Food Crop Diversity, Knowledge Systems in Agriculture, "Citizen" and Community Science/Participatory Research, and Food Gardens


Ph.D., University of Arizona, Arid Land Resources-Ethnoecology, minor Plant Sciences


Positively responding to the global challenges we face – the anthropogenic climate crisis, environmental degradation, and rising social inequity requires making use of diverse forms of knowledge and expertise. In agriculture, local knowledge often reflects people’s goals and the realities of the environments they are working in. Dr. Daniela Soleri's research investigates local knowledge, practices and outcomes in human management and use of crop plant diversity, including the consequences for adaptation to climate, environmental and social changes. Frequently this involves quantifying farmers’ and gardeners’ practices, and documenting the theory and values underlying those practices in un- or under-represented communities. Understanding this knowledge, expertise, and these practices, is the basis for partnerships between communities and scientists that are effective and based on respect and equity. Any improvements to these agricultural systems must build on a substantive understanding of how and why local systems work as well as they do, and be constructed through horizontal, equitable partnerships between scientists and practitioners.

Soleri has had the good fortune to work with biologists, plant breeders and crop geneticists, and with farmers in a number of locations: Hopi and Zuni Native American farmers in the US southwest, investigating changes in crop diversity over time, and cultural values related to intellectual property rights in traditional crops; in Oaxaca, Mexico quantifying the phenotypic and genetic consequences of farmer seed selection in maize and beans, farmers’ genetic perceptions regarding their maize, and their assessments of risk related to transgenic maize; in Cuba and Guatemala also documenting farmers’ assessments of risk related to transgenic maize; in Oaxaca, Mexico and southern California traditional foods of Oaxacan origin and their relationship with crop diversity and cultural identity; the stories and genetic characterizations of historic olive plantings in the greater Santa Barbara area. Daniela Soleri has co-authored, with David A. Cleveland, and illustrated the 1991 book Food from Dryland Gardens, on food gardening in arid areas. Food Gardens for a Changing World is a new book published by CABI in 2019, co-authored with David A. Cleveland and Steven E. Smith, about food gardens in changing climates, environments and societies. Most recently she is conducting research on seed libraries and other small scale, community seed management in California to explore how public scientists might partner with and support grassroots seed sharing through participatory or community science. Soleri is a member of the Citizen Science Association (CSA) and was a co-founder and co-chair of the CSA’s Integrity, Diversity and Equity Working Group.