Academic journal article Journal of Transpersonal Psychology

Transpersonal Agroecology: The Metaphysics of Alternative Agricultural Theory

Academic journal article Journal of Transpersonal Psychology

Transpersonal Agroecology: The Metaphysics of Alternative Agricultural Theory

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT: Industrial agriculture has taken over as the dominant form of food production globally, resulting in alternative production methods converging as a sustainable counter. Unfortunately, the ideological and metaphysical underpinnings of these alternative agricultural philosophies have been ignored as have the metaphysics of industrial agriculture. Using transpersonal ecology as a disciplinary analogue, this paper demonstrates an ideological commonality among alternative agricultural theorists, such that the term transpersonal agroecology covers their beliefs like the term transpersonal ecology covers the commonality of deep ecologists. The commonality is threefold. First, theorists are united in opposition against the scientism and economism that make up the productionist mentality. Second, there is awareness that in the practice of sustainable agriculture there is a process for and experience of identification with the beings on the farm, and with the farm itself. Finally, theorists contribute to the transpersonal conversation through their emphasis on values, alternative methodologies, and spirit.

KEYWORDS: Sustainable Agriculture, Transpersonal Ecology, Identification, Agroecology, Environmental Philosophy.

For most people, sustainable agriculture pertains to the on-farm activities of practitioners, such as cover crops, integrated pest management, and no-till. This is true even for the off-farm activities of consumers, who choose to purchase their food locally or look for the USDA organic seal. However, a study of the progenitors of sustainable agriculture-people such as Albert Howard, Masanobu Fukuoka, and Rudolf Steiner, who developed organic agriculture, natural farming, and biodynamics, respectively-indicates that there is something more than just practice to sustainable agriculture. There is something deeper at the level of the mind-set of the farmer.

By employing transpersonal ecology (TE) as a disciplinary analogue, including direct quotes from the aforementioned theorists, as well as many others, this article shows that sustainable agriculture has implications for the worldview of its practitioners. These implications include an opposition to the scientism and economism of industrial agriculture, a sense of the process and experience of identification with the farm and the beings on the farm, an awareness of alternative methodologies and epistemologies, and an explicit role for values and spirit. The end result of this study is a theory, transpersonal agroecology (TPAE), that conceptualizes the commonalities of these alternative agricultural theorists and thus opens a discussion about the deeper and more human aspects of sustainable agriculture and provides a framework with which to guide such a discussion.


The enterprise of bringing to light the transpersonal aspects of alternative agricultural theory could be undertaken in numerous ways. For the purposes of this article, several seminal texts from the field of sustainable agriculture and from the past 100 years were chosen. Two main criteria were used to select theorists and texts.

First, selected individuals contributed in some way to shaping actual agricultural practices. Steiner has a peculiar place in this group of selected theorists, given that he was not an agriculturalist and that any clarifications about biodynamics practice were thwarted by his death a year after his lectures. Therefore, Koepf, Pettersson, and Schaumann (1976) were used here in order to show a theory in action. Also, Bailey might be a new name to many people, even those aware of some of the history of sustainable agriculture. Bailey, Dean of Agriculture at Cornell University from 1903 to 1913, is credited with being a pioneer of the national Extension Service, and was appointed Chairman of the National Commission on Country Life by president Theodore Roosevelt in 1908 and author of its final report in 1909 (Minteer, 2006; Peters, 2006). …

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