The next issue of Agriculture and Human Values is now available


The next issue of Agriculture and Human Values, volume 35, issue 2, has now been published online (here). This issue contains 15 regular articles as well as seven book reviews and a list of new books received.

Here is a summary of the research articles: Reid and Rout explore how the Western notion of sustainability auditing is implemented in indigenous Māori businesses in New Zealand. Bennett considers the application of ethical consumerism theory to semi-legal sectors of the economy, such as recreational marijuana use. Navin and Dieterle critique efforts to incorporate food sovereignty principles and activities directed to developing countries into the developed countries. Soleri provides an overview of the characteristics and function of farmer seed banks in California. Church et al study the perceptions of climate change risk in a study of agricultural advisors in the Midwest United States. Calo provides a critique of the USDA’s Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program. Benedek, Fertő and Molnár examine the characteristics of farmers who prefer farmers markets governed by contracts and farmers markets with restrictions on locality in their study of Hungarian farmers. Whitney et al examine spatial, environmental and socio-economic factors affecting the agrobiodiversity of homegardens in Uganda. Pincus et al examine how smallholder farmers in Uganda gain new knowledge about soil fertility and management processes. Rotz studies the contrasting and intersecting identities, spaces and narratives of participants within conventional and alternative food systems in Canada. Kaufmann and Vogl examine the challenges that Participatory Guarantee Systems face, with a particular focus on cases from Mexico. Misra studies how agricultural modernization and commercialization contribute to rural malnutrition in Bangladesh. Catacora-Vargas, et al, review the literature on socio-economic impacts of genetically modified crops. O’Neill reviews Inuit cultural practices regarding the hunting of seals and the effect of a European ban on seal products on Inuit livelihoods and identity. Finally, Moroney and  Som Castellano examine the different perspectives and opinions and urban and rural residents have about farmland loss in the United States.


“Perspectives on Local Food Systems” virtual issue in Agriculture and Human Values

AHV_10460Agriculture and Human Values has a virtual issue on the topic of “perspectives on local food systems.” This is a collection of 12 articles previously published in the journal on a common theme and made available with free access on the journal’s website (here). I don’t know how long the collection of articles will stay up, but it is a nice set.

Here is my online introduction to the essay collection:

Local food systems are all the rage. Consumers are flocking to farmers markets, which are sprouting up in urban and rural areas. Agriculturally-minded persons are organizing community gardens and urban agricultural projects between, within and even on top of city structures. Social entrepreneurs, scholars, policymakers and farmers are working together and are using alternative food networks as a response to a host of opportunities and challenges in contemporary agricultural systems. Given this context, academic research on alternative food networks focuses on many issues, as evidenced by the breadth and diversity of topics published in Agriculture and Human Values. However, one theme has generated considerable attention among scholars: what do we mean by “local” food systems and is an emphasis on “local” important, necessary or sufficient for a food system?

Over the years, Agriculture and Human Values has published many papers dealing with issues relating to “local” food systems. The collection of papers in this virtual issue of the journal provides a sampling of perspectives and commentary on this topic. In particular, DeLind (2011) and Scharber and Dancs (2016) introduce various critiques and challenges to local food systems. Schnell (2013), Trivette (2015) and Schupp (2016) explore different definitions and geographies of what local means. Trivette (2017), Albrecht and Smithers (2017) and Papaoikonomou and Ginieis (2017) consider how and why local food systems have value over other food systems structures. Cleveland, et al. (2015) and Laforge, et al. (2017) write about governance issues relating to local food provisioning. Finally, Mount (2012) and Clark and Inwood (2016) examine the possibility and challenges of scaling up various aspects of local food systems.

Here is the collection of papers:


The next issue of Agriculture and Human Values is now in print

AHV_10460The next issue of Agriculture and Human Values, volume 35, issue 1, has now been published and is also available online (here). This issue contains 16 regular articles as well as six book reviews and a list of new books received.

