Slow Food, Modern Ag

D.W. Brooks lecturer Robert Paarlberg contends that the world needs “multi-agriculturalism” to meet growing nutritional demands

Whether it’s an argument for slow food or a justification for technologically advanced agriculture, many people oversimplify the narratives surrounding the modern food system.

Some who support exclusively organic and localized farming practices often won’t admit that technology might have a role to play in feeding the world’s growing population. Some who advocate for large-scale agriculture similarly ignore the fact that farming practices could evolve to better protect the environment and animal welfare.

The truth is somewhere in between, argued author and agriculture policy expert Robert Paarlberg during the 2018 D.W. Brooks Lecture, an annual event sponsored by the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences. Paarlberg called for Americans to embrace a multi-agricultural mindset.

“I have a vision for America’s farming future that I think that both foodies and ‘aggies’ can support,” he said. “It’s not an either/or vision, but it’s not a homogenized compromise either … It’s a vision for multi-agriculturalism. And I think it’s one that both foodies and aggies should be able to embrace.”

An adjunct professor of public policy at the Harvard Kennedy School, Paarlberg’s interest in the cultural schism that surrounds food started after discussing agriculture with students far removed from farm life. They had an interest in agriculture but held overly idealized visions of farming.

In his call for multi-agriculturalism, Paarlberg asks advocates of both slow food and industrial agriculture to recognize that large farms have made great strides in ecological stewardship and still produce the vast majority of our food while understanding that there is room for large-scale agriculture operations to improve.

Conversely, the traditional farming community should recognize that organic and locally-focused farms are vital to sustaining rural communities by supporting small businesses and adding needed populations to the agricultural landscape.

While their supporters may seem at odds with one another ideologically, large-scale, industrialized farms and small farms actually need each other to survive, Paarlberg said.

“While 87% of our food comes from this system (of large-scale agriculture), 85% of our farms don’t fall into part of that category,” he said. “Industrial farms may be commercially dominant, but they’re not demographically or culturally dominant. The vast majority of our farms, and hence the vast majority of our farmers, are smaller commercial operations, part-time farms, retirement farms, hobby farms.”

Both types of operations will be needed to feed the world’s growing population and keep rural communities viable, he said.

A video recording of Paarlberg’s speech is available on the CAES YouTube channel.

By Merritt Melancon

2018 D.W. Brooks Award Winners

The D.W. Brooks Faculty Awards for Excellence were created to recognize faculty each year for excellence in teaching, research and extension. Established in 1981 to recognize faculty members who make outstanding contributions and maintain excellence in the teaching program of the college, the awards have expanded to include research, extension and county Extension programs, global programs and an award for diversity. Winners for 2018 were:

  • D.W. Brooks Award for Excellence in Research - Qingguo “Jack” Huang, professor in the Department of Crop and Soil Sciences, whose research into the remediation of organic compounds in polluted soil and water has gained international attention.
  • D.W. Brooks Award for Excellence in Teaching - Kari Turner, associate professor in the Department of Animal and Dairy Science, whose focus on inspiring undergraduates has helped to earn the department its excellent reputation for student-centered instruction.
  • D.W. Brooks Award for Excellence in Global Programs - Yen-Con Hung, professor in the Department of Food Science and Technology, whose commitment to international outreach and collaboration has helped to build safer global food systems.
  • D.W. Brooks Award for Excellence in Extension - Dan Suiter, professor and Extension entomologist in the Department of Entomology, whose training programs for structural and urban pest management professionals have been used across the Southeast and beyond.
  • D.W. Brooks Award for Excellence in Public Service Extension - Lisa Jordan, Family and Consumer Sciences program development coordinator for UGA Cooperative Extension’s Southeast District, who has strengthened the Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program in Chatham County.

For more information about this year’s lecture and awards, visit dwbrooks.caes.uga.edu.


Robert Paarlberg speaks at D.W. Brooks lecture
On November 8, 2018, agricultural policy expert Robert Paarlberg presented the 2018 D.W. Brooks Lecture at the University of Georgia. UGA CAES also honored outstanding faculty and staff at the event. (Photo by Matt Hardy)