Culture & Agriculture

a section of the American Anthropological Association

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Weekly Gleaning 4/27: Rural Prosperity

Our weekly gleanings present the latest happenings, research and writing along the tangled banks of culture and agriculture. This week: the new executive order, walnut histories and wild foraging labeling 

What Wealth Is – Rebecca Gayle Howell

When you eat the same food as your livestock, your animals, the beasts
you rear from teat to trough—rear up for tender, the cut—
when you chew in your mouth what you dump into theirs
when you know their bodies are not today separate from your body,
the noise-making heat, green flies all around,
when the garden yard is stopped short by its wall of corn, its room of corn,
tall as any useful man, tall as money’s gate,
you know: your hand, rising up and opening, is the devil to which all this prays
and in your dream you walk in past the gate, into the corn,
taller than you, into its room, and it’s dark here, the husk ceiling
its own shallow, unlit, selfish sun, and at your feet the path narrows into a limit
that makes the leaves for a moment look like the ocean folding in on itself or the church
women praising with their palm fans, the church women who knew once
what to do, and so you put your god hand up and open to touch the fronds
thinking they will know what to do, and they are sharp as the stained blade your daddy
carried, sharp as the cut, and your blood hand is bleeding now, your face,
bleeding, and you close your eyes and walk because isn’t this the way out?

This week saw the confirmation of Sonny Perdue as Secretary of Ag and an executive order from the White House on Promoting Agriculture and Rural Prosperity in America. “Food is a noble thing to trade”, Perdue declared at the hearing.

Meanwhile, the US is losing its dominance in agricultural exports. The Iowa senate and house voted on Tuesday to cut funding to the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture. The prairie that Aldo Leopold loved so dearly is breaking. What is wealth?


The Southern Foodways Alliance has been collecting the oral histories of Helvetia, West Virginia. Population fifty-nine.

A remarkable history of the walnut and its entanglements with the Silk Road. Why have investigations into the origins of agriculture mostly ignored tree crops?

“Fairwild” labeling and schisandra berry harvesting in China

Analytics of indigenous Hawaiian agricultural systems

ICARDA’s seed bank in Syria is still holding on

Weekly Gleaning 4/20: Higher Agriculture

Our weekly gleanings present the latest happenings, research and writing along the tangled banks of culture and agriculture. This week: ant farmers, re-peasantization and cannibalism 

This week’s gleaning is not inspired by certain recreational practices associated with today’s date (but check out a short ethnographic film from Sapiens on marijuana tourism in Morocco). Instead it reflects on the first development of “higher forms” (read: complex, large scale) of agricultural production, not by humans in Neolithic Mesopotamia, but by leaf-cutter ants moving into dryland environments 30 million years ago. A study in last week’s Proceedings of the Royal Society reports that the “world’s first sustainable, industrial-scale agriculture began when crops became dependent on their ant farmers. The way we talk about fungus farming by ants is often colored by the way we think about human farming. Why would we call ant farming industrial? The authors distinguish the agricultural behavior of these ants from the “lower, primitive forms of ant agriculture”, where fungus species are not fully domesticated.

Conventional distinctions between peasant and industrial forms of human agriculture often feature similar descriptors. Rita Calvario has a new article out in the Journal of Peasant Studies following re-peasantization movements in the Basque territory that subvert modernization narratives of agricultural progress. Why do we see high and low agriculture as more-than-human universals? How could more-than-human perspectives of ant agriculture in turn subvert contemporary concepts of food sovereignty?

Farmer Fair Practice implementation delayed 180 days

A new USDA agricultural census season

Grape genetic resources in the Holy Land

The cannibalism taboo

Greek legislation allowing farmers to purchase state-owned land

Weekly Gleaning 4/11: Human food webs

Our weekly gleanings present the latest happenings, research and writing along the tangled banks of culture and agriculture. This week: Pueblo food webs, budget cuts and hacked tractors

In most diagrams of ecosystem food webs, humans are conspicuously absent – hovering somewhere above the page, unbound from the cycles of predation. This makes a recent paper in the Journal of Archaeological Science reconstructing Ancestral Puebloan foodwebs so welcome, for the way it emphasizes the complex entanglements between humans, plants and animals. Questions about the role of humans in their ecosystems are also explored in a recent article on Mongolian reindeer herders and local conservation practices.

