Fred Krissman

Research Associate
Humboldt's Institute for Interdisciplinary Marijuana Research
External Research Associate
University of California, San Diego, Center for Comparative Immigration Studies

Contact information


Anthropology Department

1 Harpst St

Arcata, CA 95521

Office: BSS 456

Phone: 707-826-4324

Curriculum Vitae (link to pdf in far-left column)

Field Research Sites

  • Michoacán, Oaxaca, and Zacatecas states, Mexico
  • Kern and Tulare counties, California
  • Yakima County, Washington state
  • Humboldt, Mendocino, and Trinity counties, California

Research Interests 

  • International migration
  • Farm labor markets
  • Agricultural systems
  • Illegal commodities (undocumented labor and cannabis)
  • Socioeconomic inequalities
  • Cultural and subcultural interactions

Comparing Apples and Oranges with Cannabis (see my YouTube presentation on the topic, at the bottom of this page)

            My current project builds on previous research I conducted of agribusiness industries (e.g., apples and oranges) in the western US and Mexico, by comparing those studies with the case of the marijuana industry in northern California.

            The former commodities are legal, and are produced according to the the agribusiness model. These fruits are mainly grown on vast estates by a relative handful of large-scale agribusiness corporations using hundreds of thousands of Mexico-origin laborers paid near- to sub-minimum wages under substandard working conditions. The employers routinely violate a panoply of laws, including environmental, workplace and food health and safety, and immigration regulations. Universal corporate lawbreaking is facilitated in part by using an "illegal" workforce, which is marginalized within American society. One outcome of the illegal activities of agribusiness is growing socioeconomic inequalities within America, and between the US and Mexico. These inequalities have significant cultural and subcultural effects on the lifeways of families in both nations. I illustrate this binational process with ethnographic case studies, documenting a number of negative consequences in my publications (listed below and available for download in both the far-left column and at the bottom of this page).

            In contrast, northern California's three-county “Emerald Triangle” consists of many thousands of very small-scale cannabis "grows" of less than an acre. These marijuana gardeners employ a large resident workforce, which is supplemented during the peak harvest season by a relatively small number of “trimmigrants” (both domestic and foreign-origin). Cannabis workers earn relatively high wages that support untold thousands of local working-class families and migrant workers, as well as providing entrée to a world-renown "cannabis culture." However, with the entire industry relegated to gray- (medical marijuana) and black-markets, there are currently no industry regulations, while all activities within the industry are considered illegal under federal law. Of course, this is a rapidly changing situation. There is an accelerating trend toward legalization in the US west and elsewhere within the country and around the world. In California, the scale of cannabis farms is rapidly rising, and the growers could shift to the undocumented immigrant workers already preferred by "legal" agribusiness employers. Of course, as it has been for decades in legal farm industries, an agribusiness approach will increase socioeconomic inequalities within America, and between the US and Mexico.

            My "mixed methods" approach (Krissman 2005 and 2000) allows for the collection of both qualitative and quantitative data, which are amenable to social network analysis (SNA). SNA can convert data into Figures and Tables that illustrate social network practices, and the orientations, assessments, effects, dynamics, and validation of all of its actors (see a template of an "International Migration Network" in the left column, from my article, Sin Coyote ni Patrón, 2005). SNA has proven to be a powerful method for documenting a wide variety of interactions among any network's actors, both within and across subcultures inside national boundaries as well as among cultures at the global level. Among other uses, it explains why international immigrants come from certain hometowns to specific destinations (see the map documenting international migration from Huanusco, Zacatecas, Mexico to rural California and urban Illinios, in the left column, from my dissertation, Mexican Farm Workers and Californian Agribusiness, 1996).

            Key findings have included specific public policy options for ameliorating socioeconomic inequalities in both "legal" and "illegal" crop industries. In the case of cannabis, a primary concern is to sustain the current small-scale and largely residential composition of marijuana labor markets even as the crop shifts in status from an illicit substance to just another high-value agricultural commodity. Maintaining the scale and composition of the industry would protect the non-corporate character of a relatively egalitarian cannabis culture and promote the widespread distribution of revenues throughout regional economies. The anomalous case of the marijuana industry also suggests the need for reforms in legal agribusiness industries, which currently disproportionately benefits a few corporate heads at the expense of the majority of Americans and Mexicans, as workers, community members, and consumers of these commodities. Growing trends in community gardening and community supported agriculture, as well as the spread of farmers' markets, and a variety of movements such as organic farming and locavore consumption reflect many of the values found in cannabis cultures, and suggest alternatives to the agribusiness model.

Selected Publications (links to pdf articles in the far-left column, above, and at the bottom of the page)

  • Sin Coyote ni Patrón: why the "migrant network" concept fails to explain international migration (in International Migration Review journal)
  • Undocumented Mexicans in California: disenfranchising some of our best and brightest 21st century Americans (in the Center for California Studies working paper series)
  • Cycles of Deepening Poverty in Rural California: the case of McFarland and Farmersville in the San Joaquin Valley (in The Dynamics of Hired Farm Labour edited book)
  • Organizing Immigrants: a book review (in the Journal of American Ethnic Studies)
  • Immigrant Labor Recruitment: US agribusiness and undocumented migration from Mexico (in Immigration Research for a New Century edited book)
  • California’s Agricultural Labor Markets: historical variations in the use of unfree labor, c. 1769-1994 (in Free and Unfree Labour edited book)
  • Farm Labor Contractors: the processors of new immigrant labor from Mexico for US agribusiness (in Agriculture and Human Values journal)

Courses Recently Taught (links to pdf syllabi in the far-left column, above, and the bottom of the page)

  • Anth 104 Cultural Anthropology
  • Anth 306 Modern Mexico: at home and abroad
  • Anth 329 Cultural Migrations: Mexico and the US

Televised Course "Comparative Sociopolitical Systems: the case of Mexico"

YouTube Video

My Presentation, "Comparing Apples & Oranges with Cannabis," at a Drug Policy Alliance/Emerald Growers Association symposium

YouTube Video