You are here

Tracing the Evolution of Organic / Sustainable Agriculture (TESA1800)

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

Bibliographies and Literature of Agriculture, no. 72
Updated and Expanded, November 2021.

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

(Revised Vanessa S. Gordon, PhD, November 2021)

<<  Table of Contents <<  Previous | Next  >>

Chronological List of Books, Book Chapters and Reports


The Age of Discovery’s agricultural legacy

Scientific and geographical discoveries of the 1500s, 1600s and 1700s had great impact on agriculture and on the use of natural resources worldwide. Significant changes included: accelerated “globalization” of plant and animal species; unprecedented advances in scientific knowledge and research techniques; access to new markets and trading partners; and social revolutions that redefined labor and land ownership.

For the Europeans, undeveloped continents seemed to offer a never-ending supply of arable land and cheap labor. This had special significance for the Americas. “The felling of the first tree by colonists in the New World, though never mentioned by historians, was an act of great significance. It marked the beginning of the era of the most rapid rate of wasteful land use in the history of the world.” Early American Soil Conservationists, by Angus McDonald. Washington DC: United States Department of Agriculture, 1941.

Saussure, Nicolas-Théodore de, 1767-1845
Récherches Chimiques sur la Végétation
Paris: Chez la Ve. Nyon, 1804. viii, 327p. In French. Translated title: Chemical Research on Vegetation.
NAL Call no: 463.2 .S285R
Annotation: The majority of this Swiss scientist’s papers deal with the chemistry and physiology of plants and plant interactions with soils. His work clarified many previously misunderstood soil-plant relationships including plant respiration and the soil’s role as supplier of nitrogen. These findings set the scene for modern soil science and humus-oriented theory. MVG
Cited in: Korcak (1992)

Taylor, John, 1753-1824
Arator: Being a Series of Agricultural Essays, Practical and Political, in Sixty-one Numbers, by a Citizen of Virginia
Georgetown, DC: J.M. and J.B. Carter, 1813. 296p. Other editions: Several later editions of this work appeared in the early 1800s; a recent volume, edited and with an introduction by M.E. Bradford was published in 1977.
NAL Call no: 30 T21
Other works by this author: An Inquiry into the Principles and Policy of the Government of the United States (1814).
Annotation: Taylor was a statesman, author, Virginia plantation owner and close friend of Thomas Jefferson. His observations of soil depletion led to his investigation and advocacy of soil restorative practices. His widely read essays and newspaper articles recommended the following: protect the soil from grazing during the rest period, and thus raise a large crop of vegetable matter; make use of vegetable manures of all kinds; sow clover and grass seed with the grain crop to serve as pasturage or green-manure; practice horizontal plowing as a preventative of gullies and washes; and establish artificial meadows and a crop rotation with grass. MVG

Ruffin, Edmund, 1794-1865
An Essay on Calcareous Manures
Petersburg VA: J. W. Campbell, 1832. xii, 13, 242p. Other editions: Several subsequent editions published through 1852.
NAL Call no: 57.1 R83 R
Other works by this author: An Address on the Opposite Results of Exhausting and Fertilizing Systems of Agriculture: Read before the South-Carolina Institute, at its Fourth Annual Fair, November 18th, 1852 (1853); Agricultural, Geological, and Descriptive Sketches of Lower North Carolina, and the Similar Adjacent Lands (1861); Agriculture, Geology, and Society in Antebellum South Carolina: The Private Diary of Edmund Ruffin, 1843, edited by William M. Mathew (1992).
Annotation: Ruffin’s work and writings cover many topics related to sustaining farm production in Virginia and North Carolina, including lime-soil interactions (especially “marling”), flood and sedimentation control, cover crops, soil exhaustion and wind erosion. “Edmund Ruffin’s efforts ended the pioneer state of the erosion-control movement in America. His work was equal to that of all his predecessors combined. The knowledge of the soil which he gained from his experiments, his theories and speculations regarding the action of water on soil and his erosion-control practices provided a foundation for later developments.” A. McDonald, Early American Soil Conservationists (1941), p. 58. MVG
Cited in: McDonald (1941)

