Richard Manning: “Against The Grain”

“America’s Northeast was once U.S. agriculture’s major force, with farms supplying the country’s densest clusters of population.  The Northeast now does very little farming, and most of the agricultural lands have gone back to forest or suburbs, an odd transition in that these are in some ways the nation’s best agricultural lands.  Unlike the western grasslands, the Northeast gets enough rain to grow crops.  The decline came as a result of a particular form of subsidy: federal irrigation projects.  Beginning at the height of the progressive era, the nation set to work on making the western deserts bloom, investing billions in dams, canals, tunnels, and drains to bring nine million additional acres under cultivation.  The historian Donald Worster has shown that this figure exactly parallels the acreage of abandoned farms in the Northeast – land that already had water – during the same period.  What industrial agriculture abandons is opportunity.”

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