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Bill Vitek: In Pursuit of Better Agriculture (and a Better Society)

Bill Vitek: In Pursuit of Better Agriculture (and a Better Society)

“The way we farm and the way we think are connected—that’s our premise.”


O
n December 16th, Olivia Malloy was joined by Bill Vitek for a conversation about his work with perennial agriculture. Among his many other roles, Mr. Vitek, a philosopher, educator, and scholar, is the editor of New Perennials Publishing. New Perennials Publishing recently released The Perennial Turn: Contemporary Essays from the Field, a collection of works that emphasizes the importance of perennial agriculture in a larger societal context. Mr. Vitek shares both the finer details of the industry and the broader implications of our collective disconnect from how farming is practiced.

Let’s start with some context. Can you briefly explain the idea of perennials and the current state of the agriculture industry? 

Sure, let’s do a little background. Ten or 12 thousand years ago—so, we have to go way back—humans around the globe, for reasons we don’t really understand, started to experiment with growing their own food rather than hunting and gathering. They didn’t know it, but the plants they selected were annual plants. The ones that emerged generations later are the ones we still primarily consume today: wheat, corn, and rice. Those annual plants require a certain kind of human activity—clearing land every year, keeping weeds out because these plants have to come up from seeds, So, annual plants have fed us for ten or 12 thousand years. They’ve also required an enormous amount of human labor and, now, fossil energy. They actually encourage weed growth, so there is a lot of energy put into weeding. They’ve done a lot of damage to the climate and have been a major contributor to species extinction.

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