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Field Guide to California Agriculture (California Natural History Guides) Paperback – July 6, 2010

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Editorial Reviews


“Required reading for every serious foodie, gardener and farmer’s market junkie . . . The summer beach read of academic writing. “
(Los Angeles Times Book Review 2010-06-29)

“Designed for portability, this stout little tome easily fits into a glove box, ready for retrieval when a passing agricultural landscape baffles. But being such an engaging companion, the Field Guide to California Agriculture will more than likely migrate to your bedside reading table.”
(Julie Foster Zyzzyva 2012-03-20)

“Full of useful and interesting information about the crops and livestock you might encounter while driving around California.”
(A.B. Westways Magazine 2011-06-01)

“A book that brings to life the vast panorama of the state's farming industry and its fascinating historical, ecological and ethnocultural overtones. . . . Reading its richly informative commentary out loud while admiring almonds and citrus in blossom on a drive down Interstate 5 is a refreshing alternative to video game stupor.”
(Laura Thomas San Francisco Chronicle 2012-04-22)

From the Inside Flap

"This book brings to life one of the most creative (and necessary) human endeavors and makes understandable the incredible complexity of California agriculture, one of the world's most daring experiments in feeding itself. A valuable resource that should be read by everyone—not just those of us who farm, but all of us who depend on farms."—Michael Ableman, farmer, photographer, and author of From the Good Earth, On Good Land, and Fields of Plenty.

"No understanding of this state is possible without an understanding of its agriculture; that's how important this subject is."—Gerald Haslam, author of Workin' Man Blues: Country Music in California

"A fascinating, intriguing, and sometimes even humorous exploration of California's agriculture, from broccoli to marijuana and beyond. At long last, a book everyday people can read to understand the state's biggest industry."—Louis Warren, University of California, Davis

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Product Details

  • Series: California Natural History Guides (Book 98)
  • Paperback: 504 pages
  • Publisher: University of California Press (July 6, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0520265432
  • ISBN-13: 978-0520265431
  • Product Dimensions: 4.5 x 1.2 x 7.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #203,042 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Paul Starrs is a fieldworker and a storyteller intrigued by landscapes and their human occupants. At the University of Nevada, Paul is Regents & Foundation Professor of Geography, and co-founder of the Black Rock Institute. A child of diplomats and born in Bordeaux, France, Paul grew up abroad. He returned to the American West in 1975, and attended Deep Springs College in eastern California. Completing a BA at UC San Diego, he later earned a PhD in Geography at UC Berkeley and began teaching at the University of Nevada.

In his investigations and research, he's worked with ranchers and activists throughout the West, with hunters and swineherds, bullfighters and cork-oak harvesters in Spain and Portugal, consulted with miners in Nevada and Utah and California, with railroad owners in Omaha, with film directors, conservationists, museum curators, and literary critics. An able teacher, he has received all of the University of Nevada's teaching awards, and numerous system-wide and national honors. The author of over 120 articles, reviews, and essays, Paul Starrs has so far written and published four books: Let the Cowboy Ride: Cattle Ranching in the American West (Johns Hopkins, 1997), Black Rock, about an isolated but memorable region in northwestern Nevada (in paperback, now, with Peter Goin, Black Rock Institute Press), A Field Guide to California Agriculture (with Peter Goin, University of California Press, 2010, 508 pages), and in 2014, Mediterranean Oak Woodland Working Landscapes: Dehesas of Spain and Ranchlands of California, which he coedited with a variety of Spanish and American colleagues. A raconteur by nature, Paul's enduring ambition is to stay in motion, and while he works on projects, more or less simultaneously, he works with a steady stream of graduate students with fascinating projects and talents.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

14 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Martin W. Lewis on October 18, 2010
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
In their Field Guide to California Agriculture, geographer Paul F. Starrs and photographer Peter Goin have devised a new genre of writing. The book's title hardly does it justice, as the "field guide" that it encompasses is embedded in a comprehensive, erudite, and eloquent disquisition on the history, economics, sociology and - above all - geography of agricultural production in what is arguably the world's top farming location. It is, in a word, a masterpiece - one that should appeal equally to a broad public audience and to academic experts. The authors have an uncanny ability to hone in on topics of interest and significance, conveying their importance with precision and wit. Their book is both immensely informative and unfailingly entertaining.