Here is a summary of the research articles: Chiles and Fitzgerald conduct an historical assessment of the social norms relating to meat consumption in Western society. McClintock and Simpson identify typologies of motivations for participating in urban agricultural activities. Houssou et at describe the evolution of farming systems in Ghana. Albrecht and Smithers explore ways of fostering improved “reconnections” of producers and consumers of food. Klimek et al contrast the organizational structures and values of farmers markets in Minneapolis and Vienna. Huth et al study the perceptions of Australian farmers about the prospects of co-existing with coal seam extraction firms. Sseguya et al examine the role of social capital in improving food security in a sample of households from rural Uganda. Lehrer and Sneegas examine the perspectives of stakeholders on pesticide use in the tree fruit industry in the western United States. Hodgins and Fraser consider options for increasing the participation of low-income consumers in alternative food networks. Coq-Huelva et al examine how quality control and production norms differ in developed (Western) and developing countries, using cocoa production in Ecuadorian Amazonia as a case study. Gupta describes and explains the evolution of the anti-GMO activism in Hawai’i. Powell and Wittman study ways that farm to school programs can promote food sovereignty in a North American context. Dillon et al evaluate factors affecting improved dairy herd management practices. Hidayat et al propose a means of evaluating the governance sustainable palm oil production. Zepeda examines reasons why people experiencing food insecurity do not utilize food local and available food pantries in the U.S. Westengen, et al examine the role of framing narratives about conservation agriculture on agrarian change in Zambia.

Monkey business

An argument made against the theory of evolution is that it is improbable, if not impossible, for there to be random mutations in genes sufficient enough to result in the development of humans from, say, apes. As an analogy, some refer to what is known as the Infinite Monkey Theorem. If there were an infinite number of monkeys typing randomly on a keyboard over a sufficient amount of time, could one eventually produce the Bible or the works of Shakespeare? Attempts to demonstrate the plausibility of monkeys typing out works of literature using computer technology have shown that it can happen. Since it is plausible, then the theory of evolution as currently understood is plausible, too, so the argument goes.

Michael Shermer, in his book, The Mind of the Market, explains how this works within the theory of evolution. The requisite principle is called “variation plus cumulative selection.” The idea is that when evolutionary processes get a gene mutation right, it saves the “correct” mutation and then moves on until the next “correct” mutation occurs, at which time evolutionary processes save that one, on and on until you get the complete works of Shakespeare (so to speak). For instance, random typing can produce the phrase “To be or not to be” if, once a random “T” is typed, it is flagged or saved until a random “O” is typed, and so on. Shermer gives this illustration of random typing:

wieTskewkOsdfeB92uE2OseRdl7jeNkseOdseTe3r22TsweOsxBwxseE …

which, if you look for the bolded capital letters, contains “T O B E O R N O T T O B E …”

Interesting idea. But, as I was reading Shermer’s book, it occurred to me that his explanation actually demonstrates the requirement for a God. Think about it. How does a computer program mimicking the random typing of monkeys know when the typers gets the right letters or words unless that was programmed into the software initially? How does the non-random selection process know when to say to the typing monkeys “STOP! There is the letter T we need. Now proceed again. … Wait! STOP! There is the O we need …”? We know to look for the T, O, B, E, etc, to complete the phrase “To be or not to be” because we have the advantage of already knowing how the story ends. Someone has to know what is correct and how and when to save things, if we are to accept the idea of a non-random cumulative saving mechanism. There is nothing in the evolutionary theory, especially once “variation plus cumulative selection” is added, that can explain to me how random mutations can correctly accumulate sufficiently over time for human consciousness to evolve, unless something along the way knew what to save and when.

Scientists love to invoke Occam’s Razor, which says that when faced with two or more explanations for an effect, the simpler one is preferable. So, which is a simpler explanation for humans? Random typing by monkeys with an unexplained non-random cumulative saving mechanism, or a God directing the affairs of things? The answer seems obvious to me.

Another issue of Agriculture and Human Values is now published

AHV_10460The latest issue of the academic journal I edit, volume 34, issue 4, of Agriculture and Human Values, has been published online (here). This issue contains nine regular articles, a special symposium, Leland Glenna’s presidential address delivered at the 2017 meetings of the Agriculture, Food and Human Values Society presidential address, and eight book reviews.

