Seeds and Mechanized Planting

Mechanized Planting: From Tending the Land to Tending Machines

Planting Lettuce, Salinas, California, 1958

Planting Lettuce, Salinas, California, 1958

Before Monsanto’s patented, genetically modified seeds came into existence in the 1990’s and established legal barriers to prevent farmers from gathering seeds from their crops for planting next year, seed harvesting was a regular part of farming, even industrial farming.  It is still part of farming everywhere that Monsanto is not present.  Subcontractors often perform the task at the end of the harvest, stockpiling seeds for the farmer’s next crop. Small farmers do it themselves.  In the 1950’s and 1960’s when Harvey Richards photographed farming in California, large growers actively expanded the mechanization of seed gathering and planting operations.  As in all operations that shifted from hand work to mechanical work, the focus shifted from tending the land to tending the machines.  The impact of this shift transformed agricultural labor and our relationships to the land. As agribusiness owners moved away from the land, those tending it became responsible for carrying out orders to maximize profits through the exploitation of the land.  Stripped of its living soil, relying on piped in water, chemical fertilizers and pesticides, the art of growing food crops shifted into the realm of the application of capital instead of the husbandry of the earth. The absence of a balanced sustainable approach to farming is bringing about the decline in the natural resources of water, soil, clean air and animal life that was once so abundant all over the state. Buy or license these photos.

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