Organic Produce and Inorganic Production: Agro-Nostalgia and the Rhythms of the Davis Farmer’s Market

A History of Davis Farmer’s Market and Davis as a Center of Agricultural Activity

In 1906, the small, rural town of Davisville was selected to become the University State Farm for the University of California, Berkeley. The state purchased 778 acres of the Jerome C. Davis farm that had received a first-class rating from the California State Agricultural Society in 1858 (Douglass and Thomas 2004). At this time, the local newspaper the Davisville Enterprise changed its name to the Davis Enterprise; simultaneously, the entire town began to refer to itself as Davis in order to abandon the provincial connotation of the name “Davisville” (“History of Davis”). The University State Farm opened in 1908 with a class of about 40 agriculture students, and the University maintained solely agricultural activities until 1951, when the College of Letters and Science began enrollment (Douglass and Thomas 2004). In 1952, UC Davis gained its own administrative control apart from the College of Agriculture at UC Berkeley (“History of Davis”). For about a century, University of California, Davis has been a mainstay of agricultural innovation and research in throughout California and the world.

Embracing its position as an agricultural community, Davis has held a biweekly farmer’s market for 40 years. These markets take place on Saturday mornings and Wednesday afternoons. The Wednesday markets experience a slight lull during the colder months: from November through March, the Wednesday markets occur earlier in the day and receive less traffic than the Saturday market. Yet each Wednesday between March and October, the Davis Farmer’s Market is abuzz with vendors, shoppers, couples, families, children, dogs, students, and live music. In a two-block wide park, one can visually observe people picnicking and drinking in the grass with friends, family members or neighbors; children dancing to the live band or playing in the play structure; shoppers making rounds beneath the dark-green tent-like structure of the market for their fix of organic produce; and food vending tents attracting swaths of hungry picnickers. Central Park and the farmer’s market area is one of the main ventricles of Davis culture. As a small town and an agricultural hub, the farmer’s market reflects all that Davis is: it is where the community encounters itself. By analyzing the rhythms of the market, we can observe if Davis’ identity as an agricultural community adheres to notions of agrarian time, or if the forces of capitalism produce a social dissonance.

Rhythmanalysis

Rhythmanalysis is a methodology created by Henri Lefebvre which uses notions of rhythms to analyze the space and time of daily life. As a Marxist philosopher, Lefebvre was interested in capitalism’s transformation of everyday life and human routine. He argued that the demands of capitalism affected the body’s biological and social rhythms. In the context of rhythmanalysis, “rhythm” can be defined as the “essential characteristic of phenomena [that] highlights the temporal-spatial ordering that configures social relationships (Chen 2017: 51). Lefebvre used the human body as the primary tool for conducting his research: the body serves as a metronome to measure rhythm. Rhythm’s omnipresence is evident where Lefebvre stated, “Everywhere where there is interaction between a place, a time and an expenditure of energy, there is rhythm” (Lefebvre 2004: 15). In this way, rhythmanalysis can be conducted by anyone at anytime through the process of observing the difference between “that which comes to [the analyst] from nature and that which is acquired, conventional, even sophisticated, by trying to isolate particular rhythms” (18). The rhythmanalyst is responsible for distinguishing between organic and imposed measures of time.

The rhythmanalyst uses all of her senses to take in the entirety of the environment: sights, smells, and sounds. Lefebvre conducted his rhythmanalysis from the balcony of his apartment overlooking rue R. “facing the famous P. Centre” (28). He stated that rather than being among the throngs of people where noises are indistinguishable, remaining on his balcony away from the street allowed him to distinguish noises and observe rhythms. (28) The observed rhythms can be broken down into the categories of cyclical and alternating, and linear rhythms. Cyclical rhythms occur naturally and at large, simple intervals and alternating rhythms occur at brief and lively intervals. Cyclical and alternating rhythms are the manifestation of social organization, while linear rhythms are manifested in the capitalist-enforced activities of life, or the “daily grind, the routine, therefore the perpetual, made up of chance and encounters” (30).

Lefebvre classified much of the movement he saw from his balcony as belonging to the realm of cyclical and alternating rhythms. Observing a busy intersection of pedestrians, cars, and buses, he wrote of the alternating flows between pedestrian traffic and vehicle traffic:

Two-minute intervals. Amidst the fury of the cars, the pedestrians cluster together, a clot here, a lump over there; grey dominates, with multicolored flecks, and these heaps break apart for the race ahead. Sometimes, the old cars stall in the middle of the road and the pedestrians move around them like waves around a rock… Hard rhythms: alternations of silence and outburst (29).

