Born on a North Dakota farm during the Great Depression and in the grips of the worst drought in U.S. history, Fred Kirschenmann has spent most of his life working to change how we farm, as well as our relationship to the land.
For more than four decades, Fred has been a champion of agricultural resilience, an articulate advocate for soil health and a pioneer of organic farming. His work has helped transform what was once obscure and marginal work—resilient, sustainable agriculture focused on the health and restoration of the soil—into an international movement.
A longtime national and international leader in sustainable agriculture, Fred is Distinguished Fellow at the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture at Iowa State University and a professor in the Department of Religion and Philosophy. He also continues to manage his family’s 1,800-acre certified-organic farm in south-central North Dakota.
Fred holds a doctorate in philosophy from the University of Chicago. He has held numerous appointments, including the USDA’s National Organic Standards Board and the National Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production, operated by the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health and funded by the Pew Charitable Trusts.
In April 2010, the University Press of Kentucky published Fred’s book of essays, Cultivating an Ecological Conscience: Essays from a Farmer Philosopher, which traces the evolution of his ecological and farming philosophy over the past 30 years.
In 1976, Fred converted his family’s farm in North Dakota to a certified organic operation, developing a diverse crop rotation that has enabled him to farm productively without synthetic inputs (fertilizers or pesticides) while simultaneously improving the health of the soil. 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, by Miranda Smith Productions, and is still widely used as a teaching tool.
Fred also has been advisor for several documentaries including American Meat and Symphony of the Soil. He served as the Leopold Center’s second director from July 2000 to November 2005 and has been recognized widely for his work. In 2014 he received the One World Award for Lifetime Achievement. He also 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. In 2014, Fred received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM).
The Kirschenmann Lecture at Stone Barns
7 Questions with Fred Kirschenmann
Interview: National Geographic’s The Plate, spring 2015