Thanks in good part to the University of California Press, field guides have been evolving in recent years. Starrs and Goin, however, have taken the genre to a new completely new level, in both a scholarly and literary sense. To be sure, the book fulfills all of the necessary functions of the traditional field guide, aiding readers in crop and animal identification. Distinguishing features are listed for each entry, and an eight-page "agricultural product identification" guide provides a useful overview. If one is wondering, for example, whether an orchard contains walnut trees, guidelines are provided. As the walnut entry on page 216 puts it: "The utterly distinctive graft line where the English walnut slip was grafted onto a native black walnut rootstock ... shows 6 to 24 inches above the ground: an instantaneous sign that this is a walnut..." But as is typical for the book, the key to walnut identification does not conclude so prosaically. Instead, the paragraph ends with an evocative tag: "The cicatrice is signature.
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11 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Amanda on October 30, 2010
Format: Paperback
It should be noted that I am not necessarily a marriage advocate, but in the case of academic writing I have found that the ability to inculcate said texts with a pleasing aesthetic and inspiring rhetoric seems a lost art, somewhat akin to the romantic and private notion of the marriages of yore. Overwhelmed these days with quickie marriages (and divorces and remarriages) we have lost the sense of a purposeful and intentional union of the best that two (or more, I lay no moral boundaries) parties have to offer, most obviously in the area of the academic press. And so, thank goodness for academics like Paul Starr and Peter Goin who are able to produce a perfect combination of the quantitative and the qualitative in a field guide that will satisfy the most technical of the nature lovers to the most romantic.

The Field Guide to California Agriculture serves the purpose of its title in more ways than I can (or need to) enumerate here, especially as I am not in the general category of 'field guide' aficionados. However, I am a geographer and as such I am innately interested in (possibly more accurately described as fascinated by) the relationship between our landscapes and their inhabitants. This text, through elegant - and even cheeky suggestiveness on occasion - is uniquely informative about the nature of California's agricultural tradition(s) and the state of the State, as it were. As a native (and likely overly proud) Californian, the Guide's historical overview is fascinating, if you can get past the color coded index of which even Edward Tufte might feel pangs of envy.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Amber Kerr on February 23, 2015
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I purchased this book as a reference for work (I am a researcher in climate change and agriculture), and I have enjoyed it so much that I often end up reading it for fun, too. It's a massive tome, 475 pages, with entries on everything from kiwifruit to safflower to turkeys. But the book is well-organized and well-indexed, which makes it easy to find what you need. It's also so well-written (bordering on poetic) that it is a pleasure just to browse the pages and the gorgeous photographs and learn something new about California agriculture. Some of my favorite excerpts:

Alfalfa (p. 344): "To the agricultural purist, there is nothing more beautiful than the smell of water mixed with the aroma of purple alfalfa blossoms - except perhaps the utterly palpable wealth and security implied by a stackyard fully loaded with substantial and tightly packed hay bales."

Grapes (p. 231): "The variety in pruning, training, and trellising styles is in truth almost as great as the varieties of grapes themselves... there is the Four-Armed Kniffen System, or the Geneva Double Curtain - look carefully, and take your pick (at some point, trellises start to sound like competing martial arts schools)."

Sheep (p. 143): "The concentration of sheep in Sutter County owes much to the equally pronounced localization of northern Indian stone fruit farmers in the county. Generally Sikh, these farmers are a marked presence in peach and French plum cultivation and historically have been especially notable consumers of lamb and mutton. Sometimes, an agricultural crop can say much about ethnicity and race and demand in a specific area.
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