Agricultural landscapes in southwest Michigan: 200 years of transition

Rudy, A., C. Harris, B. Thomas, S. Kaplan, M. Worosz, and M. McCoy

Presented at the All Scientist Meeting (2003-09-12 )

Studies of changes in land use often focus on transitions between major categories of forested, agricultural, and residential. We propose that it is equally important to understand transitions within
those categories. In this project we focus on the introduction, spread, and abandonment of agriculture in southwest Michigan, and ask how political economy, culture and biogeography have combined to produce a series of transformations in agricultural land use. The environmental and social history of the region has been divided into six time periods. The first period, from 1850 to 1898, was a time of agricultural settlement. The second period, from 1898 to 1919, was a time of agricultural prosperity. The agricultural depression defined the third period, which lasted from 1919 to 1940. Agriculture in southwestern Michigan from 1940 to 1973 consisted of significant modernization and a shift towards Fordist agriculture. The fifth period, from 1973 to 1989, was marked by the first oil shock and declining agricultural profits. The sixth and final period is a time of globalization, diversification, and restructuring. The southwest Michigan region consists of 18 counties surrounding the Kellogg Biological Station. Ecological and socioeconomic data for the region from 1850 until the present have been collected. Particular attention will be paid to the ways in which farm animals mediate the relationships between agriculture and environment. By tracing land use and environmental change over a long time period, this project will identify the integrated, systemic relationship between political economic changes and ecological trends. Furthermore, this project will demonstrate how patterns of change are best understood through an interdisciplinary approach involving both social and natural science perspectives.

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