Even agriculture academics have something nice to say about marijuana


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The problem with academic writing is that, well, it’s boring. When scholars write for other scholars they try to show off how scholarly they are. The result is that books that might actually be of interest to the general public end up reading like finalists in a competition to see who can be the greatest pedantic gasbag.

That’s why I picked up Paul F. Starrs’ and Peter Goin’s ‘Field Guide to California Agriculture’ with some trepidation.


As you’d expect from such a publication, the ‘Field Guide’ is packed with information. Academics love data and there are statistics and descriptions of everything you could possibly think of -- and some that you wouldn’t -- involving food production in this state. From almonds to bees (bees are livestock!), goats to garlic, eggplant to marijuana (“the largest value crop by far in the state’s lineup”), hogs to hay, Starrs and Goins document the shocking amount of stuff we humans put in our mouths. The sheer amount of encyclopedic information should make this book required reading for every serious foodie, gardener and farmer’s market junkie on the West Coast.

Yet despite the trappings of academia, all the well-researched information and scrupulously fact-checked statistics, this is not your typical academic book. For starters, it’s stuffed with colorful photographs -- including a fantastic gallery of art photos entitled ‘The Paradox and Poetics of Agriculture’ -- and maps with various regions delineated by splashes of color and growing areas marked by bright orange dots. (I was disappointed to see that my friend’s Southern California basement wasn’t marked by a dot. He’s got quite a farm growing there.)

But what grabbed me the most about this book is how it’s written. The authors use prose with real style and charm. It’s witty writing that shifts from erotica (‘The handsome form of pendulous Hass avocados’) to science fiction fantasy (‘Looking for all the world like an alien spaceship tinged light green or purple by long travel, kohlrabi...’), making the ‘Field Guide to California Agriculture’ the summer beach read of academic writing.

-- Mark Haskell Smith

Mark Haskell Smith is the author of the forthcoming novel, ‘Baked.’