Culture and Agriculture
Volunteered - Oral Presentation Session
Since the pioneering fieldwork of Walter Goldschmidt in California in the 1940s, anthropologists have been interested in the impact of farm ownership structure on communities and food systems. But now through participation in university retirement plans, many anthropologists are part of the financial firm that is the largest owner of farmland globally. Not merely a landlord, TIAA is also a major investor in numerous parts of the industrial agricultural system that extract profits from the land through the manufacture of fuel, fiber and food. TIAA farmland ownership is connected to deforestation, water pollution and human rights violations in Brazil, to dying towns and the depopulation of Illinois farm counties, and to consolidation and profit from the resources taken from black farmers in Jim Crow Mississippi.
This paper will analyze the responses of US farmers and food justice activists to the pressures created by the investor accumulation of land, compared with the responses from anthropologists and other academics to the fact that they invested in a system where small and mid-sized farms are being swallowed by larger ones fully integrated with agribusiness giants. As an engaged anthropologist working outside the academy this paper represents an effort to learn through action and reflection while participating in activism and advocacy. This project draws on interviews and participant observation conducted with farm and food movements and work with academics to expose the problems and detain the financialization of farmland, by putting pressure on the largest investors whose actions belie their claim of social responsibility.