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  1. Free, publicly-accessible full text available October 1, 2023
  2. Free, publicly-accessible full text available August 1, 2023
  3. In nine of the last 10 years, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has reported that the average funds generated on-farm for farm operators to meet living expenses and debt obligations have been negative. This paper pieces together disparate data to understand why farm operators in the most productive agricultural systems on the planet are systematically losing money. The data-driven narrative we present highlights some troubling trends in US farm operator livelihoods. Though US farms are more productive than ever before, rising input costs, volatile production values, and rising land rents have left farmers with unprecedented levels of farm debt, low on-farm incomes, and high reliance on federal programs. For many US farm operators, the indicators of a “good livelihood”—stability, security, equitable rewards for work—are largely absent. We conclude by proposing three axes of intervention that would help US agriculture better sustain all farmers' livelihoods, a crucial step toward improving overall agricultural sustainability: (1) increase the diversity of people, crops, and cropping systems, (2) improve equity in access to land, support, and capital, and (3) improve the quality, accessibility, and content of data to facilitate monitoring of multiple indicators of agricultural “success.”
  4. The solutions-based design framework of permaculture exhibits transformative potential, working to holistically integrate natural and human systems toward a more just society. The term can be defined and applied in a breadth of ways, contributing to both strengths and weaknesses for its capacity toward change. To explore the tension of breadth as strength and weakness, we interviewed 25 prominent permaculture teachers and practitioners across the United States (US) regarding how they define permaculture as a concept and perceive the term’s utility. We find that permaculture casts a wide net that participants grapple with in their own work. They engaged in a negotiation process of how they associate or disassociate themselves with the term, recognizing that it can be both unifying and polarizing. Further, there was noted concern of permaculture’s failure to cite and acknowledge its rootedness in Indigenous knowledge, as well as distinguish itself from Indigenous alternatives. We contextualize these findings within the resounding call for a decolonization of modern ways of living and the science of sustainability, of which permaculture can be critically part of. We conclude with recommended best practices for how to continuously (re-)define permaculture in an embodied and dynamic way to work toward these goals.
  5. Availability of water for irrigated crops is driven by climate and policy, as moderated by public priorities and opinions. We explore how climate and water policy interact to influence water availability for cannabis (Cannabis sativa), a newly regulated crop in California, as well as how public discourse frames these interactions. Grower access to surface water covaries with precipitation frequency and oscillates consistently in an energetic 11–17 year wet-dry cycle. Assessing contemporary cannabis water policies against historic streamflow data showed that legal surface water access was most reliable for cannabis growers with small water rights (<600 m3) and limited during relatively dry years. Climate variability either facilitates or limits water access in cycles of 10–15 years—rendering cultivators with larger water rights vulnerable to periods of drought. However, news media coverage excludes growers’ perspectives and rarely mentions climate and weather, while public debate over growers’ irrigation water use presumes illegal diversion. This complicates efforts to improve growers’ legal water access, which are further challenged by climate. To promote a socially, politically, and environmentally viable cannabis industry, water policy should better represent growers’ voices and explicitly address stakeholder controversies as it adapts to this new and legal agricultural water user.