While the pedestrians and traffic belong to cyclical and alternating rhythms, the “journeys to and fro” are linear (30). The simultaneous presence and overlapping of cyclical/alternating and linear rhythms creates a polyrhythmic environment. Yi Chen, who writes on the practice of rhythmanalysis, asserts, “The social is a polyrhythmia” (Chen 2017: 5). Lefebvre classified the phenomenon of polyrhythmic rhythms operating in harmony as eurythmia: the state of the body when all organs are in agreement and functioning effectively. When these multiple rhythms fail to produce a harmonious body, Lefebvre used the term “arrhythmia” to suggest a social crisis (Chen 2017: 5). A diagnosis of social eurhythmia implies that “bodily rhythms are attuned to the rhythms of work and rest;” (5) a society in which daily life has not been taken over by the demands of capitalist production.

I propose a rhythmanalysis of the Davis Wednesday Farmer’s Market—observing the rhythms of the event to generate understanding about Davis as a larger social organism. Special attention will be paid to the presence or the absence of temporal rhythms of agrarian society focused on seasonal and daily    patterns, versus the presence or absence of the reorganization of time to accommodate capitalist production.

Analysis of Agrarian Time

Evans-Pritchard focused on agricultural rhythms with his study of the Nuer people and the cattle they tend to. He described their organization of time as follows: “The daily timepiece is the cattle clock, the round of pastoral tasks, and the time of day and the passage of time through a day are to a Nuer primarily the succession of these tasks and their relation to one another” (Evans-Pritchard 1940: 101-102). In agricultural societies, the rhythms of days are primarily dictated by cyclical rhythms, unburdened with the restrictions of western clock time—the construction of daily life favors more “natural” rhythms (Thompson 1967: 60). Evans-Pritchard revealed that the Nuer, in fact, do not have an expression equivalent to western notions of “time” as “something actual which passes, can be wasted, can be saved, and so forth…their points of reference are mainly the activities themselves, which are generally of a leisurely character” (Evans-Pritchard 1940: 103).

E. P. Thompson, the English social and cultural historian, described the organization of agrarian time in reference to agricultural activities themselves as “task-orientation” (Thompson 1967: 60). He wrote that task-oriented organizations of time are indicative of societies that show little distinction between “work” and “life,” as the working day adjusts itself to the demands of the task of labor (60). In the case of the Nuer, times of day are best demarcated with tasks relating to cattle. For example, one could communicate a notion of time with the phrase, “I shall return at milking,” or, “I shall start off when the calves come home” (Evans-Pritchard 1940: 102). Task-oriented working days come into conflict with capitalist notions of maximizing the value of hired labor. Under capitalist production, time becomes money; therefore, hired labor is expected to produce as much as possible within certain time constraints, regardless of how naturally practical it may be. For those who are accustomed to the high-demand and efficiency of capitalist production, task-oriented working days “appear to be wasteful and lacking in urgency” (Thompson 1967: 60).

The Cyclical Rhythms of the Market

The farmer’s market necessarily abides certain aspects of seasonal time. Farmers grow and sell fruits and vegetables that are permitted by seasonal climate and weather patterns. When I arrived to the market in early May, vendors were offering a bounty of cherries, peaches, and strawberries. Other natural, cyclical rhythms of the market include the natural ebb and flow of crowds to the market and picnicking area. People arrive, usually in groups, and choose a place in the grass to pass the afternoon. Parents chase their giggling children, friends and family engage in conversation, children dance in front of the stage where a band performs live music, and people peruse the market area for fresh goods.

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Drawing on auditory senses, I observed a constant hum of car traffic, distant train horns, wind, music, chatter and conversation, laughter, children babbling and shrieking, and the scuffle of footsteps on the concrete. Combined, these noises created a kind of white noise. With careful focus, I could distinguish the individual components of the white noise to overhear conversations or the joyful chatter, or horrific screams, of children, but my ears easily grew accustomed to the combination of these noises as the default soundscape. Even with the addition of my visual senses, I continued to perceive the soundscape as a hum—with people continually coming and going the rhythms remained somewhat constant. I recorded both in the grassy area, picking up sounds of the live band and of human revelry, and in the market area. For the recording of the market area, I walked past numerous vendors who remained surprisingly quiet: instead of announcing their wares, they stood patiently waiting for a customer to engage with them first. The sound recordings of the market proved to be merely monotonous hums of music and conversation.

