Hills in Badlands National Park

Frederick L. Kirschenmann’s Cultivating an Ecological Conscience

Reviewed by Claudia Broman

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Cultivating an Ecological Conscience

Cultivating an Ecological Conscience: Essays from a Farmer Philosopher
Frederick L. Kirschenmann

Edited by Constance L. Falk
The University Press of Kentucky, 2010


Frederick Kirschenmann’s essay collection, informed by the likes of Wendell Berry, Wes Jackson, Aldo Leopold, Bill McKibben, and Barbara Kingsolver, encourages readers to develop an integrated appreciation of the land and communities on which we all depend.

Kirschenmann is a distinguished fellow at the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture in Ames, Iowa, and is president of the Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture at Pocantico Hills, New York. His essays are grouped into three sections, marking personal philosophical shifts in desire for maximum agricultural potential, optimum potential, and finally for resilient agriculture.

The first part of Cultivating an Ecological Conscience: Essays from a Farmer Philosopher delves into the experience of farming and the lessons Kirschenmann drew from moving back to a 3,000-acre family farm in North Dakota. Upon arrival, the author worked to transition the farm from conventional methods to organic practices.

From there, the author moves readers into the implications of industrial farming and food production, culminating in a consideration of the future: alternatives to mainstream agricultural practices, focusing on renewal and resilience, and shifting to an idea of farmers and humanity being part of nature rather than separate from it.

Throughout the book, Kirschenmann shares his own journey in what he calls fostering “an ecological conscience.” Such a conscience is essential to generating a solid land ethic, is grounded in the appreciation of healthy soil, and relies on understanding relationships between environmental conditions and the experience of humanity.

Cultivating an Ecological Conscience involves a consideration of the sublime, an anticipation of what could be, and a view of long-term rather than short-term consequence. With a focus on local possibility, rather than global, Kirschenmann celebrates small- and middle-scale farmers and calls on readers to create new narratives of what agriculture is and could become.



Claudia Broman lives in Ashland, Wisconsin. Her poetry has appeared in Writing Nature: An Annual of Fine Nature Writing and Drawing.

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