Friday, March 25, 2011

Whereupon I put on my spectacles and grown-up voice. Ahem.

I am presenting a paper as part of a panel at the Joint 2011 Annual Meetings of the Agriculture, Food, and Human Values Society, Association for the Study of Food and Society, and Society for Anthropology of Food and Nutrition from June 9 – 12, 2011 at the University of Montana.

The conference is called "Food and Agriculture Under the Big Sky". (Montana has big skies, we have living skies: I think we can connect on this.) My paper has the unimaginative yet apt title, "Visions of Food Sovereign Land Tenure in Saskatchewan". Here's the beginning:
Last November, I was driving out to conduct an interview in southwestern Saskatchewan and stopped in a small town cafe for lunch. I happened to overhear some of the chat on coffee row. You could tell they were farmers by the ag company caps. One was holding forth on how there were a few farmers in the area who had most of the land, and these big farmers did business directly with Viterra, who offered them all sorts of deals to get their business, and because of this, soon the Co-op in the town would close. None of the farmers chatting seemed to like the prospect, but they didn't propose any solutions, and they all agreed with the main speaker at the conversation's close: “That's business.
In a similar vein, a professor here told me not to study agriculture, because it was done. Not meaning that it was thoroughly studied, but that from a progressive point of view, there was no hope; it was finished. Well, in the words of one of my interviewees, “Agriculture can't be done. It has to be redone.”
Are you with me? Do you like it? Well, here's the abstract:

A radically different vision of access to and control over land, as the basis of a new food system, is necessary in striving for a socially and ecologically just agriculture. Using data from in-depth interviews of farmers involved in a progressive agrarian organization and in alternative land tenure models, this paper explores visions of radical changes to the dominant agricultural land tenure system in Saskatchewan. Interviewees address primary problems of loss of farmers and rural communities, and accessibility, affordability, and concentration of land, as the result of market forces. They agree on several key points, including the importance of collective action, community, and values of interdependence, diversity, and sustainability, all consonant with food sovereignty's conception of land as multidimensional and noncommodifiable. In the struggle against the hegemonic ideology of private ownership of land, a common politicized vocabulary and frame of reference, and greater communication between actors about strategies, practices, and insights, may facilitate action. Food sovereignty can provide these for various groups tackling land tenure problems in Saskatchewan. 

We'll see how much of this is retained in the paper, which I am still writing. Questions? Comments?

Happy Weekend! I'm off to small-town-with-no-internet.


  1. I like it a lot! I am really interested. I guess I'm with the first speaker -- I kind of assumed that "that's business" and didn't think there were alternatives.

    Nitty-gritty details, since that's the only thing I'm good at in a topic so out of my area: I would cut "in-depth" because I would hope that your interviews were not, say, "shallow" or "stunted." I also think that "loss of farmers" is a bit of an odd phrase and you might want to say something about what the farmers are doing (are they taking other jobs? selling off? dying?) I also find the phrase "concentration of land" a bit awkward since the land isn't literally going anywhere - how about "concentration of land ownership?" Finally, just some comma concerns - I would rephrase this:

    "including the importance of collective action, community, and values of interdependence"

    as this

    "including the importance of collective action and community, and the values of..." just so the break between the two lists is clear.

    Also, I think that a "common politicized vocabulary" is kind of the same as a verbal "frame of reference" so perhaps you can combine those two and make the sentence a bit less clunky. It's the most exciting part of the abstract -- I really want to know what radical changes they want to make and how they can enact them!

    Oh, and I'm not sure what the "these" in your last sentence refers to. Do you maybe want to close your abstract with the sentence above, about how agriculture is "done?" It's so interesting and polemic.

    Good luck! Sounds great!


  2. Thanks, Katie! I'll keep you posted on the paper. I'm presenting to an audience familiar with many food issues, so it's nice to have feedback from someone who can point out where the gaps in my explanation are. It's hard for me to figure out what to leave out, too - I keep trying to cram everything in my thesis into 20 minutes. Which won't do many topics justice.

    The other presenters in the panel flesh out some ideas so I don't have to; after me, my advisor is going into detail about how food sovereignty is being taken up by various groups, for example. I am really supposed to concentrate on land. Focus, Naomi, focus!

    But as far as the "that's business" - I have lots to say about that, and will in future posts!