The Linear Rhythms of the Market

Linear rhythms manifest themselves in spaces where capitalist production places restrictions on natural rhythms. One of the most prominent examples of linear rhythms presented itself in the form of the pony-riding stable at the farmer’s market. On the periphery of the market, a few ponies enclosed in a circular track are offered for consumer pleasure. The ponies could be seen as a cultural marker of Davis as an agricultural community, a mustang known as the “Aggie” is the mascot of the University of California, Davis. However, there is a tragic element to the downtrodden clip-clop of the ponies as they walk in an endless simulacrum of a migratory pattern without truly moving. Capitalist production has overtaken their will of natural rhythm and movement. Their labor produces nothing but ephemeral consumer mirth. The pony, an object of childish joy and fascination, is reduced to the role akin to that of the automaton. The natural rhythms of the pony as a wild animal are stifled with the capitalist demand for linear rhythms. The transformation of the pony from a cultural marker of agriculture to a consumer product perhaps lends itself to a broader commentary on the “authenticity” of Davis as an agricultural community. While Davis certainly prides itself on its identity as an agricultural community with events like the farmer’s market, aspects of capitalist production have overtaken the agrarian social form.

By constricting the times of produce sales to Wednesdays and Saturdays, the freshness of the produce may be compromised. It would seem more “natural” for a farmer to sell produce when it is ready, rather than consistently on a biweekly, basis. The farmer’s market reorganizes the rhythms of products and laborers into a more linear temporality. E. P. Thompson writes of the “characteristic irregularity of labour patterns” and the impossibility of certain types of work to fit into accurate “time-budgets” (Thompson 1967: 71). Measuring labor by the clock is a capitalistic notion which demands efficiency at the expense of natural rhythms. The strict schedule of the market demands that agricultural production, which necessarily operates on a cyclical, seasonal and daily rhythm, reconfigures itself into a more efficient and unnatural rhythm. A farmer’s market worker and her labor are made to embody the capitalist rationality of the market. One can imagine her work schedule: packing a truck from a warehouse where the goods are stored, arranging the stand, recording payments, and the demands of a salesperson’s persona in a public space. She obeys the rhythms of the capitalist market which leave little room for her own personal autonomy.

Conclusion

Although the market may no longer be an “authentic” cultural marker of Davis as an agricultural society, it embodies contemporary Davis culture: a small, liberal town that imagines the purchase of (expensive) artisan goods as a quaint circumvention of capitalist modes of production and consumption. Within the confines of linear time, Davis residents engage in vaguely agricultural, leisurely, community-based activities that support local farmers and local businesses. Yet, the Davis farmer’s market is organized for the sale of private goods for private profit in a public space within a society in which private property is already the dominant social form. This is what demarcates the farmer’s market as being distinct from a traditional agricultural marketplace in a traditional agricultural society. While mimicking agrarian social forms, the market embodies capitalist market dynamics.

Taking into consideration both the actual rhythms of the Davis farmer’s market and the classic temporal organization of agrarian society outlined by Evans-Pritchard and E. P. Thompson, the market could best be described as the attempt of a nostalgic, capitalist society to cling on to the façade of its agrarian past. The linear and cyclical polyrhythms constitute what I will diagnose as a social arrhythmia. There is an incongruity between the temporal rhythms of this supposed agrarian society that should be focused on attention to a certain seasonal and daily rhythms, and the prevalent capitalist reorganization of time into a more linear “time-budget.” The Davis farmer’s market exists in a dissonant social state, with capitalist organizations of time challenging cultural sentiments of agro-nostalgia.

Click here to download a PDF of Organic Produce and Inorganic Production

Bibliography

Chen, Yi. Practising Rhythmanalysis: Theories and Methodologies. London: Rowman &   Littlefield International, 2017.

Douglass, John, and Sally Thomas. “Davis: Historical Overview.” University of California History Digital Archives. June 18, 2004. Accessed June 12, 2017.         http://www.lib.berkeley.edu/uchistory/general_history/campuses/ucd/overview.html.
Evans-Pritchard, E. E. The Nuer: A Description of the Modes of Livelihood and Political Institutions of Nilotic People. London: Oxford University Press, 1940.

“History of Davis.” Davis Downtown. Accessed June 12, 2017.     http://davisdowntown.com/history-of-davis/.

Lefebvre, Henri. Rhythmanalysis: Space, Time, and Everyday Life. Translated by Stuart Elden and Gerald Moore. London: Continuum, 2004.

Thompson, E. P. “Time, Work-Discipline, and Industrial Capitalism.” Past & Present 38 (December 1967): 56-97. Accessed June 12, 2017. JSTOR.

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