What is to be done? - cohesive theory provides avenues for healing
The US began its slow recovery from the Dust Bowl and Great Depression–thanks very largely to Hugh Bennett–when Congress passed the Soil Conservation and Domestic Allotment Act of 1936. The act not only gave the USDA purview over soil conditions and water conservation, but also directly increased wages for farm workers in a widely successful effort to boost consumer buying power from the root. Another example of FDR's New Deal policies that edged towards US agriculture reform, the Agricultural Adjustment Act of 1935, saw the federal government purchase more than 6 million domestic pigs and create the Federal Surplus Relief Corporation (dissolved in 1942) to distribute these and other surplus agricultural commodities to “destitute households”. However, as evidenced by ongoing food supply collapse under pressure of COVID-19 with millions of pigs and chickens, along with more than a hundred million acres of land crops all burned, buried, or otherwise left to ruin: our agronomic systems have calcified against the same social policies that saved the US from civilizational collapse in the mid 20th century.
Politically, the solution to these problems exists by the name of Economic Degrowth. This movement is known particularly well in France where notorious economist Timothée Parrique earned his PhD by compiling the constellation of individual policies and procedures into a coherent theory deserving the attention of activists, policy makers, and economic planners globally. In his 2019 thesis, The Political Economy of Degrowth, Dr. Parrique meticulously explains the governing mechanics of turning entire capitalist economies on their heads, utilizing political power to actively redistribute resources among the working class. Degrowth has finally gained enough attention to be mentioned more than 5 times in the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Sixth Report as a means to mitigate climate damage and minimize catastrophe.
Everyone can contribute to healing the landscape in their local environments through Regenerative Agriculture–the practice of using agricultural techniques to regenerate ecosystems to their natural balance while maintaining an ability to extract food. The closest modern America has come to this kind of revolutionary food system shift is the Victory Garden movement beginning in WWI and eventually accounting for 40% of US fresh produce in 1943. In order to achieve this, citizens were empowered to rehabilitate public land for agricultural use; or in other words (very) partial land reform. Rehabilitation of derelict urban land–like the 30,000 empty lots in Cook County owned by the City of Chicago–will not only provide local communities with the potential for food sovereignty, but reduce flooding through improved rain absorption, reduce summer temperatures through shading and plant respiration, as well as the myriad of social and health benefits inherent in dignifying and empowering the working class.
A perfect union of Economic Degrowth and Regenerative Agriculture has already manifested in the Land Back movement–the American decolonization effort to return stolen land and culture to Indigenous governance. Before the 15th century invasion by Columbus, Indigenous communities across the Americas spent millennia transforming their environment into plentiful agroforests and prairieland on a scale that would blow the tin pot off Johnny Appleseed’s head. The techniques needed to combat global climate catastrophe and system collapse have already been developed and practiced by past cultures, our primary task is to remove the systems of oppression that prohibit their implementation and further evolution.
If we intend to evade the looming civilizational collapse of the 21st century we must revolutionize our food systems with Regenerative Agriculture. We must return the land to Indigenous Stewardship. And we must embrace Economic Degrowth policy that supports people over profits and serves hunger over industry.