Culture & Agriculture

a section of the American Anthropological Association

Month: January 2017

Weekly Gleaning 1/13: in the bleak midwinter

Our weekly gleanings present the latest happenings, research and writing along the tangled banks of culture and agriculture. This week: a gleaning in three acts – martial food, transatlantic agrarian history and the ‘bear life’ of native food sovereignty 

To go in the dark with a light is to know the light.
To know the dark, go dark. Go without sight,
and find that the dark, too, blooms and sings,
and is traveled by dark feet and dark wings.

// Wendell Berry

I. Seed Bullets – You might have heard about seed bombs, but the US Department of Defense’s proposed seed bullets are less DIY, more lethal. The seeds housed in the biodegradable ammunition would sprout several months after being fired, to bioaccumulate any potential soil contaminants left by the bullets. While the US military is attending to soil degradation, Venezuela’s has been organizing the country’s dwindling food supply since last summer, trafficking food and setting up black markets. Over at Material World, Thorsten Gieser reflects on the sensorial disturbance of field dressing his first kill, during fieldwork with hunters in Germany.

II. Transatlanticism – Two pieces of agrarian history from the Atlantic slave trade. First, amid all the celebration at the revival of the Carolina African Runner – the ‘ur-peanut’ of the South – Jeremy Cherfas looks at the role of the peanut in world history and what exactly the South American native was doing in Africa in the first place. Second, an ethnobotanical story of black rice – on the agency of West African slaves in carrying both rice and skill in growing it to the Americas.

III. “Bear Life” – Obama’s designation of the Bears Ears Monument in southern Utah has generated praise for its protection of native sacred sites and critiques that it constitutes a federal land grab. NPR’s The Salt takes a look at its significance for tribal food sovereignty. For whites, conservation is a matter of not using the land, Noyes says. For Natives, it means actively tending it as they have for generations. “Our goal is to change how Americans view landscapes so that they include cultures” as well as plants and animals, he says. Just across the state line in northern Arizona, Kristen Davenport writes about the many meanings of color in Hopi corn. Lastly, a reminder of the settler state appropriation of native slave labor that built up the California wine industry. Dinkelspiel’s conclusion is that a “glass of California Cabernet should never taste the same again”, but is this true? How should the colonial foundations of many modern institutions inform how we approach them today?

Culture & Agriculture is hiring!


CAFE Editorial Assistant (part-time)

Culture, Agriculture, Food and Environment (CAFE) the journal of Culture and Agriculture invites applications for a part-time Editorial Assistant starting January 2017. The Editorial Assistant will provide general support for journal operations, marketing and publicity, and assistance with manuscript editing and management.

CAFE is a journal with an expanding and increasingly diverse submission volume and readership. The Editorial Assistant will have the opportunity to connect with leaders who work in the anthropology of the environment, agriculture, and food. They will interact with editorial board members, authors, and reviewers to enhance the journal’s outputs, exposure, and access to applied and non-academic readerships.

We are especially interested in candidates with some of the following skills and interests:

  • Journal administration and management
  • Copy-editing and proofreading
  • Social media and online marketing
  • Curation of themed discussions of current anthropological topics related to the environment, agriculture, and food production on the C&A website, drawing on CAFE articles and other anthropological and non-anthropological sources


Applicant should be anthropologically trained, with background in CAFE topical areas, highly motivated and organized, communicative, and willing to work in a team environment. Can be located anywhere, but willingness and ability to participate in regular skype or other remote conferencing calls with journal editors required. Graduate student preferred, but upper-level undergraduates with appropriate skills will be considered. Retired or underemployed anthropologists also welcome!


Although academic editing is often a volunteer endeavor, this position includes a stipend of $1,000 per academic year.

Work load will vary from week to week, depending on role with the journal and timing in the publishing cycle, but are expected to average 3-5 hours per week.


Brandi Janssen and Stephanie Paladino, Co-Editors

[email protected]

Journal home:

Weekly Gleaning 1/5: that is the Land, though not quite all

Our weekly gleanings present the latest happenings, research and writing along the tangled banks of culture and agriculture. This week: vertical farming, liquid land and a friendly farming opera

That is The Land out there, under the sleet, churned and pelted there in the dark, the long rigs upturning their clayey faces to the spear-onset of the sleet. That is The Land, a dim vision this night of laggard fences and long stretching rigs. And the voice of it—the true and unforgettable voice—you can hear even such a night as this as the dark comes down, the immemorial plaint of the peewit, flying lost. That is The Land—though not quite all. Those folk in the byre whose lantern light is a glimmer through the sleet as they muck and bend and tend the kye, and milk the milk into tin pails, in curling froth—they are The Land in as great a measure.

                                                      – Lewis Grassic Gibson

It is in the wintertime that the Land awakens, wrote Rudolf Steiner. During the summer she “sleeps, her soul flies into the cosmos and the vegetation is her dream”. This particular winter, when even Steiner’s perennial Holocene rhythms are being disrupted (see: global see ice), the Land in all its contradiction and excess is becoming liquid and mobile in new ways. The Courier-Journal has just published an article on American Farm Investors, a company managing Kentucky farmland as financial assets for wealthy investors concerned about the intangibility of the ‘doomsday economy’. From AFI’s website:

We locate profitable farms, purchase them with our own equity and investor funds, and manage them efficiently to maximize potential. Larger farms can yield greater profits. By partnering with American Farm Investors, ownership of this asset class becomes a reality.

and some quotes from their customers:

I want to own something very real in this very fake world

There is something special about being able to drive by an asset and pick the dirt up and run it through your fingers. Come spring fever, I might drive out there and pull a leaf off a soybean plant and smell it

Such financial practices represent one of the many faces of land grabbing. For some other perspectives, check out the review symposium on Tania Li’s fantastic book Land’s End (as well as her response to the symposium and of course the book itself) in the most recent issue of the Journal of Peasant Studies. Over at GRAIN there’s an article on how indigenous Kayapó and federal agencies have been collaborating to bring down one of the largest illegal timber and cattle ranching operations in the Brazilian Amazon.

In such cases of deforestation and subsequent soil erosion, land becomes not only mobile in the commodity form but also literally dis-placed. A study published last month in Nature reports that US agriculture is just as vulnerable to a ‘modern Dust Bowl’ drought as it was in the 1930s. One option is to simply escape the complications of Land – Ian Frazier at The New Yorker has just written on the history and current manifestations of aeroponic vertical farming.

While vertical farming moves orthogonally up and away from the Land, a group of anthropologists is moving closer, down to a ‘snail’s eye view’ of a rice paddy. In their ethnographic Golden Snail Opera, Yen-Ling Tsai, Anna Tsing and their co-authors present the more-than-human world of ‘friendly farming’ in Taiwan, through the performative and multi-sensorial form of Taiwanese opera. For more on the more-than-human anthropology of farming, see the latest issue of our journal CAFE.

other items of interest:

–  Food Tank interview about the contradictions between urban agriculture and food justice

– USDA report on its microloan program (and analysis here)

– New labeling process for grassfed dairy


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