As modern agriculture has tended to disembed farmers from their agroecosystems and entangle them in non-local webs of markets and technology, this domination of the nonhuman world has not necessarily been experienced by farmers as empowering. Often it has been the opposite. See recent publications on the farm crisis in Kansas, rural suicide, the asymmetry of the so called ‘ag boom’ and the predicted impacts of Trump’s USDA budget cuts.

Coming full circle, North American farmers are now even being disembedded from their most intimate technological relationships. The ongoing saga over the right to repair’ their John Deere tractors continues to develop, with farmers beginning to hack their tractors with Ukrainian firmware (also check out the good folks at Farm Hack).

Glenn Stone and Dominic Glover on the disembeddedness of Golden Rice and multiple rice worlds in the Philippines

My Adventures with the American Diet, a series by Chunyan Song at

Land grabbing in Ethiopia

This amazing collaborative map of perennial farms




Co-Editor Search

Culture, Agriculture, Food and Environment, the twice-yearly, peer-reviewed journal of Culture and Agriculture (a Section of the American Anthropological Association), is looking for a new co-editor, to begin in January 2018.

CAFE features culturally and anthropologically-relevant analyses of human dimensions of environment, ecology, agriculture, food production, aquaculture, fisheries, forestry, natural resources, energy, water, sustainability, and biodiversity. CAFE publishes peer-reviewed material as well as editorially reviewed commentary and reports, discussions of theoretical developments and methods of inquiry, results of empirical research, and book and film reviews. CAFE encourages dialogue among scholars, activists, and practitioners.

Recent submissions have ranged in topic from theories of farmer knowledge and performance, to multispecies ethnographic examination of human/plant relationships, to the sustainability of sturgeon farming. CAFE has as one of its aims to make anthropological perspectives available to an interdisciplinary readership of researchers, practitioners, and activists working on agricultural and environmental issues. Though anthropology is our base and specialty, readers and authors may come from fields that include sociology, agricultural economics, food studies, policy sciences, and diverse branches of farming and natural resources management. The journal receives submissions from across the globe, and is available to institutions in low-income countries through philanthropic grants.

The new co-editor will serve a four-year, staggered rotation, and help CAFE ensure its future sustainability and relevance in the changing environment of scholarly publishing of the 21st century. The position is volunteer, but financial support for attending AAA annual meetings is typically available. Institutional affiliation is helpful but not required.

CAFE Co-Editor Job Description

The new co-editor will officially begin January 1, 2018 for a four-year term, but will ideally be incorporated into editorial discussions in fall 2017 if possible. The co-editors work on a staggered rotation, sharing duties and providing continuity across editorial transitions. The position is volunteer, but financial support for attending AAA annual meetings is typically available.

Along with other AAA journals, the journal is digital-only, with paper versions provided to subscribers for an extra fee. The AAA has recently negotiated a new contract with Wiley Publishing, which will include access to the online journal management platform, Scholar One. The incoming co-editor will:

  • Provide vision and oversight to journal content and directions
  • Collaborate with co-editor, editorial advisory board, and section members to ensure financial and scholarly sustainability.
  • Share duties with co-editor of all phases of article submission, review, and publication
  • Work with co-editor to implement Scholar One for submission management
  • Provide editorial review, judgment, oversight, and copy-editing to journal submissions and issues as necessary
  • Stay abreast of current trends and issues in anthropology related to the journal’s key thematic areas
  • Initiate and solicit proposals for timely and relevant themed issues
  • Work with C&A Executive Board on journal budgeting and planning
  • Serve on the C&A Executive Board, with responsibilities for providing annual reports to the C&A Board and membership on journal progress, challenges, statistics, budget issues, and other matters
  • Provide annual and other reports to, and communicate and collaborate with, the American Anthropological Association’s Publications Department
  • Serve as liaison between Culture and Agriculture Executive Board and the AAA Publishing Department
  • Cultivate, maintain, and work with an Editorial Advisory Board to locate peer reviewers, provide guidance to journal content and directions, and problem-solve
  • Help recruit, supervise, and collaborate with student assistants, technical consultants, and the C&A website team.
  • Strategize on methods and media for publicizing the journal to increase readership.

