The following books, journal articles, and films represent a small collection of materials that can potentially support instructors in a variety of disciplines who want to integrate agriculture, farming or the garden into the curriculum. The general focus is on food production and farming, but because everything is connected to food and the land, consumer and economic issues are addressed by many of these texts. A mix of fiction and non-fiction follows. I especially recommend William Conlogue’s Working the Garden: American Writers and the Industrialization of Agriculture as a starting point for your own research.
Berry, Wendell. The Unsettling of America: Culture and Agriculture. San Francisco: Sierra Club, 1977. In this now classic text, Berry addresses social and economic aspects of agriculture. Our environmental crisis is a crisis of character, states Berry. In his 1986 reprint he wrote that the crisis has only worsened since he first wrote this book. Indeed, even in 2010, this book is current. Berry describes how we lost, and are continuing to lose many small farms in the U.S. For our students, this book can remind them that this is not a new problem, rather it is an ongoing and dangerous process.
—. The Art of the Commonplace: The Agrarian Essays of Wendell Berry. Washington, D.C.: Shoemaker and Hoard, 2002. Forward by Norman Wirzba. The introduction argues for agrarianism, as Berry sees it, as a corrective to our current destructive industrial culture. The non-fiction collection is drawn from a wide range of books by Berry and organized into five sections.
—. Bringing It to the Table: On Food and Farming. Introduction by Michael Pollan. Berkeley, California: Counterpoint, 2009. Another, and more current, collection that reminds us that much of the current conversation on the “food revolution” began in the early 70s with the work of Berry who was inspired by Sir Albert Howard, the British agronomist. Berry uses the farm rather than the wilderness as his subject, as did H.D. Thoreau. He brought wildness close to home, into the garden. “Eating,” says Berry, “is an agricultural act.” This one statement may be the germ of the food revolution. The book includes several parts: essays by Berry on farming, farms, and farmers. In the final, highly recommended section on food, the excerpts are from Berry’s fiction. Through these selections, chosen by Berry, we learn of the food preparation, eating, and appreciation of food by farm families.
— and Paul Merchant. Wendell Berry (American Author Series). Lewiston, Idaho: Confluence, 1991. This unusual volume includes new poetry, and a new short story by Berry, an interview with him, several letters, and a few essays of criticism and appreciation. Photographs of Berry range from 1960 to 1990, age 26 to 56.
The Climate Friendly Gardener: A Guide to Combating Global Warming from the Ground Up. This is a .pdf published by the Union of Concerned Scientists
Conlogue, William. Working the Garden: American Writers and the Industrialization of Agriculture. This author discusses how literary works document the costs to American culture of the denigration of the family farm and direct work with the land. We are less likely to look for this documentation in the works of Willa Cather, Ruth Comfort Mitchell, John Steinbeck, Luis Valdez, Ernest Gaines, Jane Smiley, Wendell Berry, and others. Themes addressed include the impact of technology, evolving gender roles, exploitation of agricultural workers, and environmental degradation. The setting may be the farm, but the effects are wide ranging, affecting all of us.
Crawford, Stanley. A Garlic Testament: Seasons on a Small New Mexico Farm. New York: Harper Collins, 1992. Crawford is an excellent writer, who teaching about everything while writing about growing garlic. We learn about the land and farming, about economics, about the culture of the southwest in his small town near Los Alamos. This is one man’s story about his relationship with the earth and with his wonderful garlic.
Fukuoka, Masanobu. The One-Straw Revolution (1978). Goa, India: Other India Press, 1992. In inspiring book about organic farming practices but also about life and returning to a rich heritage of working closely and simply with the land. Photographs. Previously an agricultural scientist, the author has had a profound effect on farming practices which require less labor and less destruction of the soil.
Howard, Sir Albert. The Soil and Health: A Study of Organic Agriculture (1947). University Press of Kentucky, 2007. A classic of the organic food movement. The introduction by Wendell Berry argues that Howard’s one great subject (health, both qualitatively and quantitatively) should be the subject of universities. It’s worth the price of this book.
Jack, Zachary Michael. Black Earth and Ivory Tower: New American Essays from Farm and Classroom. University of S. Carolina Press, 2005. A fascinating collection of pieces by academics with one foot in the farm and one in the academy. Academics on the farm and the farms of academics are written about with a sense of history, culture, and an eye for the American farm as a source of knowledge.
Lappe. Francis Moore. Diet for a Small Planet. Twentieth anniversary edition, 1985. For Lappe, food is still the best way to understand world politics. As a historical marker, this book can remind students that food is always a “hot” issue. Food writing reflects the historical period.