Liebig, Justus Freiherr von, 1803-1873
Organic Chemistry and its Application to Agriculture and Physiology
London: Taylor and Walton, 1840. 407p. Edited from the manuscript of the author by Lyon Playfair. Translated from the German, Organische Chemie in ihrer Anwendung auf Agricultur und Physiologie. Includes bibliographical references.
NAL Call no: 395 L62O
Other works by this author: Chemical Letters (2nd corrected edition) (full-text: Soil and Health Library, Steve Solomon) (accessed 2021-11-09).
Annotation: Liebig’s work established basic chemical requirements for agricultural production and plant nutrition. His discoveries, coupled with those of Sir Humphrey Davy (Elements of Agricultural Chemistry, 1813) reduced the soil-plant relationship to chemical reactions and an agricultural “revolution” was begun. By the 1940s, large-scale use of synthetic chemical fertilizers had become mainstream. Liebig’s legacy marks the divergent paths of “conventional” and organic agriculture. MVG
Cited in: Conford (2001); Kirschenmann (2004); Korcak (1992)

Dana, Samuel Luther, 1795-1868
A Muck Manual for Farmers
Lowell MA: Daniel Bixby, 1842. 242p.
NAL Call no: 56 D19 1842
Other works by this author: Manures: A Prize Essay (1844); Essay on Manures (1853).
Annotation: “A treatise on the physical and chemical properties of soils; the chemistry of manures; including also the subjects of composts, artificial manures and irrigation.” (From the title of the 5th edition of this work, published 1855.) One of the first American-published books to elaborate on the science of soil improvement, this work includes information about the use of city-generated organic wastes and industrial by-products as agricultural soil amendments. MVG
Cited in: Blum (1993)

Allen, Richard Lamb, 1803-1869
A Brief Compend of American Agriculture
New York: Saxon and Miles, 1846. 437p. Includes index.
NAL Call no: 31.3 AL5 1846
Other works by this author: Domestic Animals. History and Description of the Horse, Mule, Cattle, Sheep, Swine, Poultry, and Farm Dogs. With Directions for their Management, Breeding, Crossing, Rearing, Feeding, and Preparation for a Profitable Market; also, their Diseases and Remedies Together with Full Directions for the Management of the Dairy (1847) (full-text: Core Historical Literature of Agriculture) (accessed 2021-1109); New American Farm Book, with Lewis F. Allen (1858) (full-text: Making of America Books) (accessed 2021-11-09).
Annotation: The introduction contains a proposal for establishment of a “National Board of Agriculture,” plus recommendations for States’ actions, particularly regarding education. JPG
Cited in: Pieters (1927)

Browne, Daniel Jay, 1804-1867?
The Field Book of Manures, or, the American Muck Book: Treating of the Nature, Properties, Sources, History, and Operations of All the Principal Fertilisers and Manures in Common Use, with Specific Directions for Their Preparation, Preservation, and Application to the Soil and to Crops; as Combined with the Leading Principles of Practical and Scientific Agriculture; Drawn from Authentic Sources, Actual Experience, and Personal Observation
New York: C.M. Saxton and Company, Agricultural Book Publishers, 1855 (oldest edition held by the National Agricultural Library). xii, 5, 422p. Illustrated with engravings.
NAL Call no: 57 B81
Full-text: Internet Archive (accessed 2021-11-09)
Other works by this author: Sylva Americana or a Description of the Forest Trees Indigenous to the United States (1832) (full-text: Internet Archive) (accessed 2021-11-09); The American Poultry Yard; Comprising the Origin, History, and Description of the Different Breeds of Domestic Poultry, with Samuel Allen (1850) (full-text: Internet Archive) (accessed 2021-11-09).
Annotation: As the book title indicates, Browne presents information pertaining to soil productivity through incorporation of organic matter. He served as head of the agricultural division of the Patent Office from June 9, 1853, through 1859. He also published a book (cited above) calling for native tree planting directed especially at farmers. MVG
Cited in: Harwood (1983); Harwood (1990); Kirschenmann (2004)

