The obvious place to start is "A", of course, and with agriculture.
Wikipedia says that agriculture can be defined as "the cultivation of animals, plants, fungi, and other life forms for food, fiber, and other products used to sustain life". The New Oxford American Dictionary says agriculture is the science or practice of farming, including cultivation of the soil for the growing of crops and the rearing of animals to provide food, wool, and other products.
That's still pretty broad. There are dozens of branches to get lost on in the study of agriculture. If one were to go to school to study agricultural sciences, we would be studying irrigation, agricultural productivity, plant breeding, agricultural diversification, pesticides, soil, agricultural techniques, and the list goes on. So, if we use the two definitions above as our starting off point, we can study how we use animals, plants and fungi in our day to day lives, how they're raised or grown and how we modify them for our own use. Our track record, generally, isn't good.
We have a bad habit of squeezing animals in massive numbers into cages or pens too small for them, denying them basic comforts, force feeding them so that rapid growth benefits us, and even feeding them in a cannibalistic manner because slaughter house floor scrapings are cheaper, never mind the health risk. All one has to do is sit through half of Food Inc. to really see how we treat the animals destined to become our food. Now, I'm not a vegetarian, and I have no plans to become one. My standpoint here is that we, as a higher life form, really should know better than to continue down this slippery slope. We already dance with danger every day. E. Coli and Mad Cow runs rampant, and usually it's because some member of the human race has done something they know is wrong. E. Coli in melons killed 13 people, because two brothers thought they could save a few bucks. 9 people died because of salmonella in peanuts back in 2008. The list is exhaustive, and not the main thrust of this post. You get the point I'm sure.
One way to live healthier is to eat healthy food. I've written here before about diminishing nutrient values in our fruits and vegetables, and while I'm still appalled by it all, let me say that the declining nutrient levels have caused many to start their own gardens. Indeed, it is the main thrust behind my passion for organic growing methods. Growing healthier food starts with healthy soil. Soil that is teeming with life in the form of worms, microbes, fungi and bacteria. Before you get grossed out, these tiny critters are the keystone to good food. If your spadeful of shovel has no worms, chances are it is bereft of the smaller soil-dwellers too. That's not good for the plants. To feed the plants, you must first feed the soil. No soil ... no food.
Massive industrial agriculture is not a viable option for the future as the model stands today. There needs to be a change in our habits, and while there is a revolution that marches on, it is still small. We need to get politics out of our fields so that monsters like Monsanto wither and waste away. We need to get politicians to stop paying farmers to let their fields sit empty, and instead pay them to think more organically. We need to educate more people so that they better understand soil and what should live in it. We need to spread the word about compost so that everyone knows what it does, what it should be and what it can do for us. We need to understand water and how to live with less, as well as how to conserve it both in a small scale and a large one. We need city councils to allow us to raise chickens in our backyards, and sell eggs and grow tomatoes in our front yard if we want; not take homeowners to court when they rip up water-guzzling lawns.
This conversation is a massive, ongoing dialogue, one I hope we can all wade in on and share our opinions. It is only through the exchange of ideas and truly listening to one another that we can learn. So tell me what you think of agriculture today, perhaps you'll teach me something or get me pondering some aspect of it that I had overlooked!