Barnyards and Birkenstocks: Why Farmers and Environmentalists Need Each Other

By Mobley, Catherine | Journal of Multidisciplinary Research, Fall 2014 | Go to article overview

Barnyards and Birkenstocks: Why Farmers and Environmentalists Need Each Other


Mobley, Catherine, Journal of Multidisciplinary Research


Book Details Stuart, D. (2014). Barnyards and birkenstocks: Why farmers and environmentalists need each other. Pullman, WA: Washington State University Press, 280 pages, $28.95, paperback, ISBN: 978-0-87422-322-4.

Synopsis and Evaluation

To learn more about the state of affairs in farming and the environment, one need look no further than some recent newspaper headlines: "California's drought is hurting farmers but helping environmentalists" (UK, The Guardian, 3/18/14) and "New water rules worry those who work the land" (Denton (TX) Chronicle, 9/7/14). Such accounts could easily lead one to conclude that the differences between farmers and environmentalists are insurmountable.

Fortunately, Don Stuart's book, Barnyards and Birkenstocks: Why Farmers and Environmentalists Need Each Other, provides an in-depth account of the positive developments in farmer-environmentalist collaborations. Stuart provides numerous cases and scenarios that involve farmers and environmentalists, mostly in Washington State. Despite this geographical focus, however, the lessons Stuart learned are valuable for citizens and policy makers in others regions who are facing similar challenges.

Stuart is explicit about the conflict that has dominated the relationship between farmers and environmentalists. However, rather than sounding hopeless, his ensuing analysis and narrative provide a clear way forward for creating stronger alliances between these two groups of stakeholders. In Chapter 1, he outlines the eight tools that will ensure a "farming-friendly environmental community" and an "environmentally-friendly agricultural industry." The remainder of the book, organized in 15 chapters, presents several of these tools and ultimately enhances understanding about the complex nature of agricultural and environmental policy.

In Chapters 2 through 4, Stuart provides the context for better understanding the farmerenvironmentalist paradox he mentions in Chapter 1. Here, the reader learns more about the value of farmland, agriculture's environmental risks, and the many opportunities and benefits that communities would sacrifice if farms were to disappear. Chapters 5 through 7 focus on the pros and cons of voluntary incentives versus regulations, while Chapters 8 and 9 provide information about taxes and government spending, and environmental markets, respectively. In Chapter 11, Stuart clarifies the value of two additional policy tools, zoning, and conservation.

Stuart presents the power of the market in shaping farming practices and environmental advocacy in Chapter 10. Considering there has been a five-fold increase in the number of farmers markets in the past two decades, this discussion on the influence of the local food movement on farming practices may resonate with many people who themselves participate in this movement as consumers. In Chapter 12, Stuart tackles key environmental challenges head-on by detailing the impacts of climate change on agriculture and vice versa. The detailed information about the Farm Bill (Chapter 14) ultimately demystifies a complex process about which many citizens know very little. Stuart presents facts throughout the book and documents them thoroughly in his detailed notes, contained in a 30-page section at the end of the book.

Stuart concludes his book by describing two potential scenarios, or "visions," for the future: either "agriculture dies and the environment suffers" (p. 235) or "agriculture prospers and the environment flourishes" (p. 239). …

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