Half-Way Tree

03Dec07

There is a book I plan on getting through interlibrary loan: “Against The Grain: How Agriculture Has Hijacked civilization” by Richard Manning. The book points out that with the advent of agriculture, civilization created a concentration of power that was unthinkable in nomadic societies. This agricultural concentration resulted in the social ills – slavery, poverty and oppression. This transformation also ultimately “lowered” the standard of living by society. Society now had to survive more feasts and famines extremes that nomadic societies didn’t have to deal with. Famines led to more poverty, illness and death. Feasts led to population bursts creating overpopulation and disease. Eventually modern agriculture became large scale commodity focused monoculture agriculture, with the main goal of accumulating wealth. In Manning’s words agriculture  has become “a dangerous and consuming beast of a social system” which dictates what we eat (processed grains), what we drink (high-fructose corn syrup) and what we will use to fuel our cars (gasohol, biofuels).

This certainly presents a different view of agriculture than I have and should be an interesting read.  In sharp contrast to the rather demonic form of agriculture presented by Manning’s book I have recently attended some workshops on ecological goods and services provided by agriculture. Most farms have lands that are “wild” and provide ecological goods and services that benefit society. In addition to their aesthetic value, among other things,  these lands are habitat for wildlife and waterfowl and filter water that we drink and swim in.  In many instances farmers maintain these lands out “of the goodness of their heart” and society is increasingly realizing that it is in their best interest to support farmers in maintaining or increasing these lands – particularly with the looming threat of climate change. Through work I have been involved with the Blanshard ALUS pilot project that does exactly that. 

Many of my meetings for ALUS and other topics are in the city of Brandon. On my way to and from these meetings I always pass the regionally famous “half-way tree” roughly at road 53 west and the trans-Canada. It is a large cottonwood tree at the side of the highway roughly “half-way” between Winnipeg and Brandon. A photo of the tree follows:

Half-Way Tree

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