Agricultural Museums: Essential Respondents to a Global Challenge

AIMA Secretary General’s Message by Debra A. Reid

Debra Reid (far right) and guests at opening of the Detroit Central Market, The Henry Ford

Agricultural museums are well positioned to draw attention to a current threat to survival – Global Warming.

These museums actually span the spectrum from helping the public understand how agriculture can support life and how agriculture can threaten it. The cultivation of crops such as cotton, linen, and hemp, as well as vegetables, fruits, and forestry products help ensure human survival. These commodities meet essential needs – food, clothing, and shelter (considering wood and other renewable resources transformed into housing and home products as agricultural products).

The biosphere, i.e., the planetary ecosystem, sequestered the carbon and other greenhouse gases that family farms and plants naturally emitted prior to the mid-1940s. Thereafter, increased use of synthetic agricultural chemicals in combination with increased use of fossil fuels, industrialization, outpaced the planet’s ability to naturally sequester carbon. Environmental historian John McNeil and Peter Engelke, Senior Fellow at the Strategic Foresight Initiative at the Atlantic Council, describes this point of disconnect as the “great acceleration.”

This Great Acceleration resulted from numerous inputs. These included energy production and consumption, building construction, disposable culture, and agricultural production that increased greenhouse gas emissions, among other things. Alternative agricultural approaches became popular as a counterpoint to synthetic chemical use. The alternative approaches included organic methods that relied on natural rather than synthetic chemicals, and the slow food movement that emphasized farmer knowledge and credibility and direct sales from farmers to consumers, to name two.

Agricultural museums are well-positioned to put the Great Acceleration, its antecedents, and its consequences into context.

Looking forward to engaging in the conversation about how to make the greatest educational impact.

Author: Debra A. Reid, Curator of Agriculture and the Environment, The Henry Ford, Dearborn, Michigan, USA


McNeill, J.R., and Peter Engelke. The Great Acceleration: An Environmental History of the Anthropocene since 1945. Harvard University Press, 2015.

Thomas, Julia Adeney; Mark Williams, and Jan Zalasiewicz. The Anthropocene: A Multidisciplinary Approach. Polity, 2020.