I grew up in New York City, went to high school in the Bronx and for the past nine years, have lived in Canada, Scotland and New Zealand. I did not grow up on farms. My grandfather was a dairy farmer in Ellenville, NY until he married my grandmother and moved to Brooklyn. Before stumbling into doing research in agricultural systems, that was just about my only link with the farming world: I was a city kid growing up.
In August 2013, I started a postdoctoral fellowship (which is basically the first job someone gets after finishing their PhD), to try my best to work out the dollar value of wild birds for farmers in the Central Valley of California. Wild birds rely on farming landscapes for habitat and food resources. Some birds are very helpful to farmers because they eat pest insects. Some birds are not at all helpful because they just eat the crops. And some birds lie somewhere in between and eat both crops and insects. My project is to try and work out how the habitat around farm fields influences the makeup of bird communities (the balance of beneficial and detrimental birds), and how that translates to economic value to the farmer. I'm working with the University of California Davis and The Nature Conservancy, and please note that the opinions expressed in this blog are not a reflection of either institution: They are mine, and mine alone.
I've studied rare songbirds on arable farms in Scotland, and worked intensively with vineyard managers, foresters and beef and sheep farmers in New Zealand, where I was studying falcons for my PhD. In each of these farm types, I've had a pretty steep learning curve to overcome to be able to really understand the farmers, the land, and the wildlife. I've always been amazed at the new things that I've learned, and wish that I has started a blog about it years ago! Now, moving to California for the first time and delving into the most intense and productive (and daunting!) system I've worked in yet, I thought that this would be a great opportunity to start recording what I discover about the lands that produce our food.
So, what to expect? Short clips about the little things I learn along the way. Photos of this new landscape I'm living in. Stories about the people I meet, musings about my own research, and coverage of other science going on in farms, in California, and in wildlife. You can also expect strange jumps between my use of US and New Zealand spelling (sometimes it'll be behaviour, sometimes behavior). I'll try to stick to US spelling now that I'm back!