Graduate Student Research
Graduate Student Research Funded by CASFS Sustainability Fellowships
Fellowships supported by a major contribution from the Will and Helen Webster Foundation
Impacts of Agroecological Diversification and Alternative Markets on Costa Rican Smallholder Coffee Livelihoods
Environmental Studies; Advisor, Stephen Gliessman
This project documents the diversity of crops and shade-trees found within coffee agroecosystems in Agua Buena, Costa Rica, and evaluates the impacts of alternative markets and agroecological diversification programs on coffee farm-household livelihoods. Specifically, this research poses three questions; 1. What diversity of crops and shade-tree species exist in the coffee parcels of Agua Buena, Costa Rica and how does diversity differ between local coffee cooperative members and non-members? 2. What trees are the best candidates for incorporation into coffee plots in order to increase biodiversity while maintaining agroecosystem productivity? 3. Have agroecological diversification and alternative market programs developed and implemented by a local coffee cooperative resulted in higher farm-gate prices and more secure livelihoods for member farm-households versus non-member farm-households?
Diffusion and Adoption of Sustainable Agriculture Innovations: A Case Study of a Multinational Farmer Exchange Program
Sociology; Advisor, Ben Crow
This research will assess the potential to ‘scale-up’ innovations in sustainable agriculture (SA) through a case study of the organization, Multinational Exchange for Sustainable Agriculture (MESA). MESA’s mission is to train the “next generation of agrarian leaders” in ecological stewardship while promoting cultural awareness (mesaprogram.org). Participants come from around the world to learn about SA being practiced on host farms in the U.S., while also sharing their own knowledge from their home communities. As a cultural exchange program focused on the transfer of knowledge in sustainable farming ideas and practices, MESA offers a unique opportunity to study the diffusion of agricultural innovation in an international context.
The research explores both the process of diffusion and the nature of sustainable agriculture. The questions guiding this research ask what are the key factors influencing the adoption and diffusion of these innovations, and which innovations are most readily transferable across borders? With a focus on social and economic innovations such as direct marketing techniques, creating value-added products and alternative economic/market organizations, fieldwork will be conducted on host farms in the U.S. and in Peru and Ecuador, where a majority of MESA participants reside. The overarching goal of this project is to understand how farmers from different countries might best be able to share their knowledge about sustainable agriculture in order to improve the livelihoods of small-scale producers.
The Role of Ecosystem Goods from Native Flora in Food Security and Land Cover Changes: A Case of Southwestern Ethiopia
Environmental Studies; Advisor, Erika Zavaleta
Changing climatic and socioeconomic conditions in developing countries has direct consequences on livelihoods and biodiversity. One of the consequences of such changes is perturbations on socioecological systems known for historically contingent interactions between local communities and their environment. A typical example of such change occurs in agroecosystems of southwest Ethiopia known for high socio-cultural and biological diversity and origin and center of diversity of Coffea arabica.
Besides high biocultural diversity there is large dependence of local communities on ecosystem goods and services (EGS). Such contingency and human-biodiversity interactions are not homogeneous across the diverse socio-cultural groups even locally. There have been high rates of deforestation and land use changes in the region between 1973 and 2006. Such changes have affected livelihoods at different magnitudes the most vulnerable being the people who use biodiversity the most.
As part of my dissertation study, I am examining the (1) the role of goods and services obtained from native flora to household food security and income (2) the relative values and perceptions local people have for these goods and services and (3) the effect of land use and land cover changes on livelihoods and vulnerability of most contingent livelihoods using (1) focus group discussions, (2) household surveys and (3) market surveys. I have the following relevant research questions to address my study (1) Which EGS are locally used most and valued? (2) How do fragmentation, selective logging and land cover conversions affect these EGS? (3)
What EGS are maintained in coffee farms and human dominated landscapes as compared to forests? (4) Which socioeconomic groups (poor, landless, women, youth, and migrant laborers) are mainly involved in harvesting natural forest goods? And (5) Which sociocultural groups are highly vulnerable?
