Skip to main content

Kirschenmann, Fred

Published onJul 30, 2021
Kirschenmann, Fred

(February 4, 1935 - )

Quick Facts

A former Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture director, he continuously emphasizes improved soil health as the keystone to a sustainable agriculture.


Fred Kirschenmann was born during Great Depression on a southern North Dakota farm. He is a third generation farmer; his German grandfather farmed in the Volga River area in Russia and migrated to Lincoln Nebraska in the late 1800’s. His family has been farming at the current location since 1930

He earned degrees from Yankton College in South Dakota, Hartford Theological Seminary in Connecticut and his PhD from the University of Chicago. He was the first chair of the department of Religion at Yankton College and was Dean of the College at Curry College in Boston.

In 1974 Fred took over management of the farm and converted it to an organic operation. The farm has several locations and ranges from 1,500 to 3,600 acres. About 1,800 acres are certified organic. He developed a diverse cop rotation that enabled productive farming without synthetic inputs including fertilizer and pesticides and to continuously build soil health. This farm has been widely publicized and featured in a number of publications.

He joined the board of the Stone Barn Center in 2004 and in January 2008 took on a half-time appointment, dividing his time between New York and Iowa. He also has served on the USDA’s National Organic Standards Board, and John Hopkins’ National Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production as well as numerous other local and national committees and boards.

He has received numerous awards including the One World Award for Lifetime Achievement, the James F. Beard Foundation Leadership award the 2012 Sustainable Agriculture Achievement from the Practical Farmers of Iowa.

Fred brought a unique perspective to Iowa State University, the Leopold Center and the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences when he was appointed as Center director. Because of his background in the arts and particularly in religious studies he was used to looking at agriculture from the standpoint of its resilience when faced with new challenges including energy and water shortages as well as climate change. He continuously emphasizes improved soil health as the keystone to a sustainable agriculture.

In a far ranging interview with Peter Pearsall posted in the February, 2013 edition of YES! Fred discussed the key concept of resilience. He separated resilience into “specific resilience” threats that you know are coming such as climate change that can be addressed through redesign of the farm. Then there is “general resilience” that cannot be predicted in advance To meet general resilience farms must be diversified.

Fred is also concerned with getting more farmers into farming. While there is a large pool of highly qualified young farmers available, we need to have ways to get these people on working farms. This requires developing self-sustaining food sheds.

Fred has clearly outlined challenges for his successor and all others working in sustainable agriculture. In 2010, a collection of his essays, Cultivating an Ecological Conscience: Essays from a Farmer Philosopher, was published by the University Press of Kentucky.

Fred is married to Carolyn Raffensperger, an environmental lawyer, and was previously married to Edith Maria Hults. He has two children, Ann Marie and Damon Frederick.

Selected Sources

Fred Kirschenmann, President of the Board, Stone Barns Center for Food & Agriculture

Leopold Center Bio. Frederick L. Kirschenmann

Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture, Summer 2000. More about Fred Kirschenmann.

Farmer-Philosopher Fred Kirschenmann on Food and the Warming Future.

Peter Pearsall. Feb 22, 2013

Restore the Land, Frederick L. Kirschenmann

No comments here
Why not start the discussion?