The advisory group that led to the founding of the Charles Valentine Riley Memorial Foundation (RMF) came from a relatively wide array of disciplines, organizations, and backgrounds. In this case, the dynamics of the group superseded its proximal purpose. During the course of their meetings, the group came to appreciate that Charles Valentine Riley was considerably more than a pioneering entomologist and that his larger vision was not broadly recognized or understood. Further, they grew to realize that their individual explanations of agriculture all differed in important respects. For example, was agriculture the food and fiber production system? This seemed descriptive, but where were water and air and open space?
Thus the group came to see that the lack of a common and easily understood picture of agriculture was both a challenge and an opportunity to honor Professor Riley by further articulating and forwarding his vision. It was a rigorous challenge. If the experts couldn’t explain agriculture to each other, how could they expect the typical citizen, an urban or suburban dweller with no connection to a farm or the rural landscape, to understand it? Thus, understanding and communicating the nature of agriculture in its broadest sense emerged as a strong framework for memorializing Riley.
Subsequently, RMF laid a firm foundation in 1986 upon which to build future programs by sponsoring the national agricultural forum on the “Health of the Land and Its People.” That foundation is reflected in selected quotes from participants:
Agriculture touches all aspects of human activity and it provides the leverage to lift society to greater heights.
– John Gordon, Founding President, Riley Memorial Foundation
Now is the time for all of us to recall just how noble and important it is to care for the land and to broaden our horizons about the social benefits of farming.
– William Reilly, Conservation Foundation
Without a stable food supply, I assure you that there will be neither peace, nor human progress.
– Norman Borlaug, Nobel Laureate, Texas A&M University
Following that first forum, RMF has been involved in a wide range of program activities that have contributed much to the understanding of the many diverse views about the role of agriculture in society. However, there continues to be a need for society to understand better the importance of taking a “whole picture,” science-based approach. This approach is needed to ensure that there is a vibrant, robust food, agricultural, forestry, and environmental-resource system in the United States and throughout the world to benefit all of humankind.
Numerous individuals have contributed to RMF and have helped honor Charles Valentine Riley since RMF was founded in 1985. However, with the death of Riley’s granddaughter in late 2015 it is important that RMF recognize her with A Tribute to Emilie Wenban-Smith Brash: Granddaughter of Charles Valentine Riley.