Conversations With a Founder – Reasonably Grown

Giles in UgandaI visited with Dr. Robert H. Giles, Jr., company founder, to talk in more detail about the alternatives Rural System presents to growing produce. My findings are summarized in the article Organic or Conventional Farming or is There Something Else? After our conversation however, I left with more than just the material I needed for a post on farming. I had stumbled upon a common theme within all of Rural System, one common objective for our systems approach.

Me: Dr. Giles I want to talk more about your concept of “reasonably grown” crops. What does this idea mean to you?

Dr. Giles: It starts with putting the right plants in the right places so that the plants aren’t stressed. When plants are put in the right place, and in combination with other plants in the right places, they don’t need as many pesticides and growth enhancers.

Me: And by “right place” you mean an appropriate location chosen by a computer program that takes into account qualities of that site such as rainfall, soil quality, slope, aspect, sunlight, etc. correct?

Dr. Giles: Yes, that is the brain behind Rural System, a computer program which synthesizes all of the data our society currently collects about our environment in a spatial manner.

Me: So basically, reasonably grown means we should stop farming where it is not optimal to farm?

Dr. Giles: For starters…yes, but it is more than that. Reasonable agriculture is a subsystem within the larger Rural System. Our objective with reasonably grown crops is greater precision. We strive not for maximizing profits but for optimizing our cost-benefit ratio. We aim for profit with the least harm done and longest continuous productive output…output being products and profits. We also hope to usher a change of market perceptions about the aesthetics of agricultural products (like holes in leaves and dents in apples). Not only does preventing such minor blemishes create exorbitant costs for the farmer but it also means a large portion of produce is discarded and wasted. The goal is to optimize profit and efficiency.

Me: Interesting… sounds like you are proposing that we grow crops with reasonable methods of production, aiming for reasonable yields that reflect that natural abilities of a plant, accepting reasonable profit as opposed to trying to maximize profit, and request that consumers accept a reasonable amount of blemishes on perfectly tasty products…all while allowing only a reasonable amount of waste and environmental impact. So, reasonable is an optimal point where we must produce healthy foods but recognize that pushing for perfection in any category will be too costly. Is that correct?

Dr. Giles: Yes!

Me: Actually Dr. Giles the idea of “reasonable” as an optimal point between best practices which target a continuous, sustainable profit stream and upper and lower constraints – like minimal is unacceptable and maximal is too expensive – seems to be consistent throughout Rural System. Would you say that “reasonable” is a unifying theme for your Rural System concept?

Dr. Giles: Why yes, yes I think I would…within reason! [chuckles]

Some links in this post lead to Guide to Rural System (, a site featuring in-depth, comprehensive coverage of Rural System concepts, actively updated by Rural System founder Robert H. Giles, Jr. since the mid-1990s.

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About Risa Pesapane

Risa is the Project Director for Rural System, Inc. and is an experienced research biologist and wildlife ecologist.

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