Robin's Reviews > Cultivating a Movement: An Oral History of Organic Farming and Sustainable Agriculture on California's Central Coast

Cultivating a Movement by Irene Reti
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May 22, 12

bookshelves: biography, history-california, ecology, food-production
Read from April 24 to May 10, 2012 — I own a copy

“Cultivating a Movement” chronicles the process of popularizing organic and sustainable agriculture on the CA Central Coast by interviewing contributors to the movement from many backgrounds and walks of life. This book is excerpted from a ten-volume set of transcribed oral histories on organic and sustainable farming. In turn, these ten volumes are part of University of California Santa Cruz (UCSC) Library’s ambitious oral history project, in which librarians have interviewed hundreds, if not thousands, of Central Coast area movers and shakers, recording and transcribing their stories.

Editor Irene Reti chose 27 (out of 58) stories to represent different aspects of the movement toward chemical-free farming that is sustainable and supports farmers and farmworkers in a socially responsible way. She includes a variety of farmers, educators in the fields and in the classrooms both on farms and at UCSC, politicians and activists who wrote and supported legislation, researchers working on non-chemical alternatives, farmworkers who have transitioned to farmers of their own land, and more.

Individually, each person speaks in his or her own voice, focusing upon his or her experiences and expertise. Collectively these personal stories tell the history of how “organic” became a legally defined term and how raising organic, sustainably farmed produce became a viable industry serving popular demand. The book is well-paced, and related stories follow one another in logical sequence, carrying the reader from the roots of the movement up to the present. Being a series of short reads, it’s easy for busy people to enjoy.

In addition to local farmers and popular educators from the UC Santa Cruz Farm and Garden (one of the world’s few organic farmer training programs), you will also meet:

• the first organic farmer to sign a labor contract with United Farm Workers (UFW), providing health insurance, holiday and vacation pay, and low cost housing to workers.

• the political hero who authored the California Organic Foods Act (COFA), giving legal definition to the word “organic,” during his first term in office. This was used as a model for establishing federal standards.

• the author of the 1976 book “Radical Agriculture,” who founded the Environmental Horticulture department at Cabrillo Community College.

• the pure foods advocate who founded Santa Cruz farmers markets to rejuvenate downtown after the devastating 1989 earthquake, developing strategies to optimize consumer experience and reduce vendor competition.

• the largest organic herb grower in the US, whose early pesticide-related illness led him to organic production.

• the entomologist who developed a series of biological controls that made organic strawberry production viable, preventing use of toxic chemicals known to make farmworkers ill.

• the farmer who started his “customizable box” CSA by advertising on craigslist.

If you like organic foods and are historically inclined, or simply enjoy stories of everyday heroes who overcome incredible odds to succeed, read this book. It will make weeding your garden, or even going to the farmers market after a busy day seem easier. You might even be inspired to support political action for sustainable agriculture.
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