Beeman brings sustainable agriculture to BC

Maryann Kopp

Attendees of Randal Beeman’s presentation, “The Sustainable Path to Peace & Prosperity,” were greeted with wine, cheese, and live piano music at the Bakersfield College Fireside Room on April 12.
As a part of the Norman Levan Faculty Seminar Series, BC professor of history Beeman shared both the history of emergence and development of sustainable agriculture in the United States as well as his own personal journey therein.
Having worked on a family farm growing up and having come from generations of farmers, Beeman had a very well developed opinion regarding farming from a very young age.
“I hated having to work on that farm,” said Beeman. “I thought farm life was for stupid people.”
Even though farming had been in his family for generations upon generations, it only took one generation to put an end to that legacy.
That was Beeman’s generation.
As Beeman demonstrated, however, this was not an isolated incident of the times.
“In the 1980s, I saw that rural America was devastated. I knew something was dying,” Beeman said.
At the time, he may have not understood the full implications of the situation, but he did understand one thing for certain. “Everyone is vulnerable,” and mostly because the government has the power to make decisions that can put people into such positions.
Having gone back to the place of his childhood and witnessing the devastation firsthand, it didn’t take long for Beeman to become enamored with America’s agricultural system.
Watching angry farmers protesting against the Land Grant College and the USDA by dumping truckloads of manure on his college campus while “calling out” the agriculture professors fueled Beeman’s curiosity, as did myriad other instances.
One of such instances was watching Wes Jackson, who is now recognized as the leader of sustainable agriculture and is the founder of The Land Institute, “ranting and raving” against America’s agricultural system, referring to it as a failure.
Beeman shared how this quest helped to drive him through his education, and he also explained how this “failed” system of agriculture led to the dust bowl, as well as how people like Thomas Jefferson recognized the harm in the abuse farming was having on the soil more than a century prior.
So what is sustainable agriculture?
Beeman calls it “Counter Culture Agriculture,” which includes organic farming, soil conservation, and the perpetuating of smaller scale farms and the rural lifestyle.
As history has proven with catastrophes like the dust bowl, the actions we take now can and will eventually effect generations to come. Beeman stresses this phenomenon by using the term “intergenerational responsibility.”
In current times, sustainable agriculture has grown considerably in the mainstream with companies providing everything from organic cotton to organic dog food.
A lot of this is due to people like Jackson who helped to “slowly chip away resistance” received from organizations like the USDA alongside various corporations with ideas like “Perennial Polyculture.”
Beeman has written over 100 articles regarding sustainable agriculture and co-wrote “A Green and Permanent Land: Ecology and Agriculture in the Twentieth Century,” which is available at the Grace Van Dyke Bird Library at BC.