Fertile Ground brings to light the extraordinary “factories in the field” that are at the heart of California’s agricultural economy and each year produce two-thirds of all of America’s fruits, vegetables and nuts. The images capture the arrays of nascent seedlings, peeking through plastic pathways or hiding in hoop houses along well irrigated, rolling hillsides bathed in coastal fog.
In the tradition of the New Topographics photographers such as Robert Adams and Lewis Baltz, the juxtaposition of serene beauty and abundance with hyper-functional, irrigation, planting and harvesting infrastructure raises difficult artistic and societal questions. One cannot help but wonder, what is the future of our food, the land and the workers in an era of climate change, scarce water resources, our waffling positions on immigration and immigrants?
The work is also deeply personal for the artists. Ellen’s immigrant parents instilled in her an unending appreciation for the country’s embrace of immigrants, the abundance that has fueled the American Dream for so many, and yet also the sheer delight of picking fresh berries that had once staved off bitter hunger during the destruction of Jewish life in Europe.