My primary research examines the intersection of sustainable agriculture and food safety, specifically taking a hard look at legislation, regulation, and industry response to concerns over infectious human pathogens in fresh produce and how that articulates with production practices on the ground, specifically sustainability and local or just food initiatives. I aim for a more nuanced understanding of how at times competing concerns for safety, social justice, economic viability, and environmental protection are contested and negotiated (or not) in agrifood systems; and to what consequence, for whom. I am currently continuing this project through a two-year postdoctoral fellowship to identify challenges to and opportunities for co-managing food safety and environmental protection in California produce agriculture.
Other ongoing research projects include:
- In collaboration with Alastair Iles, I am employing mixed-methods, including archival research and oral histories, to analyze agricultural mechanization — replacing human labor with machine labor — through historical case studies of mechanical harvesting technologies in California agriculture, from 1945-1980. We seek to critically unpack the seeming “inevitability” with which technological development in agriculture seems to drive farm consolidation, chemical-intensive monoculture, and the loss of agriculture-based livelihoods. Our goal is to identify conditions under which technological development might be “scaled” to small- and medium-sized diversified farms.
- In collaboration with the Diversified Farming Systems Research Group at UC Berkeley, I am contributing to research on how environmental, institutional and regulatory changes impact socio-ecological resilience in Californian farming systems. My work traces and characterizes the social and governance network components of these farming systems, helping to define and analyze the linkages between policies and institutions with farmers and farming practices on the ground.
- In collaboration with Christy Getz and Jennifer Sowerwine, I am surveying the political economic consequences of food safety reform on fresh produce farmers, handlers and distributors in California agrifood systems. We seek to shed light on the changing politics of access and exclusion in fresh produce value chains.
- In collaboration with Kathryn De Master, I am addressing the dimensions of an urban-rural “divide” as they manifest (or not) in US alternative food movements. Using survey, interview, and organizational analysis methods, we are investigating the politics of urban and rural identity and effects on participation and inclusion in US alternative food movements.
- In the long term, I am working on a history of the co-development of soil fertility science with fertilizer technologies from 1800 through present day. I follow the iterations of problem framing, application of available tools, problem resolution and reframing to show in detail the buildup of technological momentum that makes today’s global fertility system — based on ever-increasing production of synthetic fertilizer and a mechanical understanding of basis of soil fertility — appear natural and inevitable.
See also my UC Berkeley ESPM profile.