology, such as synthetic petrochemical fertilizers and pesticides, plant growth regulators like hormones, antibiotics in livestock, genetically modified organisms, human sewage, and nanomaterials. Permaculture is a philosophy of working with, rather than against nature, and of looking at plants and animals in all their functions, rather than treating any area as a single product system.
Big thinkers in the international development of the organic farming movement set out to study and educate others on natural farming techniques. The illustrious leaders included Japanese Masanobu Fukuoka, Austrian Rudolf Steiner, German-Swiss Hans Müller, British Sir Albert Howard and Lady Eve Balfour, and American J.I. Rodale to name a few.
Ecological renewal and sustainability depend upon an attitude of responsibility first and foremost. Secondly, creation in its natural state is powerful and must be viewed as sacred through behaviors that recognize and honor this fact. So through the Scientific Revolution beginning in the 16h century and continuing through the Age of Enlightenment to the Industrial Revolution, a critical shift in human understanding took place. The collective consciousness experienced nature as a living, spiritual presence rather than to a utilitarian means to an end. Reason became valued over faith, tradition, and revelation, and industrialized society replaced agricultural societies and the old ways of relating to seasons and cycles were forgotten. This shift is having reverberating effects on the environment and to the very health of human beings. Values and socio-political structures of recent centuries do not draw from any type of intimate correlation with the earth and its most awesome sacred essence. Man strives to create, but it has yet to create something as beautiful and as intricate as a tree, or a mountain, or a stream teeming with salmon bound for their mating pools. Just look up at the sky when you walk out at night, provided you can see through the haze of urban light pollution, and see just how little Earth is in the awesome vastness of outer space.
In order to resolve such environmental issues as depletion of species, global warming, and over-consumption, humanity must examine and reassess our underlying attitudes and beliefs about the earth, and our spiritual responsibilities toward the planet.
As with the process of life, humans must crawl before they walk, and while practicing, they fall many times. The beauty of mankind rests in its will to exercise creative innovation output by beautiful minds. The organic movement as seen with permaculture, sustainable practices, and biodynamics, isn't just a hippy's answer to life, it's a regenerative movement of agriculture versus today's degenerative operating mode, and it cannot be embraced by only a few, it must be implemented by all of mankind. The organic movement is slowly taking hold in recent years thanks to giant activists with big brains and a sense of spirituality toward their responsibility to Mother Earth. This awareness has led to increased interest in areas such as organic farming, permaculture, heirloom plants, biodiversity, sustainability, the Non-GMO project, and the growth of the Slow Food movement.
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