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The Country Life Commission: Reconsidering a Milestone in American Agricultural History

Scott J. Peters and Paul A. Morgan
Agricultural History
Vol. 78, No. 3 (Summer, 2004), pp. 289-316
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3744708
Page Count: 28
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The Country Life Commission: Reconsidering a Milestone in American Agricultural History
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Abstract

Theodore Roosevelt charged his 1908 Country Life Commission with looking into the deficiencies of agriculture and country life and the means by which they might be remedied. Though some scholars have judged it a positive milestone in American agricultural history, prevailing assessments are critical, negative, and often conflicting. Critics view it as an example of patronizing, technocratic social engineering aimed at urbanizing and industrializing the countryside to benefit national and industrial economic interests. Yet this interpretation is inconsistent with the commission's report. Rather than offering a technocratic program to engineer agriculture and country life, the report is one of the first high-profile, comprehensive attempts to outline a broad-gauge vision of sustainability in American agriculture. It reflects an ecological sensitivity and a variant of Progressive Era reform devoted to key civic and economic ideals. Though flawed, the commission's vision of agriculture and country life deserves to be seen as a milestone in the story for the struggle for sustainability.

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