Lappe, Anna. Diet for a Hot Planet. Intro. Bill McKibben. Anna addresses the major role industrial agriculture plays in today’s climate crisis. Responsibly researched and cogently articulated, this far-reaching investigation entails questioning scientists; attending UN, governmental, corporate, and grassroots agriculture conferences; plowing through daunting reports and studies, and, most pleasurably, visiting organic farms around the world. She gathers facts proving that global industrial agriculture—specifically the use of hazardous chemicals, concentrated animal feeding operations, biotech crops, and processed foods—is impoverishing the land, destroying rain forests, polluting waterways, and emitting nearly a third of the greenhouse gases that are heating the planet. In contrast, well-designed organic-farming techniques reduce carbon emissions and toxic waste while nurturing soil and biodiversity. Convinced that eating wisely is one way to influence the marketplace and, ultimately, help combat world hunger and climate change, Lappé decodes food labeling, dissects Big Ag’s “greenwashing” tactics, and offers “seven principles of a climate-friendly diet” in an impeccable, informative, and inspiring contribution to the quest for environmental reform. –Donna Seaman (Booklist). A trailer featuring Anna Lappe is available at www. Amazon.com.
Marquart, Debra. The Horizontal World. Marquart writes of her life growing up on a North Dakota farm, the youngest of four siblings. She has a love-hate relationship with the farm, like many children raised on the farm, and her essay from this book, “Chores” was published in Orion magazine.
Harrison, Robert Pogue. Gardens: An Essay on the Human Condition. Chicago, Chicago UP, 2008. Harrison discusses the garden in literature from numerous perspectives. He discusses ancient philosophers and many modern writers, beginning with the garden as the site of the first earthly paradise. Example from the chapter “The Human Gardener”: Karel Čapek in The Gardener’s Year (1929) sees gardening not as a subset of life, but life as a subset of gardening. Harrison writes, “Gardening is an opening of worlds—of worlds within worlds—beginning with the world at one’s feet. To become conscious of what one is treading on requires that one delve into the ground’s organic underworld, so as to appreciate, in an engaged way, the soil’s potential for fostering life” (31).
Kingsolver, Barbara. Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life. Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. Harper Collins, 2007. This book is part memoir, part journalistic investigation. It tells the story of how Kingsolver’s family changed by one year of deliberately eating food produced in the place where they live. Barbara wrote the narrative, her husband (Stephen L Hopp) wrote about food production science and industry, and Camille (a first year students in college) wrote about the local food project and nutrition.
–-. Prodigal Summer. HarperCollins, 2000. “Kingsolver continues to take on timely issues, here focusing on the ecological damage caused by herbicides, ethical questions about raising tobacco, and the endangered condition of subsistence farming. A corner of southern Appalachia serves as the setting for the stories of three intertwined lives, and alternating chapters with recurring names signal which of the three protagonists is taking center stage. Each character suffers because his or her way of looking at the world seems incompatible with that of loved ones. In the chapters called “Predator,” forest ranger Deanna Wolfe is a 40-plus wildlife biologist and staunch defender of coyotes, which have recently extended their range into Appalachia. Wyoming rancher Eddie Bondo also invades her territory, on a bounty hunt to kill the same nest of coyotes that Deanna is protecting. Their passionate but seemingly ill-fated affair takes place in summertime and mirrors “the eroticism of fecund woods” and “the season of extravagant procreation.” Meanwhile, in the chapters called “Moth Love,” newly married entomologist Lusa Maluf Landowski is left a widow on her husband’s farm with five envious sisters-in-law, crushing debts and a desperate and brilliant idea. Crusty old farmer Garnett Walker (“Old Chestnuts”) learns to respect his archenemy, who crusades for organic farming and opposes Garnett’s use of pesticides.” (Publisher’s Weekly, Nov. 2000).
Klindienst, Patricia. The Earth Knows My Name: Food Culture and Sustainability in the Gardens of Ethnic Americans. Boston: Beacon, 2006. I have used this book in English 21A/B at SMC. In multiple chapters, Klindienst focuses on gardeners of diverse ethnicities. The “Prologue” which focuses on what motivated her to write the book, is available online from Beacon Press. One approach to teaching with this book is to assign and discuss the Prologue as a full class, followed by having students in small group read, discuss, and present the information about each chapter with a “potluck” celebration to conclude the unit.
Mann, Charles C. “Our Good Earth: The Future Rests on Soil. Can we Protect it?” Photographs by Jim Richardson. National Geographic. September, 2008. Four striking photos compare soil cuts: Virgin Prairie in Kansas, Rice Terrace in China, a reclaimed field in Niger, and Dry Land in Syria.