Experience with electronic publishing and institutional support are welcome, but not required. Editorial effort is year-round and constant. CAFE is published twice yearly (June and December), and it publishes all final articles online via Early View when they are ready.

To apply, submit a cv and letters of interest addressing your interest, vision, and qualifications for the above responsibilities to Nick Kawa, C&A President at [email protected] no later than May 31, 2017. Additional questions about the position may be directed to the current co-editors, Brandi Janssen and Stephanie Paladino at [email protected].


Weekly Gleaning 3/23: the worm moon

Our weekly gleanings present the latest happenings, research and writing along the tangled banks of culture and agriculture. This week: El Sur Latino, rich farmers and mental health.

It’s typical of a cultural solar bias that all the attention goes to spring equinox and very little to the worm moon – March’s full moon – so called because the soil is beginning to be workable by worm and human alike. Following the frost heaves of a politically (and existentially) disruptive winter, a new growing season invites us to get our hands back in the earth. In some ways this invites novel practices of academics, activists and food producers alike – check out the anthropology read-in group and Carole McGranahan on going rogue. In other ways it’s familiar terrain: farmers struggling with mental health and retirement; health of migrant farm labor (also in Sicily); unrest over environmental regulations. Here in Utah the cherries are blossoming.

The earthworms awakened under the worm moon generate bioturbation – productive disruptions. What productive disruptions are in store this season? If we need some optimism about what the spring might bring, perhaps there’s no better place to look than New Zealand, where Te Awa Tupua (the Whanganui River) has been declared a legal person.

// in other news //

The United States joins International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources, after a 14 year ratification process

A list of the world’s richest farmers

Southern Foodways Alliance series on El Sur Latino

The National Academies publish a response to an analysis that found conflicts of interest in the Acadamies’ Committee on Genetically Engineered Crops

Weekly Gleaning 3/9: soil science fiction

Our weekly gleanings present the latest happenings, research and writing along the tangled banks of culture and agriculture. This week: gamma gardens, food dystopia, and animal autonomy

At what point in the 20th-century did science fiction lose the capacity to imagine utopia? Why are we so sure that things will get worse? As David Graeber’s asks – where are the flying cars? Transmango published an article last week about the looming post-Brexit food dystopia in Britain, but the real dystopian stuff coming off the press is on another scale entirely. The categorization of Earth as a toxic planet. A UN Human Rights report on the sixth great extinction as a human rights issue.

Going full sci-fi, the consistently great design podcast 99% Invisible has a new episode out on post-WWII Gamma Gardens, where plants were grown around radioactive towers in an attempt to accelerate plant breeding. Today, developments in CRISPR-Cas9 are beginning to pick up, with patent battles and proposals to employ the technology to tinker with seasonality and even to induce the first new wave of plant domestication since the Neolithic Revolution.

Then there are the more immediate consequences of steps towards dystopia – closer to speculative fiction than sci-fi: fear in the Central Valley, a wall through Tohono O’odham land, dealing with the realities of planting zones moving northward. Margaret Atwood has written about the Ustopia, “a world I made up by combining utopia and dystopia – the imagined perfect society and its opposite – because, in my view, each contains a latent version of the other”.

What are the “little utopias” latent in these times?

The Burren from The Perennial Plate on Vimeo.

Other links of interest:

A team of French ethnographers challenge the characterization of pastoralism as ‘protective domination’, demonstrating that multiple North Asian relationships of husbandry actually encourage animal autonomy

Where is Sonny Perdue?

A plant theory of mind

Advocating towards student debt relief for young farmers

Weekly Gleaning 2/15: whale fall

Our weekly gleanings present the latest happenings, research and writing along the tangled banks of culture and agriculture. This week: colonial farm policy, medieval climate change, and octopus farming.

