From the desk of the executive director: sustainable agriculture history project now available as podcast

Farm and Food

Throughout the nearly 50-year history of the Center, the emergence of federal policy supporting soil and water conservation, local and regional food systems, beginning farmers, and value-added agriculture is one of the most significant areas of policy wins.

This is why when I heard about Ron Kroese’s sustainable agriculture oral history project, I knew it should be available as a podcast. Now, with support from the Center, you can find it on your favorite podcast app by searching “Sustainable Agriculture Policy with Ron Kroese.”

In 1982, Ron co-founded the Land Stewardship Project, a Minnesota-based partner of the Center. Later he worked in philanthropy, supporting many organizations engaged in the development of sustainable agriculture policy. His background made Ron well-suited to take on an effort to document the history of sustainable agriculture policy.

When he retired from the McKnight Foundation in 2015, Ron began an effort that eventually grew to 40 videotaped interviews. Former Center for Rural Affairs Executive Director Chuck Hassebrook is among those interviewed.

The history told in these interviews is rich, detailed by the individuals who lived the work, most of them engaged in the effort for decades.

It can be easy to take for granted many of the federal programs supporting sustainable agriculture that exist today. Programs that are well known and popular exist because of the work done by the Center and many of its allies from across the country.

The Conservation Reserve Program was a policy win in 1985. The Sustainable Agriculture and Research Education Program in 1988. The Value Added Producers Grant Program in 2000. The Conservation Stewardship Program in 2002. The Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program in 2008.

These programs, and others, would not exist without a national coalition of grassroots individuals and organizations working in their respective states and collaboratively in Washington.

The coalition today is known as the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, although it had forerunners in the Midwest Sustainable Agriculture Working Group, the Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, and the National Campaign for Sustainable Agriculture.

While the coalition can claim significant wins, there are other areas of policy change where we have been less successful. Most notably, we have struggled to curb monopoly power within the food system or to reign in unlimited subsidies for the largest farm operations.

At the same time, topics first envisioned by sustainable agriculture advocates 40 years ago—such as a greater focus on soil health and climate change—are now receiving new attention.

History marches forward; new opportunities for change emerge.

I invite you to take time to learn what led up to today. With the interviews now available as video recordings, transcripts, and a podcast, more people will have access to this history.

This is a large project with most significant credit to Ron Kroese, as well as the individuals who sat for interviews. I am happy the Center could support a small part of making this history more widely available through a podcast.

Explore National Sustainable Agriculture Oral History Archive videos and transcripts at and listen in your favorite podcast player.