Masumoto, David Mas. Wisdom of the Last Farmer (2009). His most recent book discusses bringing his father back to farming following his stroke to teach him to farm again. At www.avantgarden.org , my web site, I have written about discussions I had with him regarding writing and motivating our students to think about farming and writing about the farm/garden.
—. Heirlooms: Letters from a Peach Farmer (2007).
—. Harvest Son: Planting Roots in American Soil (1998). This engaging memoir frequently appears in high school classes that integrate agriculture.
—. Epitaph for a Peach: Four Seasons on My Family Farm (1995).
Mosaic: A Journal for the Interdisciplinary Study of Literature. Special issue: “THE GARDEN.” Vol. 38:4, Dec. 2005. Of particular note: Ladrica Menson-Furr’s “Booker T. Washington, August Wilson, and the Shadows in the Garden.” (175-190).
Sarver, Stephanie L. Uneven Land: Nature and Agriculture in American Writing. Lincoln, Nebraska: U of Nebraska Press, 1999. Focused on the late 19th and early 20th century, this collection of essays includes Emerson, Harland Garland, Frank Norris, Wm. Ellsworth Smithe, and Liberty Hyde Bailey. The author addresses various views about agriculture. She is interested in the relationship between nature and agriculture including aspects of the spiritual, material, economic and social. Do farmers enjoy a privileged relationship to nature? Emerson says, yes, they do, but Garland and Bailey’s work shows that this relationship is compromised by farmers’ reliance on commerce. In contrast, for Norris and Smythe, the land is a stage on which human dramas are enacted.
Smiley, Jane. A Thousand Acres. This novel, which can be taught along with Shakespeare’s King Lear, is set in rural Iowa.
Smith, Jane S. The Garden of Invention: Luther Burbank and the Business of Breeding Plants. Penguin, 2009. Early 20th century America and the history of the celebrated plant breeder. He was the most famous gardener in the world. Smith is a cultural historian and she explores how events in his life reveal larger trends that he creates and reveals. The early years of bioengineering are explored.
Steinbeck, John. The Grapes of Wrath (1939). Centennial edition. A classic novel about the depression era and the effects of industrial farming.
Winne, Mark. Food Rebels, Guerilla Gardeners, and Smart-Cookin’ Mamas: Fighting Back in an Age of Industrial Agriculture. Beacon, 2010. To be released on October 12, this book reports on communities and individuals who are working to replace the industrial food system with a food democracy. We learn about urban farming in Cleveland, buffalo restoration on Native American reservations food-education classes in diabetes and obesity-prone neighborhoods. Winn is also the author of Closing the Food Gap.
Chefs a’ Field: Culinary Adventures that Begin on the Farm, 2009. (Two Disc Set).This KCTS series, distributed by PBS offers culinary adventures from throughout the country and from Yucatan. Great chefs, local farmers, and fishermen help us learn about eco-friendly foods. Each episode also includes simplified cooking demonstrations.
Nourish: Food + Community. 30 min. Hosted and narrated by Cameron Diaz. DVD produced by the Center for Ecoliteracy and Worldlink: www.worldlink.org, 2010. I introduced this film to SMC on opening day, fall 2010 in the Broad Theater. Several two minutes films with Michael Pollan, Jamie Oliver, and others, make this a valuable addition to the classroom. Trailer is available at the worldlink web site.
King Corn. [i]denpedent lens trailer for King Corn. Dir. Aaron Wolf. New Video Group, 2008. The story of Ian Cheney and Curt Ellis, recent college graduates, who travel cross-country to find out what it really means to be corn fed. They look at how corn has come to dominate the food industry as a sweetener, and also look at the sad state of farming in the U.S. I recommend this film for it potential to motivate students to do research about something that can make a difference. They use humor and creative filmmaking to keep their audience interested.
Food, Inc. (2008) Dir. Robert Kenner explores the subject from all angles, talking to authors, advocates, farmers, and CEOs, like co-producer Eric Schlosser (Fast Food Nation), Michael Pollan (The Omnivore’s Dilemma), Gary Hirschberg (Stonyfield Farms), and Barbara Kowalcyk, who’s been lobbying for more rigorous standards since E. coli claimed the life of her two-year-old son. The connection to between farming practices and the food industry will need to be discussed with students if this film is shown in the classroom.
The Future of Food (2005). Actors: Exequiel Ezcurra and Sara Maamouri. Dir. Deborah Koons Gardia. Virgil Films and Entertainment (DVD), 2007. This is an informative documentary about our food supply. Includes information about the Genetically Modified food industry and farmers who try to resist GMO and get sued by corporations. I recommend watching “The Future of Food” first, and then “How to Save the World”, about what is happening in India, for a incredible real world solution. Both films are entertaining and can educate you on what is really happening to food and farmers in the USA and other countries!
