Jayne MacLean Interview Part 1

Uploaded by AFSICVideos on 20.06.2012

MS. GATES: This videotaped interview is one of a series of interviews begun in 1988 by
the Alternative Farming Systems Information Center at the National Agricultural Library
in Beltsville, Maryland. My name is Jane Gates, and I am the coordinator of the Center.
Through interviews with people who have provided leadership and inspiration in the field of
what is now known as alternative or sustainable agriculture, the series records the recollections
of influential pioneers actively working today. Using modern technology, we are adding to
a historical record of concern for farming practices and their effects on the land that
goes back centuries.
Here in the library, you can read "Five Hundred Points of Good Husbandry" written in 1580
by Thomas Tusser. Tusser's maxims include remarks about the overburdened land "being
clean out of heart," recommendations for the rotations of crops:
"Where barley did grow, Lay wheat to sow.
Yet better, I think, Sow pease, after drink;
And then, if ye please, Sow wheat after pease."
Tusser also made observations about human behavior, which hasn't changed all that much
either. It is gratifying to add to the record of concern and action by listening to people
still dedicated in this, the end of the 20th century, to the philosophy and practices of
farming this earth sustainably.
Today, Thursday, April 7th, 1994, we are in the Special Collections Room of the National
Agricultural Library in Beltsville, Maryland. Our cameraman is my colleague, Ron Hamilton,
from USDA's Office of Public Affairs. It is our pleasure to be interviewing Jayne MacLean,
a person uniquely qualified to make observations about the overall picture of sustainable agriculture
in the United States and, in particular, the role of the United States Department of Agriculture
in that movement. I will explain what makes her position unique but, first, a little background.
Jayne came to the Library in December 1970, after completing her master's degree in Library
Science at the University of Maryland. A native of Worcester, Massachusetts, she is a graduate
of the College of William and Mary, where she earned a B.A. in English Literature. Jayne
held several positions in the library prior to becoming, in 1985, the coordinator of the
Alternative Farming Systems Information Center, a position she held until her retirement in
January 1993.
In this position, she knew and worked with many other pioneers in the field, and she
is acknowledged to be one of the first USDA employees to actively support the sustainable
agriculture movement.
Jayne has other interests, such as the Council on Botanical and Horticultural Libraries,
where she served as secretary for seven years and as president in 1990 91. She has received
numerous certificates and awards here at the Library, and in 1990, was named Safe Food
Trailblazer by the Center for Science in the Public Interest.
I could go on and on, but we want to hear from Jayne. She's the person to explain LISA,
a now historical acronym, and the role of the SAN, another acronym but an active one,
a very active one today, and, well, without further ado, I will just say it's a particular
personal pleasure for me to welcome Jayne for I had the honor of working with her from
1988 until her retirement which, like sustainable agriculture, isn't conventional, but I will
let her tell about that.
Welcome, Jayne, and how did you get involved in this anyway?
MS. MacLEAN: I think it started when I was a reference librarian with a specialty in
biological sciences, especially gardening and horticulture, because I had spent five
years as a branch librarian at the National Arboretum, gotten a liberal education there
in the literature and science of gardening and horticulture.
I became interested in organic gardening and farming, and pretty soon all the reference
questions that came in on that subject were directed to me, and I developed quite a specialty.
That led to my being assigned to a study team within the Science and Education Administration,
of which the library was a part at the time, and I was assigned to develop a proposal for
an organic farming information center, believe it or not, in 1980.
It was proposed for the 1982 budget. This was never funded, so it died a natural death.
But shortly after that, the Report and Recommendations on Organic Farming, chaired by a USDA team
and written largely by Garth Youngberg, was published in July of 1980.
MS. GATES: That's the one with the green cover.
MS. MacLEAN: Yeah, the green cover book. Garth was then hired as USDA's coordinator of organic
farming activities. He put together a team of representatives from the various agencies,
and NAL delegated me to be on that team. Between 1980, mid to late 1980 and 1982, we worked
to develop recommendations to follow on the green report, what the Department really should
do to carry out these recommendations.
The report was just barely completed and submitted, but never published, when administrations
changed. Those who had asked for the report were no longer there. Garth Youngberg was
caught in a RIF situation and let go. So that really came to nothing except a lot of good
Four people were then appointed to supposedly carry on the work that Garth Youngberg had
been assigned.
MS. GATES: Appointed by the USDA?
MS. MacLEAN: Yes. They were from the four agencies who then made up CEA, Cooperative
State Research Service, Extension System, the Library, and Agricultural Research Service,
and I was NAL's representative on that.
We began dealing with well, with negotiations on the Hill for more legislation that would
support organic farming, there were lots of opponents and lots of proponents. There was
shortly after that an organic farming bill introduced into Congress, and that went through
two sessions, I think. It later became called the "Agricultural Productivity Act" because
it was thought that this would raise fewer hackles among the opponents.
So our group testified on those bills, and we answered correspondence for the Secretary's
Office when people would write to their Congressmen and the Secretary and say why isn't the Department
doing more on organic farming. We would write and say that we were, you know, providing
information and that sort of thing. That was partly my role.
MS. GATES: And you were doing this in addition to your regular duties at the Library?
MS. MacLEAN: Yes. I had been assigned officially 20 percent of my time to devote to this activity.
Meanwhile, I was also a general reference librarian, which is, as you recall, a very
active life.
MS. GATES: Challenging.
MS. MacLEAN: Yes, yes.
Let's see. The Agricultural Productivity Act was eventually written into the 1985 farm
bill, so it became part of the farm bill, and it was passed in 1985.
MS. GATES: Was it funded?
MS. MacLEAN: It was not funded yet.
MS. GATES: Oh, okay.
MS. MacLEAN: But, at that time, NAL was beginning to develop information centers, following
a pattern that they had established a number of years ago with the Food and Nutrition Information
Center, which had been here for a number of years; since about 1970, I think.
A few other centers had been established, and the administration was open to suggestions.
So I spoke to Mr. Joe Howard, who was the director, about starting one on organic farming.
But I felt that that was a little bit too narrow a designation, so I suggested alternative
farming systems, which was becoming a current term, maybe a euphemism, but it was also a
little broader. We wanted to cover all kinds of alternatives that farmers could use to
try to maintain their profitability and maintain the health of the land at the same time.
So, in the fall of 1985, we began putting together an information center on a modest
MS. GATES: And you were named the first coordinator, right?
MS. MacLEAN: Yes, I was. Yes. You know how it is, you think of an idea and you get appointed.
The Library was very supportive, however.