Commercial or Covenantal: Finding the Divine in Agriculture

By Eastman, Niles | Currents in Theology and Mission, April 2012 | Go to article overview
Save to active project

Commercial or Covenantal: Finding the Divine in Agriculture


Eastman, Niles, Currents in Theology and Mission


Agriculture is one of the oldest organized activities in human history. The earliest evidence of crop cultivation dates back over 10,000 years. During the vast majority of that time, farming followed relatively consistent methods and guidelines. In the last century, however, modern technology has completely reshaped farming in the industrialized world, and these new techniques are now spreading further and further. But how does modern industrial agriculture achieve its remarkable yields? What sort of philosophy of agriculture can we find at work in modern farming? Is there room for a spiritual connection in agriculture, or have the needs of the modern world rendered obsolete the views and the practices of ancient farmers? This paper will seek to answer these questions by analyzing two different systems of agriculture: that found in present-day North America and Europe, and that codified in the Torah and used by the ancient Israelite people. In the process, this paper will seek out each culture's understanding of what land is and how people relate to it, and what role farmers play in society. Finally, this paper will examine what it might look like to bring ancient practice forward into the modern day, and attempt to articulate an agricultural philosophy that combines ancient spirituality with contemporary context.

Modern farming in North America and Europe follows a paradigm that has been dubbed "industrial agriculture" or "monoculture." Under this system, farms are optimized for cost and yield. That is to say, the top priorities in managing a farm are minimizing the cost of operation and maximizing the money earned. (2) Many farms accomplish this by taking advantage of economies of scale--scaling up a single operation as large as possible because the costs will grow at a slower rate than the profits, meaning the bigger a farm, the more profitable it will be. This form of optimization has led to the development of techniques that have vastly increased the yields attainable from the land, and today's farms produce more food than at any point in human history.

Industrial agriculture also minimizes costs by reducing a farm to growing a relatively small number of crops. Some farms, in fact, only grow a single crop, planting it over and over again. The three main crops produced are wheat, corn, and soybeans. 'The latter two crops are especially valuable to the industrial agriculture model because, not only can they be used as livestock feed, they can be processed into hundreds of different ingredients for use in producing food. In the United States alone, between 50 and 70 million acres of these crops are plan ted annually. The majority of the harvest, however, goes to feeding animals in industrial feedlots, and a significant portion of the remainder is processed into food additives.

Industrial agriculture models a farm as a simple production system, with resources being input and salable commodities being output by the farm. The land the farm utilizes is essentially just another part of the production system, providing a substrate for the crops to grow in. This land is bought and sold, much as any other commodity or resource. Conceptually, in this model of agriculture, land occupies the same space on the balance sheet as a tractor--it is simply another necessary element in the profit-generating machine that is an industrial farm.

Environmental science, however, takes a bleak view of industrial agriculture. The methods and chemicals employed in generating the farms' enormous yields pose a number of risks to both the environment and humankind. Pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, and artificial fertilizers can all make their way into the crops themselves, as well as local waterways. These contaminants then cause harm, even death, to local ecosystems and the people who eat the crops. In addition to environmental concerns, industrial farming also favors the centralization of land into the hands of wealthy owners, who are then able to use that land to create even bigger profits.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited article

Commercial or Covenantal: Finding the Divine in Agriculture
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?