Image List and Image Notes from Book
(Center for American Places at Columbia College)
All photographs and sculptures were made by John Huddleston between 2000 and 2009 in Addison County, Vermont with one exception: photograph #29 was made by Rod Laursen.
1. Corn Circle Sculpture, ninety feet in diameter, James Farm, 2002 and 2003, a positive crop circle left for the gods. At the beginning of agriculture, around 6000 B.C.E., an estimated ten million people inhabited the earth. By the start of the Common Era, 200 million were alive. Rudimentary chemical and biological knowledge, along with mechanization, helped farmers accommodate one and a half billion people in 1900. More sophisticated agricultural science and machinery enabled the population to double twice by 2000, when the world census was six billion. We're headed toward nine billion by 2050, with ninety percent living in and near a city.
2. Tractor Tracks on a Manured Field. Cow dung and urine are collected into ponds from where it will be pumped into trucks and sprayed on the crop fields as fertilizer. Correct application rates and methods are critical to avoid nitrogen and phosphorus contamination of ground and surface water. With my family I once drove a little too close to a spraying truck. Before we could get the windows up, manure was flying into the car. My daughters were not happy.
3. Unharvested Corn/Snow. As we select desirable crop features by propagating only the plants with these traits, our ideas become incarnate; the physical plant is what we desired. But that plant may be unable to survive on its own. Corn is the most productive of the grasses but the one least able to propagate itself. Through the first few thousand years of domestication, farmers selected cobs with husks that protected and held the kernels onto the cob instead of discharging them to reseed, as would happen in the wild. Eventually, corn relied completely upon us for its continued existence, and we became dependent upon corn as instrumental to our own survival. We have coevolved with our most important plants in mutual dependency.
4. Car Tracks on the Snow. The transportation of food products long distance may work out in terms of dollars and cents, but it makes little sense in terms of overall energy use. On average, processing and moving one calorie of food from origin to point of sale involves the consumption of nearly forty calories of fossil fuel. (Growing that one calorie burns an additional seven to ten calories of petroleum.)
5. Maple Sugaring Line. The sap of the sugar maple runs for several weeks around the spring equinox, when daytime temperatures are above freezing and nighttime temperatures are below. A network of tubes runs from the tree taps into collection tanks. Forty to 100 gallons of sap will boil down to yield one gallon of syrup.
6. Manure Pond. Cow dung and urine are collected into ponds from where it will be pumped into trucks and sprayed on the crop fields as fertilizer (see page VI). Correct application rates and methods are critical to avoid nitrogen and phosphorus contamination of ground and surface water. With my family I once drove a little too close to a spraying truck. Before we could get the windows up, manure was flying into the car. My daughters were not happy.
7 Snow Island in a Muddy Stream. Soil erosion is a major problem that arises from agriculture. The farms of the United States lose ten times more topsoil than is replaced by natural processes, and soil cannot be made in any other way.
8. Windy Snow Parabola.
9. Snow on a Hill and Sky. For the hunter-gatherer, a god is everywhere: in animals, natural phenomena, and plants. Nature is interdependent, forces are in equilibrium. The balance of the gods keeps the earth healthy. With the rise of agriculture, the number of gods decreases, correlating to our dependence on fewer species. Hybrid gods, half-animal and half-human, appear. As our sense of control increases, gods resembling man and woman reign. Earth is female; crops are born out of her body.
10. Winter Field between Ice and Sky.
11. Bare Valley. Historically, overpopulation is relieved by warfare or mass starvation. Famines have occurred with great frequency throughout recorded history, most recently in Russia, 1921-1922 (9,000,000 people starve to death); Russia, 1933-1934 (5,000,000 starve to death), and China, 1958-1960 (30,000,000 starve to death). Hunger is still a major problem for much of the world. Farming creates the conditions for famine. Large, hungry populations have resulted from the abundant production of agriculture. Stratified social systems with impoverished lower classes originated with the ability to store grain and accumulate wealth.
12. Grass on a Farm Road. The migration from country to city, largely due to the failure of small farms and the shrinking number of agricultural jobs, has compounded urban problems of poverty, unemployment, housing, and crime. "There never has been any national recognition of what this pellmell change meant in terms of stresses on our communities, schools, governments, homes, churches, neighborhoods, and on ourselves. The result has been a national crisis of environment-the relationship between the people and the land-and from this crisis others have erupted all around us." - Orville Freeman, former Secretary of Agriculture, as quoted by A. V. Krebs, The Corporate Reapers: The Book of Agribusiness (Washington, DC: Essential Books, 1991), 63.
13. Corn Stubble. The slow movement of Mexican corn northward from 1500 B.C.E. to 1000 C.E. contributed much to the growth of Amerindian civilizations and, subsequently, to the European colonies. Since the North American Free Trade Agreement was signed in 1994, corn from the United States has flooded southward into Mexico. Mechanized methods and government subsidies make American corn very cheap. Corn prices in Mexico have dropped seventy percent since the agreement, and struggling Mexican farmers have been driven out of business. Reliance on American corn, which is genetically similar (hybridized) and/or genetically engineered, will drastically and irreversibly simplify the diverse corn gene pool that Mexico has created over thousands of years. A reduced gene pool puts the world's third most important food at great risk to future disease. A resistant species of corn may be eliminated in the rush towards largely economic goals.