Investigating Mexican American Participation in Urban Agriculture in the Central Coast Region
Environmental Studies; Advisor, Margaret FitzSimmons
This research project is the first step in a larger research plan investigating the participation of Mexican Americans in urban agriculture (UA) on the Central Coast and its impacts on the region. The project will build on research that is currently being conducted at the Center for Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems (CASFS) on the role that UA plays in the region and its impacts on sustainability and food security. In this coming year my work will focus on building relationships with three groups of Mexican immigrants and Mexican Americans engaged in UA in Salinas, Santa Cruz and San Jose. I will then conduct semi-structured interviews to gain insight on the perspectives of participants on engagement in food systems and how they access agroecological information.
Biofuels Production in the US Midwest: Negotiating Social and Ecological Outcomes Across Place and Scale
Environmental Studies; Advisor, Margaret FitzSimmons
The US has embarked on an initiative to greatly increase biofuel production. Advocates argue that biofuels will mitigate greenhouse gas emissions, improve rural socioeconomic futures, and reduce dependence on foreign oil. Opponents find biofuels’ consequences for food security, carbon emissions and land use change to be negative. Nonetheless, increased US biofuels production continues; the vast majority of this is corn ethanol. Little is known about how this will change social and ecological outcomes at farm and regional levels. My research in Iowa, the top corn and ethanol producing state, aims to address this knowledge gap by asking: 1) How are biofuels development and related changes in agriculture and conservation policy and practice reconfiguring the landscape in Iowa? 2) What are the costs, benefits and risks of increased biofuels production, as seen by farmers and rural residents, and how do these factors influence agroecological practice? 3) How do US biofuel production initiatives balance energy, economic, and agroecological policy goals across place and scale?
These questions build on insights from agricultural political economy, rural studies and political ecology, and geographies of environmental governance. Methods include: quantitative analysis of agroecological practices change; interviews with farmers, conservation agents, public officials, industry actors, and Iowa residents; and document and policy analyses. Future investments in biofuels are likely to be significant and our ability to achieve social and ecological sustainability in agrifood systems will depend upon our knowledge of biofuels’ emerging consequences and our approach to related policy, which my research intends to inform.
The Paid Social Reproductive Service Economy: Gender, Race and Class in the Production and Consumption of Private and Public Household Services
Sociology; Advisor, Steve McKay
Although the work of social reproduction has historically taken place within the private family household, the distribution of this work across the family and the marketplace is changing and needs to be empirically and theoretically examined. Various forms of social organization of this work are emerging, such as between employer and employee in a private household, mediated by a temporary service agency or arranged in public institutions.
My study contributes new research on the different types of work arrangements of social reproductive work and how they structure inequalities among and between workers. This project will increase our understanding of the experiences of men and women of color paid reproductive workers in private and public spaces of work. In the U.S. food system, paid social reproductive workers are increasingly doing the household menial, manual and emotional labor of the private household, including cleaning work, food work and child care work. This study will illuminate the role of paid social reproductive workers in the production of services and the consumption of these services in the U.S. food system.
Improving Soil Quality with Pastured Poultry: An Innovative Solution for Sustainability in Crop Systems
Environmental Studies; Advisor, Stephen Gliessman
Demand for alternative meat and animal byproducts currently exceeds supply from smaller livestock operations in the United States. This opening in a niche market is drawing crop growers to include animals in production. Integration of crops and animals has the potential to enhance soil quality through manure deposition, pasture plant growth, and low-till management.
My research explores how the incorporation of pastured poultry into crop farms shifts the biological, chemical, and physical parameters of soil quality. Growers with pastured-poultry crop systems (PPCS) report increased soil fertility and organic matter along with profitable sales of meat and eggs. This study will document and publicize a way for growers to afford reduced tillage and soil amendment applications, making results immediately useful for soil conservation, carbon sequestration, and affordable organic farming. This work is one of the first scientific studies conducted on the effectiveness of PPCS.
