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CHAPTER 16 An Ecology of Hope Where lies hope? The phrase "ecology of hope "which serves as the title of the final part of this book, comes from a fine book of that name by Ted Bernard and Jora Young. I think there is an ecology of hope just as there is an ecosystem for marmots, mussels, or mallards. That ecology is formed from the constituent parts of a sustainable culture, rather than a sustainable agriculture or sustainable communities. The list of dangers that threaten a sustainable culture is impossibly long, but within each threat, a hopeful aspect grows. For me, the ecology of hope is composed of six notions that revolve around a central value that the farmers I have talked to share: diversity. Farming is one ecosystem in which these six are active elements in our hope for a sustainable future. All six are interrelated and mutually dependent; all sixare available to every one of us who live in this region and elsewhere; all six express themselves in our agriculture ; and all six, working together, offer us a hope far greater than the sum of their parts. Our first hope lies in the diversity of our farming practices. The range of practices on the variety of farms in the region provides an expansive laboratory in which various practices can be observed, their strengths and weaknesses noted. That diversity of practice makes available a large pool of choices about how we farm, no matter where we live. The second hope lies in a sustainable environment. Biodiversity is one of the keys to that healthy ecosystem; indeed, it is essential to the survival of any culture at all. Following the best practices among those An Ecologyof Hope we know are practiced in the area, it is within our reach. That is not to say it will be easy, but it is still possible, and with folks like these alongside , we won't have to work alone. A third hope lies in the land itself, in our southeastern Minnesota karst topography, which inhibits some of the more destructive aspects of current agriculture. Yes,it encourages others. As we have seen, erosion comes easilyto the steep hills and thin soil, but grass and pasture and hay can limit erosion, and there are examples for us to see. That limestone base that creates our steep hills also prohibits three- or four- or fivethousand -acre fields of corn and beans, a practice that without animal husbandry and its attendant pastures and haywould lead to massive erosion . Even with smaller fields of corn and beans, even on the slightly rolling prairies to the west of us, we see that erosion. Our fourth hope lies in our capacity to create social justice. Wherever injustice exists in a society—poverty, racism, too great a gap between rich and poor, the arrogance of power, contempt for the religion of others—there are the seeds of that society's destruction. We have the capacity to diminish the inequities that exist in our society. Acting to achieve that justice is another available choice, one that many have already made and are working on. A fifth hope stems from a kind of diversity that I've never heard mentioned in discussions on sustainability: idea diversity. Thinking our way out of our present dilemma will require a large resource pool of good ideas. The conversations reported here reveal that farmers, university faculty members, students, and other citizens have myriad good ideas, a notion we will follow up in the next section. Our sixth hope lies in a right spirit. That is not the same as the "right stuff," though it will take some of that kind of courage to work our way into a more secure future. I have come to believe that right spirit is already innate in many of our farmers and other citizens.That is, it lies in their good stewardship, idealism, frugality, flexibility, altruism, and apparently infinite inventiveness. I have found all six of these notions alive and well among the farm families I've visited. I know that in some citizens they lie dormant, and I suppose that, given the nature of the world and our own human cussedness , in some folks they are dead as a hammer. Most of these seeds of hope seem obvious and need no further expli282 An Ecology of Hope cation from me, but I want to address two of these signs of hope at greater length. The first is our diversity...


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