Dr. Minkoff-Zern Presents New Agrarian Vision

On Wednesday, February 3, Dr. Laura-Anne Minkoff-Zern gave a lecture titled “The New American Farmer: Agrarian Questions, Race, and Immigration.” Dr. Minkoff-Zern is an Assistant Professor of Food Studies in the Department of Public Health, Food Studies, and Nutrition at Syracuse University. The lecture was sponsored by the Lampert Institute for Civic and Global Affairs and is a part of a series of events exploring and addressing food-related issues.

Dr. Minkoff-Zern has spent years researching immigrant farm workers, specifically those who live California. In her initial dissertation research, Dr. Minkoff-Zern identified the serious contradiction that, while these workers spend their lives growing and harvesting crops, most of them do not have secure access to enough food to live healthy lives.

This lecture investigated the conditions under which immigrant farmworkers in the United States are living and the transition to farm operating and ownership, as well as the implications of these transitions for traditional agrarian questions of land and labor. 

Sophomore Colleen Dolan commented on the intersectionality of food and racial issues.

“I have been to all the Lampert Institute talks and am interested in possibly pursuing food politics as a career. [Dr. Minkoff-Zern’s] talk highlighted the importance of looking at how race is involved in food justice issues,” Donlan said.

The theoretical framework of Dr. Minkoff-Zern’s argument was based on philosopher Karl Kautsky’s agrarian question: why have small-scale farms persisted in the advent of capitalism?

“Although industrial-style farming might make rational economic sense in terms of class mobility, racial exclusions mean [immigrant farmers] are limited to a certain form of farming,” Minkoff-Zern said.

She continued her lecture by discussing the viewpoint immigrant farmers have on small-scale cropping systems. 

“Many immigrant farmers actually prefer farming over small-scale diverse cropping systems, with limited synthetic inputs and family labor, as this form of farming, although not purely [for] subsistence, allows them to reclaim an agrarian livelihood, while also earning a cash income,” Minkoff-Zern said. 

The majority of the people she interviewed remained farmers not simply as a means of supporting themselves, but because the job was deeply ingrained in their sense of identity.  

“Transitioning from worker to owner in the United States currently requires facing challenges based on one’s class position, racial, ethnic and citizenship status,” Minkoff-Zern said. 

First-year Jack Bilello also attended the lecture. 

“[The talk] opened my eyes to injustices within the farming community, what is really going on, and where food comes from that I eat every day. It was really interesting,” Bilello said.