The Garden (2008). Director and Writer Scott Hamilton Kennedy. Synopsis: The 14 acre community garden in South Central Los Angeles was the largest of its kind in the United States. It was started as a form of healing after the devastating L.A. riots in 1992. Since that time, the South Central Farmers have created a miracle in one of the country’s most blighted neighborhoods. Growing their own food. Feeding their families. Creating a community. But now bulldozers threaten their oasis. The Garden is an unflinching look at the struggle between these urban farmers and the City of Los Angeles and a powerful developer who want to evict them and build warehouses. Comments: This is a painful reminder of how undervalued farming and growing food is in this city. The results of the eviction, acreage in Bakersfield and a very active CSA throughout Los Angeles run by South Central Farmers shows what can happen when people ban together for such an important cause. So, though the land was lost, other opportunities were found. The story is a lesson for our time about food and priorities and politics and the peoples of Los Angeles.
The History of Gardens:
Archives of American Gardens, Smithsonian: http://www.nmnh.si.edu/naa/siasc/american_gardens.htm
Studies in the History of Gardens & Designed Landscapes (Journal): http://www.tandf.co.uk/journals/journal.asp?issn=1460-1176&linktype=7
Web sites, Blogs, and Garden Groups:
|ACGA (American Community Gardening Association). This group established in 1979 supports community gardens.
American Horticultural Society’s 18th Annual Symposium on National Children’s and Youth’s Garden Symposium: The Vitality of Gardens: Energizing the Learning Environment 7/22-7/24 in Pasadena, CA
California Foundation for Agriculture in the Classroom (CFAITC). Focused on K-12 education, they have curriculum materials that address agricultural literacy. http://www.cfaitc.org/lessonplans/
California School Garden Network. This site is a treasure trove of resources about school gardening including how to start, plan, and manage a school garden, grants and fundraising, curriculum and lesson plans, where to buy supplies, etc. Though established to support K-12, the information here is excellent.
Christy Wilhelmi, who teaches Organic Gardening 101 at SMC has a very popular gardening website/ blog: www.Gardenerd.com
Common Ground Gardening Program. University of California Cooperative Extension. This program helps LA residents garden, grow their own food, and healthfully prepare it. They target limited-resource residents and those traditionally underrepresented. They also run the master gardener volunteer program and the new Victory Garden Initiative, which began last spring. I was a member of the first cohort taught at Venice High School. Yvonne Savio is the Common Ground Program Manager firstname.lastname@example.org
Dave’s Garden database http://davesgarden.com One of the best resources for gardeners on the web.
Food Forward: an all volunteer group in Los Angeles that cares about reconnecting to our food system and making change around urban hunger. engage volunteers to harvest locally grown food from private homes and public spaces which is then distributed to local food pantries and organizations serving those in need. This work builds community and is a catalyst for raising awareness and creating change around issues of urban hunger and sustainability, food justice as well as combating food waste.
Kitchen Gardeners International: A Global Community Cultivating Change. Roger Doiron, (Maine) who was instrumental in getting a garden established on the white house lawn, is the creative force behind this community of gardeners from over 100 countries. Their mission is to empower individuals, families, and communities to achieve greater levels of food self-reliance through the promotion of kitchen gardening, home-cooking, and sustainable local food systems. In doing so, KGI seeks to connect, serve, and expand the global community of people who grow some of their own food.
Larner Seeds California Natives http://larnerseeds.com Two books by Judith Larner Lowry (Bolinas, CA since 1977) are highly recommended: Gardening with a Wild Heart, and Restoring California’s Native Landscape at Home.
LLA (Life Learning Academy) San Francisco, CA At a high school on Treasure Island, this SFUSD Charter School has developed an inspiring curriculum. Of special interest here is their 6.5 EarthCurriculum, Organic Opportunites for a Gardening and Entrepreneurship Program.
National Gardening Association (NGA) 1100 Dorset Street, S. Burlington, VT 05403
Roots of Change www.rocnetwork.org Roots of Change (ROC) works to develop and support a collaborative network of leaders and institutions in California with interest in establishing a sustainable food system in our state by the year 2030. This network involves food producers, businesses, nonprofits, communities, government agencies, and foundations that share a commitment to changing our food thinking, food markets, and food policies. The resulting system will provide healthy and affordable food, benefits and wealth to workers and farmers, and will help restore the soil, water, species diversity, and climate upon which food production depends.
Slow Food, U.S.A. www.slowfoodusa.org