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Agrarian Dreams

Agrarian Dreams: The Paradox of Organic Farming in California

Julie Guthman
Copyright Date: 2004
Edition: 1
Pages: 264
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  • Book Info
    Agrarian Dreams
    Book Description:

    In an era of escalating food politics, many believe organic farming to be the agrarian answer. In this first comprehensive study of organic farming in California, Julie Guthman casts doubt on the current wisdom about organic food and agriculture, at least as it has evolved in the Golden State. Refuting popular portrayals of organic agriculture as a small-scale family farm endeavor in opposition to "industrial" agriculture, Guthman explains how organic farming has replicated what it set out to oppose.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-93773-4
    Subjects: Technology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Tables
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. List of Abbreviations
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xiii-xvi)
  6. Maps
    (pp. xvii-xviii)
  7. CHAPTER 1 Agrarian Dreams
    (pp. 1-22)

    The turn-of-the-millennium years have been nothing less than extraordinary in exposing the public health, environmental, and moral risks of industrialized agriculture. Each new round of news stories, whether about genetically engineered foods, mad cow disease, hoof-and-mouth disease,E. colicontamination, or pesticide poisoning, reinforces the idea that our system for growing and processing food has run amok. The surprising popularity of books such as Eric Schlosser’sFast Food Nation, Michael Pollan’sBotany of Desire, and Marion Nestle’sFood Politics, in addition to a wealth of titles focused on individual food commodities, speaks to heightened public interest in the production and...

  8. CHAPTER 2 Finding the Way: Roads to Organic Production
    (pp. 23-41)

    A generation of growers entered into organic production because of deeply held political, environmental, philosophical, and/or spiritual values. Many came out of the counterculture or were influenced by environmental ideas in their college years and decided to try their luck at farming. Some followed the writings of the philosophical or practical giants in sustainable agriculture (e.g., Wes Jackson and Robert Rodale, respectively) and deliberately made the effort to put these written ideas into practice. Others were less circumspect and simply felt that organic agriculture was somehow “the right thing to do.” Whether they “always have been and always will be”...

  9. CHAPTER 3 Organic Farming: Ideal Practices and Practical Ideals
    (pp. 42-60)

    Between 1987 and 1997, the beginning year of this study, approximately seventeen hundred California growers entered into organic production for the first time, and the amount of acreage in organic production grew more than tenfold. Many entered not because of any particular ties to the organic movement but because they felt compelled to change the way they farm or were lured by high prices and the promises of buyers. Whether they approached opportunistically or were pulled along, this sort of growth was unimaginable ten years prior. On the surface, then, it would appear an astounding success on the part of...

  10. CHAPTER 4 California Dreaming: California’s Agro-Industrial Legacy
    (pp. 61-88)

    Michael Pollan’s 2001 exposé of the organic-industrial complex in theNew York Times Magazinehas generated increased awareness of what some are now calling the corporate takeover of the organic food system.¹ As chapter 3 showed, the sizable presence of agribusiness-like firms in the organic sector has transformed the structure of the sector. Their entry has also shaped the way organic agriculture is practiced, for conventional agriculturists’ habits die hard. Yet, this transformation was not the doing of conventional agribusiness per se. Nor is it the case that agribusiness entry was intended to subvert the organic sector. Instead, the pioneers...

  11. CHAPTER 5 Organic Sediment: A Geography of Organic Production
    (pp. 89-109)

    The development of California agriculture has been punctuated by crises, out of which new strategies have emerged to resolve the contradictions in profit making that led to these crises in the first place (Lee 2000). As with all economic restructuring, most of these innovations have reconfigured existing production relations, creating new ways to extract, appropriate, or add value among classes of people and, in the case of intensification, between people and nature as well. Yet, as geographer David Harvey has insisted (e.g., Harvey 1982), economic restructuring is also fundamentally spatial. Particularly since agriculture is land-based production, restructuring not only responds...

  12. CHAPTER 6 Conventionalizing Organic: From Social Movement to Industry via Regulation
    (pp. 110-140)

    The emergence of an identifiable organic movement in the late 1960s did not pose a major threat to mainstream agriculture. Thoroughly awash in countercultural idioms, organic farming was, if anything, an object of derision of the mainstream agricultural establishment. As former U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Earl Butz said in 1971, “We can go back to organic agriculture in this country if we must; we know how to do it. However, before we move in that direction, someone must decide which 50 million of our people will starve!” (Nation’s Agriculture1971). Not until the farm crisis of the 1980s articulated with...

  13. CHAPTER 7 Organic Regulation Ramified
    (pp. 141-171)

    Arguably, the development of organic regulatory institutions and conventions was a haphazard process. The organic sector was simply ingenuous in its beginnings, but its ongoing expansion and change brought unforeseen challenges to making an agreed-upon meaning hold. A seemingly simple definition of organically grown turned out to need constant tinkering; a casual organizational style had to be professionalized and given procedural legitimacy, ultimately creating fairly baroque modes of enforcement. Yet, no matter how new rules and procedures were normatively framed, the underlying concern was self-protection for already-existing producers. Accordingly, standards became stronger yet inconsistent, and practices of enforcement became more...

  14. CHAPTER 8 The Agrarian Answer?
    (pp. 172-186)

    The 2002 implementation of the new federal rule for organic production has generated a palpable sense of loss within the organic farming movement. Undoubtedly, many of organic farming’s most solid devotees share Gussow’s view, whose editorial appeared inOrganic Gardeningduring the period in which the new federal rule was being implemented. As evidenced in the written comments to the first proposed federal rule in 1997, die-hard organic consumers had the most demanding expectations of what organic should mean vis-à-vis industrial farming (Vos 2000). But did the rule itself undermine the promise of organic agriculture, or, as I would argue,...

  15. Appendix
    (pp. 187-198)
  16. Notes
    (pp. 199-218)
  17. Glossary
    (pp. 219-220)
  18. References
    (pp. 221-236)
  19. Index
    (pp. 237-250)