Is Capitalist Commercial Agriculture Manageable? Assignment 1: Research Paper


Assignment #1: Identifying Environmental History Topic (Capitalist Commercial Agriculture Manageability) Learning outcomes: Select and identify historical topics appropriate to environmental history. Present a preliminary research topic and related questions in a written format that introduces the historical issue provides appropriate context, and articulates clear research questions. How to write this paper: Your task is to […]

Is Capitalist Commercial Agriculture Manageable?

The recent developments in the agricultural sector reveal some challenges when it comes to feeding the world’s growing cities. Millions of urban residents depend on intensive rural farming to produce food for their consumption. However, America’s history reveals that subsistence farming became the preferred form of agriculture for Native Americans, allowing them to coexist with the environment. Nature also reveals a close relationship between the consumer and producer in a food chain. The capitalistic form of American settler’s society favoured commercial farming built on slavery over the value of the natural environment. After that, slavery got abolished, and science and technology became utilized to bring favourable economic returns for commercial farming. With growing urban populations, however, it might be time to shift the production models to suit subsistence and urban agriculture to ease the pressure on the environment. More so, the detrimental environmental impact of most modern farming technologies calls for the reevaluation of the sustainability of commercial agriculture. Therefore, this paper evaluates the environmental history around agricultural production in America while addressing the question, Is Capitalist Commercial Agriculture Manageable?

Humans are the only species practised organized food production through managed agricultural systems from their earliest civilization. All other organisms have managed to survive on natural food production, which can be argued to be almost impossible for man’s society. In America, indigenous communities primarily survived hunting and gathering while some amounts of subsistence farming also got exhibited. Even so, the Native Americans had a close individual relationship with nature and believed that their gods had given them the natural environment for the provision of their daily needs while charging them with the duty to protect it (American Society for Environmental History). A study of the natural food chain reveals the innate personal relationship between organisms and their food production process. Food production is a crucial part of their lives in any ecological system, which cannot be separated from their local environment. However, urban humankind dwellings developed separate food production processes in rural agricultural areas due to the construction of their environment in cities.

The arrival of European settlers in America introduced a new intensive form of agriculture that introduced a new aspect of farming. These changes impacted the modes of production with new capitalistic incentives to grow cash crops. For instance, cotton became a major cash crop in the nineteenth century in the region of North Carolina to Texas (Nelson 298). However, using forced labour on the farm accrued the farmer’s unjustifiable economic benefits. For the most part, the sustainability of the production process for commercial farmers in the 19th century depended on the capitalistic ethos that favoured low-cost production from free slave labour (Nelson 297). After the abolishment of slavery in the US, science, and technology offered the means to increase productivity while reducing labour costs for the largely intensive agricultural setting. As such, without free labour, the economics of commercial farming would be challenging with low mechanization in this period.

Nonetheless, these advancements in science did not lack their adverse impacts on humans. Soon, fertilizers, herbicides, genetically modified crops, and other scientific interventions got linked to their adverse impact on the environment and human health. For instance, as massive chunks of natural vegetation got cleared to practice intensive mono-crop commercial farming, nature lost its diversity as some indigenous species were wiped out (Frishkoff et al. 1344). In such cases, the excessively materialistic nature of the society undervalued the natural vegetation, with people opting instead for agricultural practices. Some concerns later emerged around environmental degradation and the loss of ecological diversity. Nonetheless, growing cities and urban spaces that relied on outsourced food production increased demand for this intensive commercial agriculture. Thus, the sustainability of intensive agricultural practices was largely ignored and remained a contentious topic in urban developments.

Regarding sustainability, urban agriculture depends on intricate production and supply chains filled with various challenges in modern society. Unfair production practices see millions of farmers whose goods get sold in America compensated unfairly for their produce, while industrialized production takes a toll on the environment (Mitchell 1311). For instance, the intensive livestock-rearing practices that feed the American population contribute to a significant portion of greenhouse gases linked to environmental degradation (Burton and Farstad 23). As such, the challenge to sustain commercial agriculture without economic foul play amid growing environmental concerns, urban agriculture is turning out to be a viable option that incorporates food production to urban city dwellings. It would almost be impossible to shift from the established commercial agricultural practices worldwide. Still, with rising environmental and ethical concerns around the agricultural systems, urban farming might prove to be the new way to feed the megacities. This development would, in turn, signal the return to ancient subsistence farming that allowed the Native Americans to coexist with nature.

With the growing concern over the adverse impact of modern agricultural practices on the environment, the sustainability of intensive commercial practices to feed the growing cities is in question. A study of American history and nature reveals a closer relationship between producers and consumers, with most Native American practising subsistence farming. American society pushed for capitalistic modes of production. This transformation, in turn, continues to harm the environment and arguably produces an unsustainable system. As a result, modern agricultural production and supply chains oppose emerging perceptions of equality as farmers get shortchanged for their produce. Similarly, the growing concern for the environment opposes the capitalistic ideology of intensive commercial farming. Is it time society considers urban subsistence farming, and does Intensive commercial farming bring the environment more harm than good?

Work Cited

American Society for Environmental History. “Introduction: American Indians and the Environment.” Environmental History Review, vol. 9, no. 2, 1985, pp. 101-103.

Burton, Rob J.F., and Maja Farstad. “Cultural Lock‐In and Mitigating Greenhouse Gas Emissions: The Case of Dairy/Beef Farmers In Norway”. Sociologia Ruralis, vol. 60, no. 1, 2019, pp. 20-39. Wiley, doi:10.1111/soru.12277.

Frishkoff, L. O. et al. “Loss Of Avian Phylogenetic Diversity In Neotropical Agricultural Systems”. Science, vol. 345, no. 6202, 2014, pp. 1343-1346. American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), doi:10.1126/science.1254610.

Mitchell, Tara. “Is Knowledge Power? Information and Switching Costs In Agricultural Markets”. American Journal of Agricultural Economics, vol. 99, no. 5, 2017, pp. 1307-1326. Wiley, doi:10.1093/ajae/aax035.

Nelson, Scott Reynolds. “Who Put Their Capitalism In My Slavery?”. The Journal Of The Civil War Era, vol. 5, no. 2, 2015, pp. 289-310. Project Muse, doi:10.1353/cwe.2015.0022.




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