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  • Department of Global Development
  • Agriculture
  • Behavior
  • Climate Change
  • Environment
  • Food
  • Global Development
  • Development
  • Health + Nutrition
  • Plants

Scott J. Peters, a prolific author, scholar-activist and Cornell University professor, has been appointed the School of Agriculture Endowed Chair in Agricultural Systems at the University of Minnesota. He will serve a two-year term conducting participatory action research into issues of justice, sovereignty, equity and sustainability in food and farming systems.

Peters, professor of global development at Cornell’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, will be jointly appointed along with his academic collaborator Daniel J. O’Connell, Ph.D. ’11. Peters will conduct his research from Minnesota and the Cornell campus.

As chairs, Peters and O'Connell will serve as a catalyst for innovation and progress on agricultural and rural issues within the College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences and the larger University of Minnesota, according to Helene Murray, executive director of the Minnesota Institute for Sustainable Agriculture (MISA).

Peters and O’Connell will use participatory action research to illuminate, document, analyze and publicize core lessons from the MISA, a 35-year partnership between farmers, community activists, government and University of Minnesota faculty, staff, administrators and students.

“This project will provide an opportunity to look back on where the sustainable agriculture community has come from and provide important perspectives to determine future direction,” Murray said.

Peters is a noted scholar of the U.S. system of land-grant colleges and universities. In 2021 Peters and O’Connell published the book, “In the Struggle: Scholars and the Fight Against Industrial Agribusiness in California,” chronicling decades-long efforts of scholars who opposed land consolidation throughout the San Joaquin Valley. Peters is at the forefront of “civic studies” into the role of academic efforts to advance public engagement.

With this new project, Peters shifts focus to the Midwest and Minnesota, which has long been a hotbed of populism and citizen science, especially in agriculture. While “In the Struggle” uncovered the oppositional nature that pitted large farming enterprises against scholars, the new research on Minnesota will explore ways that agriculture and the land-grant system have found common ground.

“Minnesota has a really rich, complicated and feisty cultural and political history,” Peters said. “In the past 35 years, incredibly productive advances have emerged out of partnerships between citizen scientists and the public land grant system. This new research will explore how we can build and sustain productive relationships between public land grant universities and farmers and folks in communities,” Peters said.

According to O'Connell, "This project will delve deeply into fertile ground, to awaken dormant seeds held in the stories of farmers and organizers who successfully partnered with the University of Minnesota to propel forward sustainable agriculture in the state."

Scott J. Peters

  • Professor, Department of Global Development
  • Faculty Co-Director Emeritus of Imagining America: Artists and Scholars in Public Life
  • Faculty Fellow, Cornell Atkinson Center for Sustainability
  • Chair of the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion committee for Global Development 

Professor Peters contextualizes his research in the national system of land-grant colleges and universities, which has long functioned as a development agency on the global stage.  He studies the history of the land-grant mission, with a focus on the ways it has been operationalized through extension work. He uses oral history and narrative inquiry to explore the development work and experiences of scientists, engineers, scholars, artists, extension professionals, and community organizers.

Daniel O'Connell

O’Connell is the executive director of the Central Valley Partnership, a regional nonprofit organization and progressive network of labor unions, environmental organizations and community groups spanning the San Joaquin Valley. Trained as a multidisciplinary ethnographer, he holds a master’s degree in international agricultural development from UC Davis and a Ph.D. in education from Cornell University. As a politically engaged scholar, his work is dedicated to achieving social, racial, environmental and economic justice in California.

Professor Scott Peters
Daniel O'Connell

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