Friday, May 28, 2010

Can You Hear Them Now?

Yesterday I had the pleasure of accompanying John Peter Thompson, President of the nonprofit "National Agricultural Research Alliance- Beltsville" and Rachel Dawson, like me, a Policy Analyst from the Northeast-Midwest Institute, on a tour of a very small portion of the USDA's "Henry A. Wallace Beltsville Agricultural Research Center" in Beltsville, Maryland.  You can see some photos of our eight-hour tour here

At over 7,000 acres, the ARS Beltsville research center is the largest and most diversified agricultural research complex in the world. And although its history of accomplishments and ongoing research have made it an international leader in agriculture research, its international reputation sadly dwarfs the degree to which it is valued here in the U.S.

The breadth and quality of research that has already been undertaken over the facility's 100 years of work has certainly brought value to the world's agricultural enterprises, but it is certainly equally true that much of what the Center accomplishes is never fully recognized, valued and put into practice, to the detriment of agriculture and all things connected (water, soil, air, animals, plants, economy, towns, cities, oceans, you, me . . . you get the picture).

The troubling thing is, the ARS BARC, as it is known, is actually little-known in the Washington, DC area, in Maryland, and across the nation. And it is even less valued.  Its budget is chronically tight and becoming tighter, despite the increasing need for its services in the face of growing demand for safe, affordable and quality food worldwide; despite the central role that agriculture plays in the economic and ecological sustainability of the region, nation and world.  In an era when the immediate and instant garner attention, the long-term view and thoughtful research approach of ARS and the scientists at BARC is little more than an afterthought.

Do yourself and all of the rest of us a favor; take a tour of the facility in person if at all possible (by the way, there is an open house on June 5 in celebration of BARC's 100 years of work).  Speak to the people dedicated to the work of sustaining agriculture and the Earth and its peoples.  Spend some time touring the facility's web site and becoming acquainted with BARC's mission, projects and people.  I think you'll come away, as I did, impressed as to what is happening there; who is working for us there.  You might even start giving some second thoughts about what our priorities should be when it comes to putting our money where our food lies.

The good people at the Henry A. Wallace Beltsville Agricultural Research Center have been speaking.  Can you hear them now?

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