In this episode of Perennial AF, we’re listening back to another presentation from our 2022 Perennial Farm Gathering, and we’ll be hearing from Samantha Bosco, a postdoctoral fellow at the USDA National Agroforestry Center, who conducted research on temperate nut trees for her Ph.D. work at Cornell University. Samantha’s presentation covered a lot of ground from how forest composition can be influenced by the personalities of foraging animals to the non-binary nature of agroforestry and its connections to social justice and queerness in nature. Samantha’s presentation has been one of our most requested since the PFG, so I’m glad we get to share some of it here now. Here’s Samantha Bosco, presenting at the 2022 Perennial Farm Gathering.

Samantha Bosco: I just want to give a quick introduction to who I am. Dr. Samantha Bosco just recently finished my Ph.D. in the horticulture section at Cornell University, and the title of my dissertation was The Past, Present and Future Importance of Timber, Nut Trees and Hot Initiatives, Poverty and Climate Smart Agriculture in New York State. This dissertation will be available since it’s basically just been submitted so soon to be able to actually access it. And I have been studying and also doing a bit of my own agriculture work since 2005. So I come with almost 20 years of experience here. I’m also a nature lover. Everything from going out, adventuring like backpacking and camping to foraging to also just the way that nature inspires questions and connection to the more than human worlds. I’m also a queer and trans scientist, and that’s going to be a really important aspect of what I share today, and also consider myself to be someone who likes to cultivate community advocates for social change and also does work to try to actually engender that.

Dr. Samantha Bosco Thick as Thieves 2022 Perennial Farm Gathering

Dr. Samantha Bosco
Thick as Thieves
2022 Perennial Farm Gathering


I just want to thank everyone again for being here, and it’s really great to have so many folks get to participate in this. It’s going to be a collage of research, much of it, others research. But some of it is also based on my own. It’s a collage of that research, of news headlines of social media and what I to call my own magic. It’s going to be very unconventional than a typical technical presentation, and it’s going to be very thick. There’s lots of things in here. And also I just want to foreground at the beginning, talk about some things that are unconventional in agroforestry. We’re going to be talking about love for corvids and rodents. We’re going to be talking about of sex and gender and sexuality. We’re talking very squarely about colonial violence. I will be critiquing regenerative agriculture, hopefully to generative and positive ends. And I will, of course, as someone who studies nuts. We make bad jokes. We make puns. And that is just that’s what that’s what happens. What I want to do is I want to examine this. 

The solution of taking carbon out of the atmosphere and putting it into the terrorist sphere as missing the point for the social justice things that we need to get done. Because if we look actually to a different source, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, they say that that navigating a world that does not where the temperature has not gone above 1.5 degrees Celsius, stresses the core commitment to social justice, solidarity, cooperation and and particularly regarding redistribution of responsibilities, rights and mutual obligations. And then, navigating these inclusive and socially just pathways is going to be fraught with moral and practical and political difficulties with inevitable trade offs. And this is what I want to talk to you about all about today. We’re going to be flipping the script a bit about agroforestry and hopefully will bring us to some new territory that will bring us to a better possible future. 

In this report on navigating a world that does not exceed 1.5 degrees Celsius, IPCC has identified certain social transformations that are needed and says that without these social transformations, achieving this sustainable development to limit warming will be exceedingly difficult, if not impossible, to achieve. So right off the bat we are saying how important social justice actually is to climate change action. And that social justice and equity are core aspects of these transformational changes. And so, I want to talk more specifically about what this looks like. 

In the same report, IPCC identifies a few, many different practices, and I want to just take a few out of fear and look at the ways in which social transformations emerge in these land based carbon sequestration efforts. In one set of scenarios, they see how they use the acronym CSA. And here it stands for Climate Smart. Agriculture has the opportunity to empower women and improve gender equality, especially when we are talking about highlighting and giving credence to gendered but also Indigenous knowledge. And with the problems here, they face issues with access to land and technology and finances. And so this is one way in which agriculture is already certainly recognized to to address some of these social inequalities, specifically with gender. And in many of the same ways of focusing on gender and and virginity has opportunities to to impact positively maintaining biodiversity as well as who owns or who has rights to to crop breeding efforts and and and whose priorities gets prioritized in these kinds of crop reading efforts and the way that those, you know, continue to unfold. 

These are some ways in which the IPCC also recognizes specifically climate for agriculture, addressing social inequalities. And I think for many of us here, it’s very well understood or very well known the ways in which diversity contributes to agroforestry. Agroforestry increases in and of itself increases biological diversity in agri-ecosystems. We’re adding trees to open landscapes and more often any different kinds of trees… Genetic diversity is often a wellspring of possibility for agriculture producers. We love to find unique individuals on the landscape. We see the wild progenitors as sources of fresh genetic material for contemporary breeding efforts. Including plant and animal diversity in agroforestry often increases the climate benefits, whether that’s increased carbon sequestration or reduction in other emissions of other greenhouse gasses. The diversity of agroforestry allows for agroforestry to two over yield. That is where the sum of the yields from all the different parts are greater than if those same crops were produced in monoculture. 

Agroforestry offers many economic diversification for growers. Agroforestry crops in particular appeal – some of them at least – appeal to immigrant communities. And a lot of the genetics I work with come from other parts of the world. So there is a social and global diversity that’s inherent in the plants that we use and sell. And that agriculture also attracts the minds and hearts. This is based on my own personal experience of people who often really appreciate diversity. I, as someone who is focused on the crops, I am always meeting new people who are fascinated by the genetic diversity of trees across landscapes and also of folks who have appreciated the marginalized and the under known and what has been under-appreciated.

So speaking of diversity, we are talking about the importance of diversity in agroforestry and how that connects to an injustice or climate action. Let’s try to practice this on the kinds of critters that we love to hate. Animals such as corvids and rodents are often thought of as predators or even thieves in our systems. But I’d also like to show how these creatures are incredibly important, essentially important for the crops that we, especially in agriculture, the tree crops that we know and love. And so this is where the title Thick as Thieves come in. So on the very literal end of the reading of Thick as Thieves in the world of nuts.

Excepted from a talk by Samantha Bosco, delivered December 7, 2022 at Savanna Institute’s Perennial Farm Gathering virtual event. Purchase the recorded sessions for more.