Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Maymester Begins

Dr. Carl Jordan's agroecology lab at the University of Georgia offers one of the only intensive courses in both the principles and the practice of organic agriculture offered in the state. This summer is the 5th year the course has been taught as a Maymester session. The course is entitled Organic Agriculture and the Ethics of Sustainability. It's an intensive course, with only 16 total meeting days. 16 students (both undergrads and grads) are participating.

Today was the first day. I'll be sitting in on as much of this course as possible and sharing some highlights here and there as time provides.

Today's guest lecturer was Paul Sutter, an associate professor of History at UGA. Paul is an Environmental Historian and gave the class a good foundation in the history of American agriculture, with specific insights into some of the regional differences in agricultural settlement.

Paul described the settlement of America as a search for arable land. He described the notion of extensive vs. intensive agriculture in which land was seen as a resource whose main value was short-lived fertility. Once this fertility declined it was abandoned for un-spent land. Agriculture in the west was of a migratory nature. He contrasted this with the type of agriculture that developed in the northeast, where continuous mobility was no longer an option. Here farmers had to develop methods to sustain fertility the best they could. One of the ways in which they could do this was using animals to concentrate fertility.

Paul had some interesting things to say about aesthetics and environmentalism. He described how most of our large national forests out west are in areas where there was little opportunity for agriculture. Our aesthetic ideal of nature was isolated from our working agricultural lands. They were put in two separate boxes and environmentalist rarely thought about the latter.

Take a listen to a small part of Paul's talk. I guess this is my first official podcast. Outdoor recording ain't no easy feat so forgive the planes and windnoise.



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