Image credit: Jen Christiansen (whale-fall illustration); Catherine Wilson (species inset illustrations)

Sometimes when a whale dies, the carcass sinks down below the shallows to the abyssal zone. On the ocean floor, the rotting flesh generates its own local ecosystem that can endure for decades. Trump – the new Leviathan in Chief – has indeed generated a complex ecosystem around his persona, multiple trophic levels of rhetoric and resistance. For better or worse, much of the inherently political scholarship of farming and food systems will be operating in relation to this context, at least for the time being. As Congresswoman Chellie Pingree calls the current state of US food policy the “foggiest crystal ball” she has ever seen, the challenge is to descend – poised – into the abyss without becoming transfixed by the sublime presidential object.

Photo Credit: Dishing it Out

“Who the fuck hates shwarma?” is the sign that inspired Dishing it Out, an ongoing collection of “food-themed protest posters”.

The Syria Supper Club is allowing refugees to connect with their neighbors through shared meals and also raises money for their living expenses.

Though the future of farm policy seems uncertain to many, an early look at the next Farm Bill process looks like more of the same.

A new article from the Journal of Peasant Studies presents an analysis of colonialism in US farm policy, showing that ‘more of the same’ is more of profoundly unjust policies towards the majority of those involved with production agriculture.

Two pieces providing some historical context for environmental and racial crises facing contemporary agriculture. First, new evidence that agricultural decline due to climate change during the Little Ice Age may have been responsible for the collapse of Cahokia, the largest of the indigenous Mississippian city-states. Second, a short essay on slave owner’s use of food as a means of control, through the words of Frederick Douglas’ memoirs.

The Wall Street Journal warns about the “next American farm bust”. Recall that the last American farm bust precipitated rural poverty that manifested politically in surprisingly major ways.

But maybe you’d rather read about a Mayan octopus farming cooperative.

Photo Credit: Richard Schweid

Weekly Gleaning 2/8: power plantations

Our weekly gleanings present the latest happenings, research and writing along the tangled banks of culture and agriculture. This week: structure and agency, the failure of food waste, and a fish hub.

“What makes a “plantation” different from the industrial strawberry fields of California’s Central Valley?”, asks Sarah Besky in a conversation published last week at Chapati Mystery. She notes widespread hesitancy in using the word to describe the agriculture systems that currently produce much of the world’s tea, fruit and coffee – as if plantations belonged to a bygone “era”. Donna Haraway and others have coined the Plantationocene to refer to our times, writing that “the slave plantation system was the model and motor for the carbon-greedy machine-based factory system that is often cited as an inflection point for the Anthropocene” – if there is such a thing as a plantation era, it is happening right now.

Talking about plantations is important because it directs focus on a particularly unjust structural arrangement of agricultural practices. As the change in administration carries with it a sometimes blinding fixation on the agency of one man, it becomes doubly important to maintain an incisive analytic towards structures of oppression like plantations.

Regarding that change in administration, an article in Nature describes responses to one of the last acts of the FDA before the inauguration – a draft rule requiring that genetically altered animals be subject to the same regulation process as new pharmaceuticals (e.g. dairy cows modified to develop without horns). Modern Farmer has done an overview of January ag policy happenings in case you missed something.

Raj Patel and Nick Saul wrote into The Globe and Mail to argue that tackling hunger also requires a more structural approach than redirecting food waste. “It’s awkward to look at how our current disposable-food culture creates waste. Much easier, then, to turn the poor into garbage-disposal units.” Their proposal is to focus on livable wages, affordable housing and social support, and point to the success of community food hubs in Canada.

Lastly, an inspiring story from Civil Eats about the development of a fish hub in Monterey, California, modeled after those Canadian food hubs. Are food and fish hubs the anti-plantation – a more just and inclusive structural arrangement of farmers and eaters? What might an era of food hubs look like? Like the plantation structure, it appears to be replicable and adaptable to new contexts as shown by Monterey’s fish hub. Food hub structures also contain implicit assumptions about the worth and positioning of different human and nonhuman subjects within agroecosystems.

The inexplicably long wait for a new Secretary of Ag, the unpredictability of Sonny Perdue, and the unknowns concerning the president’s anti-globalization agenda are only the beginning of a strange era for agriculture in the United States. Who is the master of the plantation?

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:

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