Date of Award

Spring 5-8-2015


John Van Buren


In a continuing effort to master our environment, human beings have attempted to maximize the yield and efficiency of food production based on outdated reductionist and mechanistic understandings of land use. This has yielded the kind of modern industrial farms characterized by a reliance on pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, and monoculture that continue to produce most of the food in the United States. The eradication of pests is just one of the ecological wars being waged on these farms, the consequences of which have been the contamination of soil and water, loss of plant and animal biodiversity, pest resistance, increased vulnerability to pests, disease, and extreme weather. Scientific reports by the United States Department of Agriculture, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Fish and Wildlife Service, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, and the National Academy of Sciences give insight into the severity of the problem from an ecological perspective, while sources on the social, historical, political, and philosophical development of this paradigm together will help to piece together a comprehensive image of the destruction of ecosystems through the use of pesticides. This interdisciplinary approach helps to illuminate how and why conventional agriculture has become so ecologically misguided yet (for a small few) immensely powerful and profitable. New policy should aim to reestablish farmland ecosystems by restoring soil health, promoting the presence of beneficial plants and insects and other local fauna, and utilizing strategies of integrated pest management including crop rotation and intercropping. Most importantly, efforts should be specific to the local environment and carried out by the community there. Among other benefits, the resulting ecological stability would decrease the need for intensive pest management measures, mitigate local environmental impacts, and galvanize the stability and productivity of the farmer’s crops and soil.