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Duke Campus Farm Program Director Saskia Cornes Published in Agricultural History

"Soil as the Archive" Explores Campus Farm as a Site Where Pedagogy Meets Praxis

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Saskia Cornes posing in the sun at the Duke Campus Farm; holding a bit of soil; and the words 'Soil as the Archive' atop brown dirt

Duke Campus Farm Program Director and FHI Assistant Professor of the Practice Saskia Cornes has a new publication in the latest issue of Agricultural History, the Journal of the Agricultural History Society. Published by Duke University Press, the journal features "articles that explore agriculture and rural life over time, in all geographies and among all people," using "a wide range of methodologies to illuminate the history of farming, food, agricultural science and technology, the environment, rural life, and beyond."

Cornes's article in the November 2023 issue, titled "Soil as the Archive," explores the Campus Farm as a site where pedagogy meets praxis, where engagement with the farm's one acre can offer a way of thinking and working with the long history of land and labor. The Campus Farm shared a representative excerpt of Cornes's writing, re-shared below:

"While we grow thousands of pounds of organic produce each year, our chief output is ultimately... not produce but students with a renewed sense of self-efficacy and an understanding of the vastness of the food system and the human histories at its roots. We are contravening the Anthropocene cycle described by Anna Tsing as 'promise and ruin,' of extraction and abandonment of land and communities, to return to the wreckage and offer it a muscular kind of love, the work of repair."

"... We are contravening the Anthropocene cycle described by Anna Tsing as 'promise and ruin,' of extraction and abandonment of land and communities, to return to the wreckage and offer it a muscular kind of love, the work of repair." — Saskia Cornes

Cornes offers a similar reflection in FHI's 2022-23 annual report: on how learning the "different epistemologies" of the Campus Farm land — the "felt and lived experience of working with soil" on the one hand, and the quantitative ability, afforded by the Richter Soils Lab, to read the Campus Farm soil on "annual, decadal, and centuries-long timescales" on the other — reveals both the possibilities and limitations of working in tandem with the land. She writes:

"We are seeing our acre more clearly as an archive of over two hundred years of plantation agriculture and enslaved labor, and also as a site of thousands of hours of regenerative practice, primarily by students and community members. We’re understanding the affordances of sustainable agriculture, what it can and cannot do, materially, culturally and spiritually, more deeply."

The full "Soil as the Archive" article in Agricultural History is accessible through Duke University Press's website. Find more information about the Campus Farm's programming, including community work days and Community Supported Agriculture, on the Campus Farm website.

*Image courtesy of the Duke Campus Farm!