Many young, university-educated adults these days go to work on organic farms as volunteers and interns, despite that this work is extremely demanding, painful, and has been historically demeaning. Through interviews and discussions with students, I have learned that many who participate in these ventures do so to travel, gain experience, and support organic farms yet rarely consider the impact of their voluntary labor on waged labor. I suggest that their interest in DIY experimentation more generally reflects different relationships to work than their middle-class parents enjoyed, as middle-class jobs become less desirable and attainable. I then juxtapose their chosen precarity with the situation of migrant farmworkers who are valued for their labor but do not receive biopolitical recognition. I conclude this research-inspired thought piece by positing that young adults who volunteer on farms and engage in other acts of self-provisioning may indeed be engaged in a politics of work reconfiguration but not one of solidarity.
Willing (White) Workers on Organic Farms? Reflections on Volunteer Farm Labor and the Politics of Precarity
Julie Guthman is a geographer and professor of social sciences at the University of California, Santa Cruz, where she teaches courses primarily in global political economy and the politics of food and agriculture. Her publications include two multi–award winning books: Agrarian Dreams: The Paradox of Organic Farming in California and Weighing In: Obesity, Food Justice, and the Limits of Capitalism, and she is the recipient of the 2015 Excellence in Research Award from the Agriculture, Food and Human Values Society. Her recent NSF-funded research examines how California's strawberry industry is contending with tighter regulatory restrictions on highly toxic soil fumigants.
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Julie Guthman; Willing (White) Workers on Organic Farms? Reflections on Volunteer Farm Labor and the Politics of Precarity. Gastronomica 1 February 2017; 17 (1): 15–19. doi: https://doi.org/10.1525/gfc.2017.17.1.15
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