On Monday, April 11, Fred Magdoff, emeritus professor of plant and soil science at the University of Vermont, will discuss capitalism, agriculture, soil, and soil health in two event.
He will give a talk, “Capitalism and Agriculture” at 7:30 p.m. in Joe Rosenfield '25 Center, Room 101. Before the talk, Magdoff will lead a roundtable discussion about “Soil and Soil Health” at 4 p.m. in Noyce Science Center, Room 1022.
Grinnell College's Center for Prairie Studies is sponsoring the events, which are free and open to the public.
“When a leading soil scientist and a leading political activist are the same person, the results are bound to be interesting,” said Jon Andelson, Rosenfield professor of social science-anthropology and director of the Center for Prairie Studies. “Professor Magdoff will subject the capitalist context of American and world agriculture to critical scrutiny, as he has in much of his published work. If you believe capitalism is the best economic system for agriculture, come and hear an argument to the contrary.”
Numerous social and ecological problems arise from the way that agriculture functions within capitalist economies, according to Magdoff. These include hunger in the midst of plenty, lack of nutrient cycling, poor rotations, inhumane raising of animals on factory farms, poor treatment of farm and slaughterhouse labor, and environmental pollution with pesticides and fertilizers.
He asserts that these problems are outcomes of a system in which the overriding goal and motivating force is profit. In such a system, decisions that makes sense from the narrow economic standpoint, are frequently ecologically and socially irrational.
Magdoff's interests range from soil science to agriculture and food (science, production, economics, policy) to the environment to the U.S. economy. His science research has expored ways to improve soil fertility, especially focusing on the critical role of soil organic matter. He oriented his agricultural outreach activities to explaining the application of ecological principles to food production.
He is co-author of Building Crops for Better Soil: Sustainable Soil Management and What Every Environmentalist Needs to Know About Capitalism. He is co-editor of Agriculture and Food in Crisis: Conflict, Resistance and Renewal. His forthcoming book, Creating an Ecological Society, is due out later this year.