Thoreau, Henry David, 1817-1862
Walden; or, Life in the Woods
Garden City NY: Doubleday, 1960. 280p. Reprint of the first edition of Walden, published in Boston by Ticknor and Fields in 1854.
NAL Call no: 145 T39
Full-text: Florida State University (accessed 2021-11-09)
Annotation: Thoreau’s advocacy for living simply, in accordance with nature, included a strong conservation message for agriculture. “By avarice and selfishness and a grovelling habit, from which none of us is free, of regarding the soil as property, or the means of acquiring property chiefly, the landscape is deformed, husbandry is degraded with us and the farmer leads the meanest of lives. He knows Nature but as a robber.” Chapter 7. MVG
Cited in: Esbjornson (1992)

Sorsby, Nicholas T.
Horizontal Plowing and Hill-side Ditching
Mobile: S.H. Goetzel, 1860. 45p.
NAL Call no: n.a.
Annotation: Sorsby was a Southern planter who farmed in Mississippi and Alabama. His book on tillage and erosion management for farmers advocates a system of level, contour tillage patterns; ridge and furrow plowing; exact grading methods; gully rehabilitation and drainage ditches. His system was complicated and ahead of its time, but its principles were often cited in soil conservation efforts of later decades. MVG
Cited in: McDonald (1941)

Marsh, George Perkins, 1801-1882
Man and Nature, or, Physical Geography as Modified by Human Action
New York: C. Scribner, 1869 (oldest edition held by the National Agricultural Library). xix, 577p. “Bibliographical list of works consulted” p. vii-xv. Other editions: The Earth as Modified by Human Action: A Last revision of “Man and Nature,” 1907; John Harvard Library edition, 1965.
NAL Call no: 331 M35E 1869
Full-text: Making of America Books (accessed 2021-11-09)
Other works by this author: Irrigation: Its Evils, the Remedies, and the Compensations (1873); So Great a Vision: The Conservation Writings of George Perkins Marsh, edited by Stephen C. Trombulak (2001).
Annotation: Influential lawyer, diplomat and scholar, Marsh, was one of the first to recognize and describe in detail the significance of human action in transforming the natural world and to advocate society’s responsibility in addressing it. Piqued by the damage farmers in his native Vermont did by clear-cutting their land, he broadened his scope to study and discuss ecological problems on an international scale. This book, first published in 1864, has become a classic of environmental literature. MVG

Wolfinger, John F.
Green Manuring and Manures
In Report of the U.S. Commissioner of Agriculture for the Year 1864. Washington DC: Government Printing Office (1865), p. 299-328.
NAL Call no: 1 Ag84 1864
Full-text: Internet Archive (accessed 2021-11-09)
Annotation: Lincoln was President when this report was published. Wolfinger defines his subject, tracing its history in Flanders (now Belgium) and listing the benefits of and objections to, the practice of green manuring. He also quotes what “the best agricultural writers say of green manures.” JPG
Cited in: Pieters (1927)

Riley, Charles Valentine, 1843-1895
The Rocky Mountain Locust: Its Metamorphoses and Natural Enemies
Publisher unknown: 1878. 1 vol.
NAL Call no: 429 R45Ro
Annotation: Riley was a scientist, artist and prolific writer who is credited with helping establish the field of modern entomology. “One of Riley’s greatest triumphs while Chief of the Federal Entomological Service (1881-1894) was his initiation of efforts to collect parasites and predators of the cottony cushion scale, which was destroying the citrus industry in California. In 1888, he sent Albert Koebele to Australia to collect natural enemies of the scale. A beetle, Vedalia cardinalis, now Rodolia cardinalis, was introduced into California and significantly reduced populations of the cottony cushion scale. This effort gave great impetus to the study of biological control for the reduction of injurious pests and established Charles Valentine Riley as the ‘Father of the Biological Control.’” Charles Valentine Riley Collection, Biographical Notes, National Agricultural Library (accessed 2021-11-09). MVG

