Practical Pedology: Soil, Sustainability and Agricultural Knowledge in the Georgia Piedmont

First name: 
Anna Rose
Last name: 
Class Year: 
Carol Carpenter
Essay Abstract: 
Nationwide, the sustainable agriculture movement is galvanizing people from non-farming backgrounds to take up farming as a pragmatic response to the environmental, social, and economic ravages of mechanized, chemical-intensive “conventional” agriculture. Their alternative, “sustainable” agriculture is based on marketing locally and building biologically-active soils. The ideas that inform sustainable agriculture practice in the Georgia Piedmont come from a nationalized sustainable agriculture literature which obscures regional environmental differences. Farmers in the Piedmont adapt practices to local conditions through trial and error, but the “local” of today’s Piedmont is not a purely ecological space. Soil-building systems have not, historically, been sustainable in the Georgia Piedmont due to the region’s climate and geology. Their contemporary success depends upon nutrient and energy subsidies from conventional sources. This contradiction locks sustainable farmers into a physically and mentally exhausting battle that pits nature itself against an ideology of restoring and preserving a nature that never existed. An anthropological view of the Piedmont’s human ecology suggests that swidden agriculture (“slash-and-burn”) could provide a truly liberating, truly ecological alternative with positive social implications on a global scale.