In those days, the air was alive with multitudes of birds and insects, each with its ecological niche, dependent on one another and ultimately on the living soil, full of bacteria, fungi and myriad creatures that silently maintained its fertility. Farmers knew that healthy soil was everything; neither plant nor beast could thrive without it.
When mechanization made it possible to plough faster than a horse, farmers were encouraged to rip out hedges to make bigger fields. Instead of a few acres of a variety of crops, they began to grow hundreds of acres of the same crop, attracting insects and birds that found a monoculture of their favourite food irresistible. Chemical manufacturers found a new market for poisons that could be spread on the fields to kill these 'pests' and crop rotation fell out of fashion in favour of the 'modern' way: short-term fertility induced by drugs, turning farmers into junkies at the mercy of agri-chemical pushers.
Now, there are many fewer farmers and almost none who knew farming before chemicals. They sit in air-conditioned tractors, high above the soil, heedless of the lack of life below. Or they sit in front of a screen, viewing satellite images of their land, looking for patches in need of yet more artificial fertilizer.
Where there was once a thriving community of worms, nematodes, beetles and countless other creatures, there is now a sterile wasteland incapable of supporting life. Soil has become merely a support medium for plants, which are utterly dependent on synthetic chemical inputs, supplied by the same companies that manufactured poison gas for the Nazis.
Bees, once integrated into the farming economy and respected and nurtured for their pollination of orchard fruit and hedgerow, now struggle to survive among the systemically-toxic crop plants. Insecticides are now added to the plant's vascular system by means of seed coatings - like putting a nicotine patch on your arm - so every part of them is now poisonous to bees and any other creature that dares to nibble a root, a leaf, a stem, or drink its nectar or take its pollen.
For the sake of glossy, out-of-season fruit and vegetables on supermarket shelves year-round, we have put at risk the very survival of the species on which we - and the health of the planet - ultimately depend. If we continue to allow a handful of super-rich, trans-national corporations free rein to peddle their poisons, regardless of the devastation they cause, then we will be held as culpable as they when our grandchildren ask why we, knowing what was happening, sat back, watching TV, while their planet slowly died.