Here is a summary of the research articles and the symposium: McInnes et al present results of a survey exploring the potential convergence of different elements of alternative food networks in Canadian food systems. Bain and Selfa assess the relative merits and contrasting approaches of organic and non-GMO labeling organizations. Ellison et al assess the relative rankings of consumers of seven common claims about food products. Miaralles et al study the nature and role of sharing in alternative food networks. Rossi et al link food-, health- and lifestyle-related behaviors to CSA participation. Nichols examines the development and distribution of diets in India that are high in calories, fats and protein. Spilkova compares community gardens in Prague, Czechia, to those found in other developed countries. Bacon and Baker evaluate private food assistance programs in the US, UK and other countries. Porter et al assess the willingness-to-pay of students for food with ‘real’ qualities. Finally, a collection of papers edited by Daniela Gottschlich, Tanja Molders and Martina Padmanbhan focus on feminist perspectives on human–nature relations.

The next issue of Agriculture and Human Values is now published

AHV_10460The latest issue of the academic journal I edit, volume 34, issue 3, of Agriculture and Human Values, has just been published online (here). There are 17 articles published in this issue along with four book reviews.

A brief summary of the articles is as follows: Forssell and Lankoski examine the hybrid nature of alternative food system in their study of alternative food retailers. Trivette elaborates on the mechanisms by which participants in local food systems build trust and develop reciprocity relationships with each other. Inghelbrecht et al use mediation theory to assess how GM crops affect both the human-technology relationship and the ongoing debate about GM crops in the EU. Winson and Choi argue that the concept of dietary regimes can provides insights about the factors that affect the food choices of people and the food environments within which they act. Gartaula et al examine political, economic and social factors affecting the food security and wellbeing of smallholder households in Nepal. Murakami et al present the case of a college sustainable agriculture course to illustrate how to incorporate the study of wicked problems and sociological tensions in a learning community. VanWinkle and Friedman identify the historical roots of farmer perceptions about the environment. Gupta and Makov assess the “localness” of food through two indicators of the origins of production inputs–economic value and physical mass. Minkoff-Zern and Sloat examine how policies and programs of the US Department of Agriculture facilitate or impede farming activities of Latino immigrants. Quark and Lienesch examine how the definition of legitimate science affects policy debates regarding food regime transitions. Laforge et al develop a typology of interactions between farmers and government food safety regulators. Thompson et al study the perceptions of food safety by directors of farm to school programs. Wills and Arundel assess whether online food retailers can be part of or participate in alternative food networks. Baur et al show how bureaucratic efforts to promote and enforce food safety affect the people who work in the food system. Leslie examines Argentinian farmers markets in order to learn how alternative food networks react to and evolve in neoliberal economic environments. Olivier and Heinecken evaluate the potential for NGOs to support urban agriculture projects, promote social capital and benefit and empower women. Eakin et al introduce a typology describing different aspects of food system sustainability.

Doing good makes you want to do more good

Can you learn to be kinder, more charitable and helpful? If so, then what can you do to increase such virtuous feelings and tendencies? A recent study published by economists (no kidding!) showed that there is a correlation between altruistic acts and increased preferences for doing altruistic acts. The study, “Altruistic Capital,” was published in the American Economic Review.

Most economists assume that preferences are fixed. That is, my preference for being kind or for wearing blue colored shirts or for eating chocolate will not change. In contrast, the authors assume that preferences for altruism can change. They liken altruism to a type of capital. Just as physical capital (machinery, buildings, etc) or human capital (learning, skills, etc) can be enhanced through investments in machinery or learning, altruistic capital can be enhanced through investments. What investments increase altruistic capital? Doing altruistic acts. In other words, doing good increases the desire for and perceived benefits from doing good.

The authors conducted a study of persons working in the banking industry and showed that “altruistic capital grows proportionally to the effort devoted to altruistic tasks,” consistent with Aristotle’s assertion that “virtue is an asset that grows through righteous acts” (quoting the authors). Specifically, the authors found that “employee’s perceived returns to altruistic acts … are [positively] associated with more prosocial behavior at work.” In other words, getting people to do good can create a “virtuous circle”, where doing good increases the perceived personal benefits of doing good, which in turn increases the desire for and tendency to engage in good acts, such as cooperation with others.

We need more good in the world. So do some good, and bring someone with you when you do.