The Lie of the Land: Labor Violations, Indigenous Farm Workers and the Sustainability Discourse
Sociology; Advisor, Jonathon Fox
In the search for more sustainable food systems, it is imperative to consider the social and cultural aspects of sustainability. During my six-months of ethnographic dissertation research in San Quintín, we interviewed children and women confronting sexual harassment in the fields, workers fighting for the right to have a single day off, families living under extreme poverty and the constant exposure to pesticides. With the vetting and support of the indigenous leaders of these communities, we filmed 11 indigenous farm worker interviews. Our goal is to develop these interviews into an educational film that sheds light on the exploitation of indigenous farm workers and highlights the importance of social and cultural issues within this sustainability discourse.
The goal of this project is to develop a set of 11 worker interviews we gathered in 2009 into an educational film depicting the struggles indigenous Oaxacans face when recruited into industrialized paid farm work in San Quintin. We have conservatively divided the post-production of the film into two phases. The CASFS student grant will enable us to complete the first phase of post-production, develop a website and travel to San Quintin in the summer of 2011 to preview our results and receive feedback from the indigenous community needed to complete the film.
The goal of the film is to incite activism around farm worker justice, by letting the stories of Oaxacan farm workers be known. Our objective is threefold. First, through the film and its website, we want to give college students a nuanced understanding on the importance of social justice within the sustainability discourse and inspire them and other scholars to pursue social justice work in San Quintin. Second, through the website, the film will educate the American audience on the social justice aspect of food production. Lastly, we want to influence policy makers and U.S. citizens to pressure these agricultural firms, some of which operate locally in Santa Cruz County, to improve their labor standards abroad.
Barriers and Possibilities for Conversion to Grass-finished Beef: A Case Study of Central California
Environmental Studies; Advisor, Erika Zavaleta
Rangelands in California face severe development pressure, and supporting rancher livelihoods is an important component of habitat conservation and preserving a potentially highly sustainable local food system. A market for local grass-finished beef may improve the connections between CA consumers and local food; increase the amount of needed rangeland (approximately twice that of feedlot finishing), potentially decreasing the likelihood for development; and create a price premium to ranchers, increasing economic viability and also decreasing the likelihood of development. My research, as one of three dissertation chapters on CA oak woodlands and rangelands, looks at the barriers to and potential for developing this market in a regional case study of Central CA.
A Multi-Channel Public Video Installation that Examines Agricultural Processes as a Critical Nexus of Social and Environmental Concerns
Film & Digital Media, Digital Art New Media; Advisor, Sharon Daniel
Multi-channel media installation that functions as a form of social documentation that examines the local land-use politics. With no formal “beginning” or “end” to the video, it will exist as a looping cycle, and with each loop it will be slightly different in content. The narrative cycle of the installation will take form through an algorithmic process, that will edit ideas and moments together in a way that reflect the cyclical nature of ecology.
Using land-use as our entry point, our topic of inquiry is the implicit/explicit interconnectedness of social and metabolic ecosystems. From a social perspective its relevance comes from the increasingly complex relations between local, national, and global systems, and how these dynamics of these systems inform issues of access and habits for both individuals and the communities they make up.
The goal of the project is to produce a creative pedagogical intervention surrounding land-use politics that engages its community through aesthetic means.
Agricultural Decisions in Response to Atrazine Restrictions and the Implications for Environmental Sustainability
Environmental Studies; Advisor, Brent Haddad
I propose to evaluate the decisions, economics, and water quality outcomes in response to atrazine restrictions. Restrictions on atrazine, a widely used herbicide, are in place in designated areas of Wisconsin and throughout the European Union. The health and environmental effects of atrazine are currently being assessed by the United States Environmental Protection Agency, and there is a possibility that further restrictions will result from this review. In order to determine the efficacy of atrazine restrictions, it is necessary to examine how restrictions are affecting farmer decision-making and the environmental outcomes associated with those decisions. Farmers may respond to atrazine restrictions either by adopting new chemical herbicides or sustainable weed management techniques. Understanding the changes that farmers have made in response to atrazine restrictions by analysis of a large N survey and interviews with farm managers in Italy and Wisconsin will help provide informed decision making to promote sustainable weed management in the United States.
