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Tracing the Evolution of Organic / Sustainable Agriculture (TESA1799)

Tracing the Evolution of Organic/Sustainable Agriculture
A Selected and Annotated Bibliography

Bibliographies and Literature of Agriculture, no. 72

Compiled by:
Mary V. Gold and Jane Potter Gates
Alternative Farming Systems Information Center

Revised by Vanessa S. Gordon, Ph.D. (2021)

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Chronological List of Books, Book Chapters and Reports

References through 1799

Note about early works

The environmental impacts of early agriculture remain undocumented, at least in terms of written records. Archaeological discoveries provide clues. For instance, rock paintings found in the Tibesti Mountains of North Africa dating to 3,500 BCE indicate that overgrazing and desertification were phenomena even in ancient times. The pictures show that areas of the Sahara described as barren in the first century A.D. were once fertile fields.

On varying timetables, people in Europe, Asia, Africa and the Americas developed agricultural systems, many incorporating land stewardship practices. Examples include: the Chinese adoption of composting and mulching (ca. 2000 BCE); Sumerian irrigation and windbreak techniques evidenced in document tablets from circa 1500 BCE; and the Aztec Chinampas (floating garden) system utilized since the 1100s that produces several corn crops per year. (From: The People's Chronology: A Year-by Year Record of Human Events from Prehistory to the Present, by James Trager, New York: Henry Holt, 1994) Several works written during the 19th and 20th centuries that document these and other ancient systems are cited in this bibliography. See: Dickson, 1788; King, 1911; Wrench, 1946; Lowdermilk, 1948; Osborn, 1948; Hyams, 1952; and Diamond, 2005.

Columella, Lucius Junius Moderatus, 6-70
De Re Rustica Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press, 1941 (oldest edition held by the National Agricultural Library). 3 vols. Loeb Classical Library edition. Translated title: On Agriculture. Recension of the text and an English translation by Harrison Boyd Ash. Bibliography, v. 1, p. xxiii-xxvii. Other editions: The National Agricultural Library holds various editions of this work, published in Italy, England and Germany, dating from the 1500s.
NAL Call no: 30.8 C72Ag
Full-text: Columella: Extant Works (De Re Rustica and De Arboribus)
Annotation: In the first century, Columella wrote, “The earth neither grows old, nor wears out, if it be dunged.” He also recommended grains in rotation with legumes and fallow. Cato, Varro, Palladius, Vegetius and Pliny the Elder also wrote about soil building and conservation techniques. MVG

Tusser, Thomas, 1524?-1580
Five Hundred Points of Good Husbandry London: H. Denham, 1580. 4p., 289 numbered leaves, 2p. Complete title: Fiue hundred pointes of good husbandrie, as well for the champion, or open countrie, as also for the woodland, or seuerall, mixed in eurie month with huswiferie, ouer and besides the booke of huswiferie, corrected, better ordered, and newly augmented to a fourth part more, with diuers other lessons, as a diet for the farmer, or the properties of winds, planets, hope, herbes, bees, and approoued remedies for sheepe and cattle, with many other matters both profitable and not vnpleasant for the reader: also a table of husbandrie at the beginning of this book: and another of huswiforie at the end: for the better and easier finding of any matter contained in the same. In verse.
NAL Call no: 30.8 T87 1580
Annotation: This classic has been reprinted almost every century since its original publication. Tusser’s maxims include observations of human behavior - “Still crop’ upon crop many farmers do take and reap little profit, for greediness sake... 11, observations concerning the land” and “land (overburdened) is clean out of heart,” or “if land be unlusty, the crop is not great.” He also gives advice by the month, frequently in rhyme. “Octobers Abstract” is about the rotation of crops: “Where barlie did growe, laie wheat to sowe, yet better I thinke, sowe pease, after drinke. And then if ye please, sowe wheat after pease.” JPG
Cited in: Bailey (1915)

Eliot, Jared, 1685-1763
Essays Upon Field-husbandry in New-England, as It is or May be Ordered Boston: Edes and Gill, 1760. 166p. “The foregoing essays were first printed in New-London and in New-York; the 1st in 1748, 2d in 1749, 3d in 1751, 4th in 1753, 5th in 1754, 6th in 1759.” p. 158. Appendix dated June, 1761. Other editions: Essays upon Field Husbandry in New England, and Other Papers, 1748-1762, edited by Harry J. Carman and Rexford G. Tugwell, with a biographical sketch by Rodney H. True (Columbia University Press, 1934).
NAL Call no: 31.3 El4E R
Annotation: Eliot was a minister, doctor, philosopher, author and scientist-farmer. His six essays, based on observations and experiments made at his farm in Connecticut, were the first American publications devoted to agriculture. He adapted English practices, recommending legume/grain rotations and control of erosion on hillsides including his own brand of conservation tillage. “When our fore-Fathers settled here, they entered a Land which probably never had been Ploughed since the Creation; the Land being new they depended upon the natural Fertility of the Ground, which served their purpose very well and when they had worn out one piece they cleared another, without any concern to amend their Land, except a little helped by the Fold and Cart-dung, whereas in England they would think a Man a bad Husband, if he should pretend to sow Wheat on Land without any Dressing.” MVG
Cited in: McDonald (1941)

Dickson, Adam, 1721-1776
The Husbandry of the Ancients Edinburgh: Dickson and Creeca, 1788. 2 vols.: 527p. and 494p.
NAL Call no: R30.9 D56
Other works by this author: A Treatise on Agriculture (1762, later editions, 1765, 1785); Small Harms Destructive to the Country in its Present Situation (1764); Essay on Manures (1772).
Annotation: Dickson quotes Columella, Palladius, Cato, Virgil, Pliny, et. al., regarding the knowledge and practice of husbandry and confesses in the preface to be “agreeably surprised to find, that, not-withstanding the great differences in climate, the maxims of the ancient Roman farmers are the same with those of the best modern farmers in Britain...” JPG
Cited in: Pieters (1927)

Deane, Samuel, 1733-1814
The New-England Farmer, or, Georgical Dictionary: Containing a Compendious Account of the Ways and Methods in Which the Important Art of Husbandry, in All its Various Branches, is, or May be Practised, to the Greatest Advantage, in this Country Worcester MA: Isaiah Thomas, 1790. 335p.
NAL Call no: 30.1 D34 Ed.1
Full-text: (1797 edition) Internet Archive
Annotation: Deane was the first American to document the problem of wind erosion. Along with other soil-conserving practices such as green manuring and contour plowing, he recommended windbreaks and hedgerows to prevent “sand-floods.” His original 1790 book was updated several times and was reportedly a mainstay of New England farmers until the Civil War. MVG
Cited in: McDonald (1941)

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