14. Grass Stubble in Hay Field.
15. Late Corn Leaves. "Corn is the only vegetable we eat that is made entirely of seeds, like a pomegranate. To eat corn on the cob is to eat life, like fish roe or caviar, in which we cannibalize the future in the instant."-Samuel Wilson, The Inquiring Gastronome (1927), as quoted in Betty Fussell, The Story of Corn (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1992), 40.
16. Edge of the Cornfield. The dormant seed mysteriously comes to life. Rain comes or does not. Pests and blights inexplicably destroy crops. In early rituals, many people gave their lives, often willingly, in the attempt to appease the gods and control the natural cycles around agriculture. These sacrifices involve magical identification of humans with gods and, by extension, with food plants and their cycles of growth. Similar to our incorporation of the food plant into our bodies, these rites intermix human flesh with the seed or where we plant the seed. As time passed, animals became the primary sacrifice, followed by the use of effigies and the sacramental meal. Christ redeems humankind with the sacrifice of his life and the Catholic ritual of the Eucharist. "Take, eat; this is my body."-The Holy Bible (Matthew 26: 26).
17. Cornfield at Dusk.
18. Fall Leaves II. "We must learn to acknowledge that the creation is full of mystery; we will never clearly understand it. We must abandon arrogance and stand in awe. We must recover the sense of the majesty of the creation, and the ability to be worshipful in its presence. For I do not doubt that it is only on the condition of humility and reverence before the world that our species will be able to remain in it."-Wendell Berry, Recollected Essays (San Francisco: North Point Press, 1981), 98.
19. Abandoned Apple Orchard. Through the machinations of our modern economy, apple producers from the western United States and China are able to undersell local growers here in Vermont as well as in other apple-producing states. The imported apples are often tasteless, harvested by exploited laborers, treated with harmful pesticides and preservatives, and shipped and stored with great use of fossil fuels. Productive orchards in Vermont are being cut down in order to grow grass.
20. Dark Earth/Grass/Sky. Good grassland soil contains millions of organisms per teaspoon. In total, they weigh more than what grows aboveground. Soil is the most complex ecosystem on Earth. "Art has its roots in the soil."-Jens Jensen, Siftings (Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins University Press, in association with the Center for American Places, 1990), 1.
21. Tilled Field/Cloudy Sky. "Agriculture is, by its very nature, brutally reductive, simplifying nature's incomprehensible complexity to something humanly manageable; it begins, after all, with the simple act of banishing all but a tiny handful of chosen species."- Michael Pollan, The Botany of Desire: A Plant's Eye View of the World (New York: Random House, 2001), 185.
22. Grass Quadriptych. Farming begins with grass. After hundreds of thousands of years of hunter-gatherer existence, people began to domesticate wild grasses. The resulting wheat, rice, and corn became the centers of the three major agricultural matrices. Separately developed from 10,000 to 5,000 B.C.E., these grains provided a constancy of food supply that enabled settled civilizations and began a radically new era in human history.
23. From the Bank of the Lemon Fair II. Water flowing from farms contains chemicals from fertilizers and pesticides that are beneficial to crops in the short run but not to life in surrounding waterways. The off-site costs of soil and water runoff are in the billions of dollars.
24. Eaton Silo. The establishment of agriculture fundamentally changed our relations to one another and to the earth. Cultivated grain can be stored and owned, unlike any other previous food. Wealth is now possible-and poverty. Particular pieces of land take on specific value, and owning them may be desirable. Individual possession was the Caucasian model and has become the basis for Western capitalism. Some Amerindian groups worked with the different idea of group ownership of crops and land.
25. Tarp Quadriptych. The cover is used to protect silage that is stored in the field.
26. Grass, Sky. Small farmers, with their orientation towards caring for the land to pass it on to their sons and daughters, are the natural solution to many of agriculture's ecological problems. But, when the bottom line is only the sale price of the product and consumers are unaware of, or don't care, about the way the product is produced, the small farmer has little chance of survival.
27. Stainless Steel Forest Line Sculpture (detail), 200 feet by one foot, Old Thompson Farm, 2001. A roll of stainless was installed level, winding through tree trunks from five to seven feet above the ground.
28. Tree Ice Ring Sculpture, five feet in diameter by five inches thick, 500 pounds, Old Thompson Farm, 2002. This was made by gradually adding water to a form, which was removed after the water froze; only the grip of the ice onto the bark holds it in place.
29. Ice Columns Sculpture, each thirteen feet by one foot in diameter, Claudon Farm, 2000. Four ice ages covered the upper northern hemisphere with ice as thick as one mile. The last glacier retreated from what would become Vermont 10,000 years ago. Left behind were a series of north-south mountains and valleys, thinly covered with topsoil. Photograph by Rod Laursen of San Francisco, California.
30. Three Pumpkin Totems Sculpture (detail), each eighteen feet in height, DeBisschop Farm, 2001. Pumpkins had to be added continuously as the lower pumpkins were crushed by the weight of pumpkins from above.