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#AAGDC, part 2: getting vegetal

Megan Betz

It’s been a week since I flew home from #AAGDC, & I’m still feeling so proud of & thankful for the sessions our team hosted on Saturday, beginning with the panel session Paul Moss, a graduate student at University of Minnesota, pulled together and followed by two paper sessions I co-organized with Jared Margulies, who’ll soon begin his work at University of Alabama.

In the morning’s panel session, we began with the question, “Is vegetal geography a thing?” The answer was universal and two-parted: First, yes. It is; we’re here doing it. Second, no—at least, not in the sense of needing institutionalization or time spent on professionalization rather than building cross-specialization teams in the spaces where we already work. The bigger questions we turned to, then, were, how do we build our skills as vegetal geographers, & how do we build teams with the expertise needed? Further, how do we stay in conversation with those working across domains and kingdoms to build robust methods and understandings of our world? Despite an 8 a.m. start time, we had an audience eager to engage in this conversation, & I look forward to keeping that conversation going. Join that conversation my finding me on twitter & checking out the work of my fellow panelists. Find their names & institutions here.

The morning’s first paper session allowed us to explore the multispecies, political, & cultural position of plants–from a philosophy that takes plants seriously (Anna Lawrence) to how cultural appropriation and plants’ ability to resist supply chains is changing ayahuasca (Laura Dev) and how politics & fire are shaping landscapes (Colin Sutherland), to how politics, class, & bacteria are shaping the future of almonds in Mallorca (Emily Reisman). Juno Parreñas offered closing comments & left me haunted by these two big questions:

  • How do vegetal geography, political ecology, & environmental history show different takes on entanglements?

  • Why is it we come back to the concept of care? Is it maternal? Distinct from husbandry? And how does this shape our work? (In a later post, I want to digest some thoughts I’ve been chewing on with this–particularly, how is care distinct from management?)

After a lunch break, we returned for our final session. This session had an unintended urban planning & development focus, with a clear emphasis on agriculture & subtle engagement with food studies. While two papers looked at how urban gardens are informed by & inform community formation (Guilherme Oliveira & Matthew Beach), Zachary Goldberg served as a bridge between these local scales & my own work as spreading beyond human-vegetal relations. Zach explored the concept of the apple-pesticide coupling as a commodity & its impact on farmers when apples become a development strategy. I expanded on this theme, closing out our session sharing the Orchard’s response to learning their peach “thieves” were squirrels, as I shared here, & explored how this new understanding of the multispecies nature of the site reframes how we then think about our human communities. Julie Guthman reflected on these papers, further encouraging us to challenge the privileging of intimacy or care in these multispecies analyses & left me considering these questions:

  • Where is the biopolitics implicit in these relatings & how do we foreground it?

  • How do we ensure that the (dis)assemblages we examine don’t come with normative valuations & analyses?

  • If intimacy or care remain prominent in our work, how do we prevent this from seeing gardens or orchards as more intimate or affective than industrial settings?

  • Challenging the idea of vegetal geography, she asked, “What does it change [in our work, understandings, questions, methods] if we say plants have agency? Why does it matter?”

Do you have responses to these questions? If so, I’d love to hear them!