Midwestern Farmers' Decision Making Processes with Respect to GE Crops
Anthropology; Advisor, Melissa Caldwell
As a part of a system that requires large capital investments, herbicides in some cases, and copious use of commercial fertilizers, GE crops raise questions about the environmental and economic sustainability of their use. Further, they are a key factor in the perpetuation of Confined Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) and the proliferation of highly processed foodstuffs, implicating GE crops in controversies over animal rights, nutrition, and food safety. The shift in production from small-scale farms to large also calls into question the implications for rural communities in this large-scale, capital-intensive, highly mechanized farming. In the face of all these debates many farmers are still choosing to grow GE crops. For my project, I intend to examine the decision-making process of these farmers firsthand. How farmers position themselves in relation to these debates and the factors that they take into account are key points in the perpetuation of this system. I aim to explore the political, economic, and social pressures that inform farmers’ decisions to grow GE crops and how the biotech seed producers such as Monsanto gain the trust of these farmers.
Food Systems and Environmental Justice in California (Part I)
Sociology; Advisor, Flora Lu
The use of chemicals in agricultural production has cascading deleterious effects throughout socio-ecological systems, highlighting the necessity of holistic approaches to understanding food production, consumption, and sovereignty. This proposal focuses on a vulnerable population in California - Latino farm workers and the communities in which they live - and proposes scholarly research, community outreach, and action-oriented education to address the environmental justice implications of agro-industrial use of chemical inputs.
An online exhibit of Tracy's work on the impacts of toxins in the Central Valley and the activists working to improve safety for everyone in their communities can be seen at 25 Stories from the Central Valley.
Ananda Van Parwanae Diepen-Hedayat
Sociology; Advisor, Flora Lu
Food Systems and Environmental Justice in California (Part II)
The use of chemicals, whether in agricultural production or land management, has cascading deleterious effects throughout socio-ecological systems, highlighting the necessity of holistic approaches to understanding food production, consumption, and sovereignty. This proposal focuses on a vulnerable population in California—Native Americans—and proposes scholarly research, community outreach, and action-oriented education to address the environmental justice implications of agro-industrial use of chemical inputs.
Parents' Beliefs about Food, Parental Strategies for Eating Socialization, and Children's Evaluations of Parental Control in the Food Domain
Psychology; Advisor, Maureen Callanan
The existing research on children’s understanding of food has shown that by kindergarten, children understand that food is related to health and weight; research has also shown that young children can categorize food into multiple categories (e.g., breakfast, fruit, healthy food) and understand that digestion is a biological process separate from the mind (e.g., you cannot will your stomach to digest faster). However, current research on children’s understanding of food ignores the important social context of food.
The current study seeks to situate children’s understanding of food within a broader social context by exploring children’s judgment about parent-child disagreements. Specifically, we ask whether 5- and 7-year-old children and their parents reason about what and how much children eat as a matter of personal choice, health, or an issue of authority (e.g. obeying parents). Additionally, this study seeks to understand relationships among parental beliefs about food (e.g., concern about the healthiness of food, vegetarian beliefs), their reasoning about food as a personal choice, and the strategies they use for dealing with actual parent-child disagreements about food.
Heather Anne Swanson
Outsourcing Salmon: Japanese Participation in the Chilean Aquaculture Industry
Anthropology; Advisor, Anna Tsing
The environmental and social problems caused by the Chilean farmed salmon industry – pollution of coastal waters, high use of antibiotics, and rampant worker exploitation – make it an infamous example of an unsustainable food system. But while much is known about the negative consequences of this industry, little is known about its development and formation, processes in which the Japanese government and Japanese companies have played unexpectedly critical roles.
My research asks how over the last 40 years Chile has rapidly evolved from a country without any native salmon to the world’s second largest salmon-producing nation under the guidance of Japanese professionals. Through a combination of oral history interviews, ethnographic observation, and archival research, my work probes how Japanese business practices, ideas about ecological management, and consumer preferences have combined with Chilean development desires to produce an environmentally and socially destructive industry.