I am an environmental geographer, master gardener, and assistant professor in the School of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences at the University of Washington Bothell. Originally trained as an environmental toxicologist, I have broad interests in environmental issues, particularly those related to agriculture. My current research focuses on the transmutation of industrial waste into critical industrial agricultural inputs. Covering the 75 years prior to WWII, this research highlights the role of agriculture as a non-point source consumer of industry's toxic waste and has implications for US environmental policy and current conceptions of waste and pollution.
I have been teaching for ten years and consider it an incredible privilege to work with students. In each of my classes, I work hard to create a learning environment where, as one of my students put it, “we can chew on the issue presented" and have the breathing room "to come up with our own practical and impractical solutions." I incorporate intriguing and important content with interactive lectures, in-class exercises, experiential writing assignments, and thought-provoking exams, drawing upon my broad training in both the natural and social sciences to help students think across disciplinary boundaries. I believe that teaching is an integral part of scholarship and that our work in the classroom is never complete. While my ultimate goal as a teacher is to foster critical thinking, reading, and writing skills, I am a firm believer that intellectual curiosity is a prerequisite to critical engagement and I strive to facilitate an inclusive classroom that makes space for my students to think creatively and take intellectual risks.
My current research project delves into the political economic origins of agrochemicals in US agriculture. Drawing from 15 archives across the US, this project tells a story of a critical agroecological state-change–a state-change in which toxic chemicals became necessary for industrial agricultural production. By tracing the biogeochemical fate of industrial waste I demonstrate how pre-WWII agriculture served as a profitable sink for industry's toxic byproducts. I argue that industrial agriculture, as a unique site of productive consumption, can serve as a threshold of waste's transmutation, whereby the burden of point source waste disposal is transmuted into widely distributed inputs and non-point source pollution. The project's findings has important implications for US environmental and agricultural policy and the political economic theorizations of waste, pollution, and agroindustrialization. In taking agriculture's consumptive role seriously, this research opens a novel window into the chemicalized nature of everyday life.
The first article from this project, published in Agricultural History, traces two stories of agriculture that merge in late autumn of 1944 on a lettuce field in California’s Salinas Valley. On that field, two transmuted industrial waste products from California’s rudimentary petroleum economy were at once injected into the soil and into agricultural production, spurring a radical transformation of crop rotation and recasting the organizational possibilities of industrial agriculture. The paper considers an earlier history of petroleum-based agrochemicals–one that is often left untold–situating their development in the interwar years and within the context of California’s emerging petroleum complex. It argues that, in the late 1920s, agriculture began its transformation into a new and immensely productive agricultural regime organized around the oil industry and its waste byproducts. The petrochemicals and subterranean chemical warfare that were developed during this time became industrial agriculture’s chemical salvation, providing both the soil disinfection power and the soil nutrition that made the massive yield increases in agricultural production following World War II possible.
The second article from this project, in Agriculture and Human Values, explores the industrial, scientific, and performative links between industrial pest control and industrial chemical warfare. In chronicling the genesis of the industrial gas chamber among the citrus trees of late 19th Century Los Angeles, it argues that industrial pest control has been imbued with the practices, discourses, materials, and ethics of modern chemical warfare since its commercial inception. Faced with pest induced collapse, scientists and growers chemically overcame the explosion of pests across the LA citrus biome by developing and utilizing the cyanide gas chamber. Cyanide fumigation quickly became the toxic cornerstone of the citrus industry, enabling its intensification and expansion as the infection became systemic. By the turn of the century, furnished with an economic poison made cheap and weapons grade due to changes in the world gold mining industry, growers transformed cyanide fumigation into a necessary industrial input. In the process, growers, scientists, and government officials amalgamated industrially organized agriculture to accelerating and endless warfare.
In college I fell in love with plants. I am not the best at remembering plant names, but I can grow almost anything. I am now a University of California Cooperative Extension certified Master Gardener. As a Master Gardener I join thousands of others across the country who provide research-based advice to home gardeners. While I love all forms of horticulture, I am an expert in the care of houseplants and an advocate for their use in improving indoor air quality. I believe that gardening is an interspecies collaborative performance art and I practice biointensive forms of gardening both indoor and out. My current shows are viewed daily by a couple of deer families and those that stop by my office for a warm beverage. This spring I will join WSU Master Gardeners of King County.