Link roundup: Resources for teaching environmental justice

I’ve come across a variety of intriguing online resources in past months that I keep meaning to write-up into a variety of teaching tools. But time is short so instead I’m posting them all here, with a few short ideas on how they might be used in the classroom. Happy teaching!

Race and the outdoors

  • Stuff white people like: camping A tongue-in-cheek send-up of camping, camping culture, and the disproportionate participation of white people in camping. Could be a great way to stimulate classroom conversation about outdoor activities and race. I could see reading the post aloud and asking the following kinds of questions to get the conversation rolling: How many of you like camping?  How many of you don’t? Does this post ring true to your experience of camping or not camping? Does this post seem like an accurate representation of camping? Does this post seem like an accurate representation of who camps? Why do you think white people are the dominant participants in so many recreational activities in the outdoors?
  • Diversity and the outdoors – google hangout with Allison Chin (Sierra Club), Audrey Peterman (Legacy On the Land), Javier Sierra (Sierra Club en Español), Juan Martinez (Children and Nature Network), Rue Mapp (Outdoor Afro) and Rusty White (surfer). People of color outdoor-leaders discuss how they got interested in the outdoors and how to get more people to join them. This video would be a good follow-up to the “Stuff white people like” blog post described above because it contradicts it in some ways. You could ask students to consider how the leaders featured in the google hangout might respond to the “stuff white people like” blog post.  Would they agree or disagree with its content?
  • America’s forgotten black cowboys This article could help students question racialized narratives of the American West, as well as to consider the historical experiences of people of color in the American outdoors.

Race, Nation, and Agriculture: The “God Made a Farmer” Videos 

I could imagine showing the first video without any introduction and asking the following questions at the end of it:  Did you notice anything odd about this video?  Was anything missing? If the students can’t think of anything, show the second video and ask them the question again. The point would be to launch into a discussion of the video’s startling use of white people to represent farming in America, in spite of the fact that the vast majority of people working in this industry are Latino. This could be a fruitful jumping off point for discussion about framing, narrative, representation, race, the history of farming in America, or any number of other juicy topics. Be sure to discuss what the difference between a “farmer” and a “farmworker” is. Child labor could make for an interesting and relevant topic for a follow-up conversation too.


Other data sources. See this activity for ideas on how they could be used.


I’m not sure how I would use these in the college classroom, but wanted to post them here for future reference.

Visions of the San Joaquin Valley

I spent time yesterday looking at Barron Bixler’s photographs of agriculture in the San Joaquin Valley.  He’s arranged his photos into a beautiful slideshow set to music called A New Pastoral: Views of the San Joaquin Valley.  I’ve formed my own vision of the San Joaquin Valley over the last few years, and it’s fascinating to see how someone else views and presents the region.  Some of Bixler’s photos depict scences familiar to me – stark  landscapes of row-crops, orchards with factories in the background, agricultural machinery, railroads and storage facilities.  I loved seeing these familiar places through his eye. Others show places I’ve never been, like the inside of an industrial milking facility.

Bixler’s photos are entirely devoid of people – they depict industrial agriculture through the landscape and built environment it creates.  Matt Black’s photos, on the other hand, center on the immigrants and farmworkers living and working in the San Joaquin Valley.  They are entirely human. I enjoyed checking his captions to see if the small towns he has depicted were places I’ve spent time in too (mostly not).  He has also created a powerful digital project about the birth defects in Kettleman City.

David Bacon’s work doesn’t focus on the San Joaquin Valley per se, but he has a number of photo collections of farmworkers, immigrants, and UFW advocacy set there.  See his work here and here.

Finally, Ken Light’s new photographic book, Valley of Shadows and Dreams, will be published soon by Heyday Press.  I saw some of his work on this project when I took his documentary photography class several years ago at UC Berkeley, and can’t wait to see the finished product.  Check out the photo on the book’s cover, it’s gorgeous.

And, here’s a link to my own humble efforts to photograph the San Joaquin Valley.  I try to show the grave environmental health problems facing this region, but also the hard work being done by its residents to change things. I also try to convey my sense of this under-appreciated part of our state as beautiful in its own right. An updated version of this collection will be online soon, as well as a nifty new collage that combines new photos with oral history.

24 hours with 5th Crow Farm

When I moved to Santa Cruz one of the first friends I made was a woman named Teresa Kurtak.  Teresa and her business partners  Mike Irving and John Vars were looking for land to lease so they could start a small organic farm.  They found what they were looking for in Pescadero, and are now in their third growing season there.

Most of the photos I see of small-scale organic farms present them as rural idylls – beautiful, bucolic, peaceful.  My experience watching 5th Crow Farm grow is that organic farms may be beautiful but usually entail working long, hectic days.  My urban lifestyle is probably a lot more peaceful!  Certainly that’s what I thought after tagging along with Teresa while she worked this weekend.  Here are some of my photos and a blow-by-blow account of what we did…


8:30 pm, Saturday night: I stop at the grocery store on my way to the farm to buy dinner for Teresa and Mike. They’ve been harvesting for the Sunday farmers’ markets all day and haven’t had time to think about dinner yet.

9:15 pm:  I arrive at Mike and Teresa’s yurt on the farm.

9:30 pm:  Teresa and Mike have dinner, and then Teresa starts to prepare the printed materials she needs for the next day’s special event at the California Academy of Sciences.

10:00 pm:  The printer isn’t working so Teresa heads out to find a working printer elsewhere.  I go to bed.

Midnight:  Teresa goes to bed.

3:16 am, Sunday morning:  Roosters start crowing.   : (

4:30 am: Alarm goes off.    : (

4:45 am: Teresa and I get in the market truck, which they loaded yesterday, and hit the road.

