Empty Fields, Empty Promises: Disrupting Dispossession to Achieve Agricultural, Rural and Environmental (ARE) Justice

Perspectives in Global Development: Spring 2024 Seminar Series


The right to farm is essential to everyone’s survival. Since the late 1970s, states across the nation have adopted so-called right-to-farm laws to limit nuisance suits loosely related to agriculture. But since their adoption, there has yet to be a comprehensive analysis of what these laws do and who they benefit. Professor Loka Ashwood will present findings from the book she coauthored, Empty Fields, Empty Promises: A Guide to Understanding and Transforming the Right-to-Farm (UNC 2023), which offers the first national analysis and guide to these laws. The book reveals that right-to-farm laws generally benefit Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations and business firms, while sole-proprietor farmers benefit the least. Right-to-farm laws tend to displace the property rights of people who seek to defend their homes and environment from multinational corporate encroachment. These laws introduce what the book calls a “midburden,” particularly in the Midwest and Southeast, that paves the path to rural poverty through dispossession. Ashwood will conclude by considering how to work toward a more distributed and democratic agrifood system that achieves agricultural, rural, and environmental (ARE) justice

About the Speaker

Loka Ashwood is an associate professor of sociology at the University of Kentucky. She studies the legal and organizational structures that prompt environmental injustices and animosity toward the state. She works with frontline communities to strengthen democracy. She published the book, For-Profit Democracy: Why the Government is Losing the Trust of Rural America (Yale 2018), and is co-author of Empty Fields, Empty Promises: A Guide to Understanding and Transforming the Right to Farm (UNC 2023) and An Invitation to Environmental Sociology (6th edition, Sage, 2021).

Perspectives in Global Development

The Perspectives in Global Development seminars are held Wednesdays from 12:20-1:20 p.m. eastern time during the semester. The series is presented in a hybrid format. All seminars are shown in 175 Warren Hall. Students, faculty and the general public are welcome to attend. The series is co-sponsored by the Department of Global Development, the Department of Natural Resources and the Environment, the Charles H. Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management, and the School of Integrative Plant Science as part of courses GDEV 4961, AEM 4961, NTRES 4961, GDEV 6960, AEM 6960, and NTRES 6960.

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