Graduation Date

Spring 2017

Document Type



Master of Arts degree with a major in Social Science, Environment and Community

Committee Chair Name

Noah Zerbe

Committee Chair Affiliation

HSU Faculty or Staff

Second Committee Member Name

Anthony Silvaggio

Second Committee Member Affiliation

HSU Faculty or Staff

Third Committee Member Name

Laura Cooskey

Third Committee Member Affiliation

Community Member or Outside Professional

Subject Categories

Environment and Community


In the United States, from the 1960s through the 1970s, nearly a million Americans left urban areas to establish themselves in rural environments; this exodus is now known as the back-to-the-land movement. Nestled in the mountains of Northern California, along a capricious river, and surrounded by natural beauty, the Mattole Valley became home to many of these back-to-the-land immigrants. Seasoned in the social and cultural movements of Berkeley and San Francisco during the 1960s, the “new settlers” transformed the social and environmental landscape of southern Humboldt County as they integrated into rural communities. The Mattole Valley offers a unique look at the ongoing negotiation between people and place by revealing the intersections between bioregional philosophy, cannabis agriculture, and modern capitalism.

Using constructivist grounded theory, my research investigates the experiences of the new settlers and the forces that motivated and affected their lives. I complement this theoretical approach with a phenomenological lens to explore the lived experiences of the participants in this movement and to inform my epistemological foundation. This study incorporates a mixed-method approach by interweaving oral history, semi-structured interviews, participant observation, document analysis, and archival research.

Through my research, I have found a strong presence of bioregional philosophy in the initial motivations for this settlement and in the persistence of the community. My results identify foundational elements of bioregionalism, as well as the implications of capitalism by way of cannabis agriculture. Based on the community efforts to bridge ideological differences and negotiate the tenets of bioregionalism and capitalism, I argue that the Mattole serves as a guide for communities around the globe. In the process of compiling the stories and lived experiences of the residents, I unfold a story that carries lessons from the back-to-the-land movement into the future.

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