I went to a land grant university. I pretty much only looked a land grant universities for undergrad and I applied to 4 of them (Maryland, Purdue, Florida and Cornell). Then in my senior year of college I worked at the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education program (SARE). While at SARE I had to contact every land grant university. Now, I feel like an expert on the topic. Anyway, tonight I was reading on Grist that the freshman book for Washington State University (a land grant university) was Michael Pollan’s Omnivore’s Dilemma (a personal favorite). However, the book is no longer the freshman book. The university’s website suggests that the book was pulled because of budget constraints. However, more than 4,000 copies of the book have already been purchased. There is evidence to suggest that the university was under a lot of political pressure to pull the book. Land grant universities get a lot of their research funding from the agriculture industry. The amount of industrial influence is apparent when you have 55 pre-vet students learning to ration out diets for cows. They hate it and just want to give shots to dogs and cats.
To give a little background, land grant universities were established by the Morrill Land Grant College act in 1862. This act said, “the purpose of the land-grant colleges was: without excluding other scientific and classical studies and including military tactic, to teach such branches of learning as are related to agriculture and the mechanic arts, in such manner as the legislatures of the States may respectively prescribe, in order to promote the liberal and practical education of the industrial classes in the several pursuits and professions in life.”
150 years ago Congress stated that we needed to learn more about agriculture and improve our practices. They decided to invest money and land from every state to improve the American agriculture industry, and now we are going to discourage books in those same schools because the book questions our current practices. Banning books is never good. Being content with the status quo is never good. A lot of people disagree with Pollan, which is fine. Debating the topic will help us find better solutions to our problems. But to make any progress we need to be educating more people about the agriculture industry and encouraging new ideas not hiding the debate.
To make matters worse, Ann Finan said that the entire Community and Rural Sociology department at WSU was cut. Many of the faculty involved in that department are engaged in research related to sustainable agriculture and food systems, some of the best in the country. The implications of both these decisions taken at our state’s land grant university are dire for the development of local and sustainable food systems in the state of Washington (especially the eastern half of the state).
I think the best thing that can come from all this, is that more freshman will read the book now then would have read it when it was required. In order to make enough food and save the planet we need more people involved and more research being conducted. New practices and technologies are a must.