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Christopher R. Henke. Cultivating Science, Harvesting Power: Science and Industrial Agriculture in California. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2008. xi + 226 pp. $32.
By David Schleifer
Given the proliferation of current efforts to rebuild local food systems, Christopher Henke asks a timely question in Cultivating Science, Harvesting Power: how did the Salinas Valley in California become the center of American vegetable production? Variables in soil, weather, water, and bugs can threaten high-risk, high-profit agricultural businesses. As part of the Progressive Era ethos that led to the founding of land-grant universities, growers came to rely on University of California Cooperative Extension agricultural scientists to stabilize those unruly aspects of farm ecology. Starting around the 1910s extension scientists developed and deployed what Henke calls “mechanisms of repair” to save crops, discipline workers, and mitigate environmental damage on large monoculture farms. By highlighting the work of unsung extension scientists, Henke’s concept of repair contributes to the already significant literature on science and California agriculture. But repair can also become a framework for understanding the maintenance of power in other production systems, as well as a model for applying place-based knowledge to the pursuit of a more sustainable future.
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