Andrew Kimbrell described two kinds of farming in his keynote speech Saturday at the Organic Farming Conference.
On one side is industrial agriculture, which Kimbrell has battled in his work as a lawyer and as executive director of both the Center for Food Safety and the International Center for Technology Assessment.
On the other side are farmers like those who filled the La Crosse Center hall where Kimbrell spoke.
“We have seen this industrial model progress further and further, and I’m sure they thought we’d end up like the Jetsons,” Kimbrell said, taking aim at genetically engineered food. “What they never saw coming is you. They thought they had the future. They thought they had successfully taken the culture out of agriculture.”
Kimbrell’s speech, “Fatal Harvest: The Tragedy of Industrial Agriculture,” was the final keynote speech at the conference, organized by Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Service.
The conference, in its 19th year and formerly called the Upper Midwest Organic Farming Conference, is the largest conference of its kind in the nation.
Kimbrell, editor of a book with the same name as his presentation, was named one of the world’s 100 leading visionaries by the Utne Reader in 1994.
In his lecture, Kimbrell said people sometimes say he is against progress. But progress, he said, is an incomplete sentence.
“Progress toward what?” he urged people to ask, and then said factory farms are not progress but regression. “You don’t need to stop progress. You need to create progress, your progress.”
He also questioned the argument that industrial agriculture is needed because it is efficient and asked how it would sound if he said he loved his children efficiently.
“Do we treat anything that we truly care about primarily on an efficiency basis?” he asked.
Instead of efficiency, he suggested people treat farms and animals with empathy and love.
But while Kimbrell strongly criticized companies such as Monsanto, which sells products including genetically modified seed, his critique was of systems more than individuals, and he called for changing the consciousness that leads to the industrial model of agriculture.
“Whether we like it or not, we are all creators,” he said. “Every decision that we make — the food that we grow, the food that we eat, the food that we buy — every decision is creating a different future.”