Organic farming leader Fred Kirschenmann to lecture


Fred Kirschenmann, a national leader in the organic food and farming movement, will deliver the next free public lecture sponsored by the Freshwater Society and the University of Minnesota College of Biological Sciences.

Kirschenmann will speak on “Water and the Challenges Facing U.S. and World Agriculture in the 21st Century.”


organic farming leader Fred Kirschenmann
Fred Kirschenmann, farmer and philosopher

The lecture, the sixth in a series, will be at 7 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 10, in the theater of the Student Center on the university’s St. Paul campus.

There are lots of ways to describe Kirschenmann: philosopher, farmer, author and advocate. Since 2000, he has been the director or a distinguished fellow at Iowa State University’s Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture. He also is president of the board of directors of the Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture in Pocantico Hills, N.Y.

He wrote Cultivating an Ecological Conscience: Essays from a Farmer Philosopher, published in 2010 by the University Press of Kentucky. This year, he was honored by the James Beard Foundation for “lifelong work on sustainable food and farming systems.”

The message of his lecture, Kirschenmann said, will be that serious changes must be made in the way America and the world grow food.

A series of crises – the drawing down of groundwater reserves around the world; depletion of fossil fuels; looming shortages in two basic agricultural fertilizers, phosphorus and potassium; and a changing climate – are occurring at the same time that population growth and changing diets around the world are increasing demand for food.

Organic agriculture, the kind Kirschenmann long has advocated and practiced on his own 2,400-acre farm in North Dakota, is not enough of an answer, he said. Nor is any single technological fix.

For the past century, he said, agriculture has been designed as an industrial operation, assuming that the natural resources to fuel that industry and the sinks in nature to absorb its wastes would always be in sufficient supply. Tomorrow’s agriculture has to be designed to mimic nature, with the intention to make it more resilient and largely self-renewing.

Kirschenmann grew up on the farm in Medina, N.D., about 25 miles southwest of Jamestown. He has described his father, who moved to the farm in the 1930, the beginning of the Dust Bowl years on the Great Plains, as a “radical conservationist.”

Kirschenmann earned a bachelor’s degree in religion at the former Yankton College, then a master’s and doctorate in historical theology at the University of Chicago. He began teaching at the college level, and was academic dean at Curry College in Massachusetts when his father suffered a heart attack in 1976.

Intrigued by organic agriculture and a bit bored with academic life, Kirschenmann returned to North Dakota and began turning the farm into a certified organic operation raising small grains, alfalfa and beef. He managed the farm until 2000, when he became director of the Leopold Center.

Day-to-day management of Kirschenmann Family Farms is now carried out by a young family, Steve and Theresa Sund and their five children, who joined the farm twenty years ago.

Kirschenmann’s lecture at the University of Minnesota is part of the Moos Family Speaker Series, which honors the late Malcolm Moos, president of the university from 1967 to 1974.

Other speakers in the series have been: Robert Glennon, a University of Arizona law professor who has written two books on water sustainability; Hedrick Smith, producer of the award-winning PBS documentary “Poisoned Waters;” Louis J. Guillette Jr., a Medical University of South Carolina reproductive biologist; Craig A. Cox, a senior vice president of the Environmental Working Group; and Gretchen C. Daily, a Stanford University ecologist who is a pioneer in an emerging effort to protect the environment by putting a price on all the services that ecosystems provide for humans.


Did you miss one of these lectures you would have liked to attend? Did you attend, and wish later you could go over the information again or that you could refer a friend to it? Videos of four of the first five lectures are posted on-line. Go to and search for “archived video.”