Darwin, Charles Robert, 1809-1882
The Formation of Vegetable Mould Through the Action of Worms with Observations on their Habits
London: Murray, 1945. Reprint of the 1881 publication.
NAL Call no: 56.12 D45
Full-text: Soil and Health Library, Steve Solomon (accessed 2021-11-09))
Annotation: The real foundation for “the study of the principles underlying farming and gardening...” JPG
Cited in: Coleman (1976); Harwood (1983); Harwood (1990); Kirschenmann (2004); Korcak (1992); Merrill (1983)

Hensel, Julius
Bread from Stones. A New and Rational System of Land Fertilization and Physical Regeneration
Philadelphia PA: A. J. Tafel, 1894. 140p. Translated from the German. Other editions: 2nd edition, 1911; 3rd edition, 1913. Reissued, Acres U.S.A., 1991.
NAL Call no: 57.6 B74
Annotation: Using his understanding of the role of earth minerals in the production of food crops, Hensel championed the use of “stonemeal,” as natural fertilzer and recommended excluding animal manures and commercial fertilizers from farming. J.I. Rodale, in his book, Pay Dirt, notes that this theory was first offered by Hensel in Norway in 1885. Although few growers today espouse excluding organic soil amendments, rock dust and rock minerals are recognized as essential ingredients in soil building practices. MVG

Roberts, Isaac Phillips, 1833-1928
The Fertility of the Land: A Summary Sketch of the Relationship of Farm-practice to the Maintaining and Increasing of the Productivity of the Soil
New York: Macmillan, 1897. xvii, 415p. Preface by L. H. Bailey. Other editions: Several revised versions published through 1909. (Rural Science Series)
NAL Call no: 57 R54
Full-text: Core Historical Literature of Agriculture, Cornell University (accessed 2021-11-09)
Other works by this author: The Production and Care of Farm Manures (1891); Soil Depletion in Respect to the Care of Fruit Trees (1895); Ten Acres Enough; A Practical Experience Showing How a Very Small Farm May be Made to Keep a Very Large Family, with Edmund Morris (1905); Autobiography of a Farm Boy (1946).
Annotation: Roberts was both a farmer and an agricultural educator. His observation that, “If land contains a reasonable amount of potential plant-food and fails to give satisfactory results, it would appear to be both unbusinesslike and unscientific to add plant-food rather than to use that already in possession,” was fundamental to his philosophy and understanding of land productivity. MVG
Cited in: Harwood (1983); Harwood (1990)

Bentley, Henry Lewis
Cattle Ranges of the Southwest: A History of the Exhaustion of the Pasturage and Suggestions for its Restoration
Washington DC: U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, 1898. 32p. (Farmers’ Bulletin, No. 72)
NAL Call no: 1 Ag84F no.72
Full-text: Organic Roots, Organic Agriculture Information
Other works by this author: A Report upon the Grasses and Forage Plants of Central Texas (1898); Experiments in Range Improvement in Central Texas (1902).
Annotation: Bentley describes the early condition of central Texas ranges and the factors that contributed to their deterioration during the late 1800s. His recommendations on how the value of the stock ranges could be renewed through appropriate stocking rates, water conservation practices, hay production and the use of native grasses and forage plants seem remarkably contemporary. MVG

Frank, Albert Bernhard, 1839-1900
A Manual of Agricultural Botany
Edinburgh; London: W. Blackwood and Sons, 1898. x, 199p. Translated from the German, Pflanzenkunde für Mittlere und Niedere Landwirthschaftschülen (1894), by John Waugh Paterson. Illustrated with 133 woodcuts.
NAL Call no: 64 F85
Annotation: Frank is best known for his research on plant-fungi symbiosis related to truffle production. He is credited with inventing the term, “mycorrhiza,” in the paper, “On the Nourishment of Trees through a Root Symbiosis with Underground Fungi” (1885), Proceedings of the German Botanical Association (English translation) (accessed 2021-11-09). MVG
Cited in: Merrill (1983)