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Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 114

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This is the grave of Hugh Bennett.

The father of American soil conservation, Bennett was born in 1881 in North Carolina. He graduated from the University of North Carolina in 1903 and went to work on soil conservation. This was a major problem in American agriculture. For basically the entirety of American agricultural history, farmers had not paid any attention to soil conservation. The cheap and often free land in a robust white settler colonialist society and economy gave farmers no incentive to stay on their land. This was especially true in the plantation agriculture of the South. Even today, after nearly a century of meaningful soil conservation plans, the scars of the first two centuries of plantation agriculture are still very much upon the land, including at Providence Canyon State Park in southwest Georgia, where what is today considered one of Georgia’s “7 Wonders” (who knew Georgia had any wonders?) is nothing more than massive erosion from cotton agriculture.

He rose to prominence in the 1920s as he began publishing widely on the problems of soil erosion. When he co-wrote Soil Erosion: A National Menace in 1928, he garnered the attention of leading politicians in Congress. This made his star rise. When Franklin Roosevelt became president in 1933, he already had a long-standing interest in conservation, including managing his own forested estate in Hyde Park. So Bennett was a natural fit in the administration. Roosevelt established the Soil Erosion Service in the Department of the Interior in 1933 and named Bennett its head. He became nationally known for speaking about the Dust Bowl, ravaging the southern Plains at that time. When the Soil Conservation Service was established in 1935, Bennett was the only logical head. He poured his energy into the Dust Bowl, bringing soil conservation to farmers who were often resistant to any kind of change at all, especially from the government unless it was a check. Identifying the parts of the Dust Bowl with the worst erosion and least potential, the government began buying up lands and returning them to something like their natural state, creating the National Grassland system, which aren’t among the most striking of federal lands to the casual visitor, but which are vitally important ecosystems. The SCS created research stations around the country to demonstrate to farmers how to improve their soil management, a process he started within the government during the 1920s. He called his employees “Soil Doctors” that were attending to the health of the land. He continued to write books such as 1941’s Soil and Security, stressing the importance of soil conservation to the nation’s future. Bennett retired as head of the Soil Conservation Service in 1951. He died in 1960.

Hugh Bennett is buried on the confiscated lands of the traitor Lee, Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, Virginia.

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  • AMinNC

    These are the stories Democrats need to be telling over and over again. The government, OUR government, works for the benefit of us all when we staff it with competent people who are not trying to undermine the missions of their agencies. The antigovernment narrative that has taken hold in this country since the 60s has been a cancer on the body politic, and we need every Democrat (elected officials and regular folks alike) to make the case that a well-functioning government is not a necessary evil, but the foundation of a life of true liberty and happiness.

    • Joe Paulson

      “That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted”

    • BiloSagdiyev

      See also Charlie Pierce on the subject of the post office:

      http://www.esquire.com/news-politics/politics/a14015/the-post-office-lives-8757430/

      “The entire modern conservative movement consists of an ongoing attempt to sever the relationship of a self-governing people to their government, to break down the concept of a political commonwealth. Many of the conservative attempts to wedge people apart through the use of an Other to be feared and despised — whether that was black people, or empowered women, or immigrants, or gay people — have been framed to attack the government’s attempts to ameliorate discrimination against the groups in question. In modern conservative thought, then, and in the mindset it seeks to ingrain on the people of the country, the government is the ultimate Other.

      In doing so, the corporate masters of the conservative movement are good with all of this because they seek a wary, frightened and insecure people. Those people are too cowed to make waves, too spooked to assert their rights as citizens, too confused to demand accountability. “

  • Anna in PDX

    This is very good and interesting. It is also inspiring. Imagine if he had not been there.

  • N__B

    What does it say about our country that he’s the first one of your dead people who I have literally never heard of and he’s one of the good guys?

  • Wapiti

    My granddad homesteaded in SE Colorado after WWI, just in time to get driven out by the Dust Bowl. He went back to Kansas and bought his father’s farm when the old guy went bankrupt (they were estranged, and remained so.) Granddad treated soil conservation as a second religion.

  • rudolf schnaubelt

    Really interesting.

  • brucej

    Hmm, my wife and I just visited the ‘Petrified Forest of Mississippi’ which is an area of deep ravines and forest apparently produced by the same poor soil management. It’s amazing to be standing 50-80 foot deep in a ‘canyon’ and trying to visualize it being farmland once upon a time up at the top of that all.

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