If you're at a conference and you find yourself being hailed for the next session with a cowbell, chances are you're at a conference on agrarianism.

Or, rather, a conference for agrarians. That's certainly who congregated for "The Future of Agrarianism" conference, held this April at Georgetown College in northern Kentucky. Said cowbell, locally grown food for snacks and lunches, a Sierra Club bumper sticker in every registration packet, and plenty of jeans, cowboy boots, and ponytails: no academic meeting this, despite the presence of many professors and college students. It was a convening, some 300 strong, of the committed.

Fred Kirschenmann, director of the Aldo Leopold Center at Iowa State University, set the tone in his opening address. We've arrived at a "historic moment—we have some opportunities here," Kirschenmann made clear. As agriculture becomes increasingly global, a public awareness has been emerging, he and others contended, that something as basic as food cannot—must not—be entrusted to multinational mega-companies, so vulnerable to terrorist attack and so unscrupulous in governance. The fundamental agrarian response: responsible living demands a different kind of economy—or better, many, many more economies.

But is a world of small, overlapping economies even possible any longer? Kirschenmann pointed out that currently in America there are three times as many farmers over 65 as under thirty-five. One speaker, discussing the "old agrarianism," asked bluntly: "Where are the farmers going to come from?" The rise of the "food dictatorship" (as Indian eco-feminist and physicist Vandana Shiva termed it) and the consequent decline in the farm population led Kirschenmann to suggest that there exists a ten- to 15-year ...

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