5:30 am: We stop to pick up coffee to help keep us awake on the road.  I also buy a pastry for my breakfast.

5:43 am: Dawn.

6:10: We’re the first ones to arrive at the site of the Inner Sunset Farmers’ Market in San Francisco.  I try not to feel too guilty for taking photos instead of helping Teresa unload the truck and set up her stand…

7:00 am:  Teresa’s market helper, Anne, shows up and pitches in.

8 am:  After they’ve unloaded the truck, we repark it in Golden Gate Park, and go back to finish setting up Teresa’s stand.

8:15 am:  Robert MacKimmie of City Bees shows up and begins to set up his stand next to ours.  Robert has become a good friend of the farm and is Teresa’s regular post-market dinner date.  Today he’ll also be featured at the California Academy of Sciences’ first Local Bites event after the market.

8:35 am.  I go across the street to Arizmendi Bakery to buy more coffee to help Teresa and Robert get through the morning rush.  By the time I get back the market is officially open for business and there’s already a long line at the 5th Crow stand.  Teresa spends the rest of the market lifting crates of produce and answering questions from the customers while Anne handles the money.

12:00 pm:  Two of Teresa’s dedicated regular customers show up to help out, giving Teresa and me a chance to get her strawberry samples out of the truck in Golden Gate Park and walk over to the California Academy of Sciences to get the lay of the land.

1:00: By the time we’re done at the Academy of Sciences, the market has officially closed so we pick up the truck and drive it back to the market to load.  Teresa, her helpers and Robert all pitch in to load the truck in a hurry.  We drive it over to the Academy of Sciences, unload onto small carts and wheel the goods into the event-space.  The vendors aren’t allowed to sell their products at the event, but Teresa brings some for display to give the guests a sense of what she grows.  We get there late and set up her table while the band plays and the guests are moving around tasting the samples.  Teresa gives out samples of strawberries, edible flowers and kholrabi, while continuing the lifting and talking that she’s been doing all day.

3:00: Bathroom breaks are hard to come by!

4:30:  The event winds down early and we start packing up the produce, loading it back onto the carts, and wheeling it out to the truck to reload.  

5:30 We take a break to stand around and talk with the helpers.  Then we drive the truck back to the market site, which is once more a parking lot, unload Robert’s stuff into his own car, and find a place to eat.  Teresa talks with her hands a lot.

6:15: Dinner! This is the first time Teresa has sat down since getting out of the truck at 6:10 in the morning.  Robert is still wearing his bee antennae  : )

7:30: We walk to a cafe to buy coffee to help Teresa stay awake on the drive home and get back on the road.

8:44: Dusk

9 pm:  We get back to the farm.  Teresa decides to postpone unloading the truck until tomorrow morning and I drive home.


To see more photos from my day with Teresa, click here.

Water wars in the Central Valley

In my work in the Central Valley, I’ve focused more on problems with drinking water, which comes from groundwater, than I have on water for agriculture, which comes from highly contested surface water.  Nonetheless, in my travels I see many signs of struggle over agricultural water allotments.  “Congress-created dustbowl” signs appear on land next to the freeway and in some rest-stops trucks have been turned into giant political water posters.

So I enjoyed reading Matt Black’s article about recent agricultural water restrictions over my morning tea today.  He  speaks to the way water allotments are a zero sum game in our state: cuts for agriculture take farmland out of production in favor of preserving healthy riverine ecosystems further upstream and vice versa.  Mostly, Black focuses on the impact of the agricultural cuts on the poor who live precariously on the fringes of the agricultural economy.  This paragraph was particularly eloquent:

“As I watch this ersatz abundance turn to dust, I’m left conflicted.  When a group of farmers and politicians pose for news cameras in front of destitute housewives in a bread line, it feels outrageous.  Don’t they know that families here have relied on food handouts for years?  Are they really using their workers’ poverty – a poverty born of decades of exploitative wages – to get more subsidized water?” 

I was also pleased to recognize one of the photos in this essay as the cover photo of the inaugural edition of Boom: A Journal of California, which I also published a piece in.  You can see more of Black’s photos on his personal website.

Foodies and farmworkers unite!

I was pleased to find this report in my virtual in-box this week:

Inventory of Farmworker Issues and Protections in the United States, by Bon Appetit Management Company Foundation and the United Farm Workers of America, March 2011.

It’s great to see farmworker issues getting some attention, but what really caught my eye was the fact that a foodie group and a farmworker group had co-authored the report together.

After spending years incrementally improving the environmental impacts and profitability of food production through organic agriculture and other labeling systems, foodies have become increasingly interested in improving the social conditions of food production too.  While this conversation has most often centered around how to make improvements in working conditions on organic farms, this new report takes a much broader view.  It analyzes working conditions for farmworkers nation-wide, as well as the scanty legal protections available to them.

One of the current debates in foodie circles centers on the pros and cons of trying to solve our food system’s problems with market-based tools: organic certification, fair-trade certification, buying local, etc.  Should we rely on voluntary improvements by individual farmers who can then charge more for their products to consumers willing and able to spend more?  Or should we focus instead on legislative solutions that require improvements by all farmers?  While foodies have mostly used market-based solutions in their work, farmworkers groups have focused largely on legislative solutions.

My reading of the report suggests that its authors are pursuing a middle path.  They hope that increasing the visibility of farmworker problems in this country will also increase consumer interest in purchasing food that is grown under safe, dignified working conditions.  Then, more farmers will want to participate in labeling programs that require improvements in working conditions. These increasingly popular labeling programs will then help generate more interest in and awareness about the problems facing farmworkers, helping legislative solutions become politically feasible.  I’ll be watching to see where this foodie/farmworker partnership will lead.

Here’s a few other items of interest that passed through my in-box last week: