In 2006, a deadly multi-state E. coli outbreak linked to spinach grown in California’s Salinas Valley caused public panic. Government and industry responded by forcing growers to adopt costly new measures to ensure food safety, which have potentially resulted in negative consequences for local human and natural systems. Compliance
burdens have fallen most heavily on smaller farms, reducing the potential for sustainable rural livelihoods in the region. Further, ecologically beneficial practices, such as applying compost, planting hedgerows, and maintaining natural vegetated habitat around fields, have declined because they were seen as potential pathways of contamination. Instead, growers now fence their fields, deploy poison traps, and remove riparian habitat in an effort to improve food safety. Working with an interdisciplinary team of natural and social scientists under the auspices of the Center for Diversified Farming Systems, we are studying how the 2006 E. coli outbreak has affected marketing and policy regulations that in turn impact ecosystems, pest control, safe food production, water quality, and rural livelihoods in the Salinas Valley system.