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Fred Kirschenmann from the USA | LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT AWARD 2014

Taking care of the soil

Fred Kirschenmann was born in 1935 during the Dust Bowl era. Farms in the Midwest of the USA experienced devastating drought and massive erosion. Fred’s father knew that the dust bowl phenomenon was not just about the weather – it was also about destructive farming techniques – and vowed to take care of his own land differently. His values made a lasting impression on Fred.

Fred claims that most turns in his life have arisen as opportunities presented to him. As was his education, which took him through advanced studies in theology all the way up through a doctorate degree. At a subsequent post at a theological consortium in the late 1960’s, he met a student who was pursuing a career based on a “worker-priest” model, where religious leaders also gained their livelihood from other work. This student had proposed a “ministry of the soil” and had begun investigating the differences between organically managed and conventionally managed soil. Fred saw the difference and understood its significance.

In 1976, while serving as Academic Dean at Curry College in Boston, Massachusetts, his father fell ill. Fred returned home to manage the family farm in North Dakota – under the condition that it become an organic farm. Today, Fred still works at the certified biodynamic farm’s management and raises a mix of grains, beans, and beef cattle. His farm has been featured in numerous publications including National Geographic, Business Week, Audubon, the LA Times, and Gourmet magazine. In 1995 it was profiled in an award-winning video, My Father’s Garden. Fred also has been advisor for several documentaries including American Meat and Symphony of the Soil.

In the next years he helped organize the Northern Plains Sustainable Agriculture Society. Fred helped founding Farm Verified Organic, Inc., an international certification agency that he was president of. He has held numerous appointments, including the USDA‘s National Organic Standards Board, and the National Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production. He currently serves on several boards, and chairs the Whiterock Conservancy which manages a 5,000-acre conservation area in west-central Iowa. He helped convene and is active on Agriculture of the Middle, a multi-state task force focusing on research and markets for midsize American farms. He has written extensively about ethics and agriculture, with articles published in a number of books and professional journals.

Fred currently shares an appointment as Distinguished Fellow for the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture at Iowa State University (and served as director the 5 previous years). He is President of Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture in Pocantico Hills, New York, where he explores how rural and urban communities can work together to develop a more resilient, sustainable agriculture and food system. He is also a professor in the Iowa State University Department of Religion and Philosophy.

Fred was one of the first 10 recipients of the James F. Beard Foundation Leadership awards in 2011 and received the 2012 Sustainable Agriculture Achievement Award from Practical Farmers of Iowa. Other awards include Leader of the Year in Agriculture by Progressive Farmer, the Seventh Generation Research Award from the Center for Rural Affairs, the first Medal for Distinguished Leadership in Sustainable Agriculture from the Glynwood Center in New York, one of Plenty magazine’s Top 20 People Dedicated to Sustainability, and the National Resources Defense Council Thought Leader award.

Fred Kirschenmann is an impressive example for the sustainable impact that one single person can have on society. He has rendered outstanding services to the organic movement and is a nationally and internationally recognized leader within the organic agriculture movement.


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