Pomona Professors Collaborate on New ‘Oxford Encyclopedia of Agriculture and the Environment’

truck and tractor in field

The study of the environment is an academic field with roots in the second half of the 20thcentury—too young to have the abundance of textbooks, reference books and research that exists for say, history or physics. Environmental studies also is a broadly interdisciplinary field, including not only the physical and life sciences but also economics, politics, social issues and more.

All that can make it hard to find information in one place.

The Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Environmental Science series seeks to fill that need, both in print and online. When the series editor asked Emeritus Professor Rick Hazlett—who helped found the environmental analysis program at Pomona College more than two decades ago—for subjects to include, Hazlett’s idea was perhaps an unexpected one from a geologist and expert on volcanoes who taught at a liberal arts college.

“I suggested that agriculture and the environment was a really key topic,” Hazlett recalls. “This is because, as the encyclopedia underscores, the human activity on the natural world that is changing its face is primarily through food production, through agriculture. Climate, of course, is a big issue, but that doesn't have the immediate impacts of agriculture.”

The result is the three-volume Oxford Encyclopedia of Agriculture and the Environment, published last year after an immense collaborative effort with Hazlett as editor-in-chief and Pomona Environmental Analysis Professor Marc Los Huertos as one of four associate editors.

Pomona Politics Professor Heather Williams, who teaches courses on the global politics of water, food, agriculture and land use, contributed the article “Agricultural Subsidies and the Environment.” Colin Robins, a Pitzer professor who is part of the joint Claremont Colleges environmental analysis program, submitted “Soils, Science, Society, and the Environment.” And Hazlett, now living in Hawaii and still studying volcanoes, collaborated with Joshua Peck of the U.S. Department of Agriculture on “An Image Reconnaissance: Agriculture Patterns and Related Environmental Impacts Viewed from Space.”

Those are just a few of more than 70 original articles the editors sought from experts around the world and sent out for peer review—and in some cases, translation—before publication. The articles cover major themes such as the history of agriculture; soil abuse and stewardship; irrigation and nutrient issues; the environmental impacts of selected crops and livestock; and finally, the possibilities for new global approaches to agriculture.

Los Huertos, who teaches the Food, Land and the Environment course at Pomona that typically includes hands-on experience at the Pomona College Organic Farm, used to spend time seeking out peer-reviewed journal articles for the course or assigning students to research the recent literature. The Oxford Encyclopedia of Agriculture and the Environment, available online through The Claremont Colleges Library, provides a comprehensive source in one place.

“You can tell it has a liberal arts flavor throughout the text because it's not technological, although there are some chapters that are, but they're very interdisciplinary chapters,” Los Huertos says. “Rick pushed people to get outside their disciplines. They know their topic, but it's asking a lot for them to step back and see the big picture. But it was provocative because it frames the relationship between land, people and food in a way that I think really captures a flavor that you rarely get in agricultural schools. Having that all within one book, or three volumes, is unique. This is a neat project because it steps outside of the typical boundaries of these kinds of works.”

That is what the growing crisis requires, Hazlett says, and he hopes the volumes on agriculture and the environment will be used not only as a resource for teaching, but also by people in government, management or planning.

“Where I think this becomes really important is in terms of completely understanding problems related to agriculture that will become increasingly important because of the climate change situation, and also imagining new ways of producing food that may be less impactful,” Hazlett says. “This is going to require people who aren't necessarily conservative in their approach towards innovation and creativity in food production. And so I think that the liberal arts approach is really important in building a perspective that is broader, and in the end, I think more useful to the future.”