Seedsmen Hall of Fame
Honoring Horticulturalists

Dr. Robert E. Rhodes
January 30, 1942 - March 24, 2010

Robert E. Rhoades, Professor of Anthropology at the University of Georgia-Athens, was widely regarded as one of the founders of the field of agricultural anthropology. His career in both academic and applied anthropology spanned more than 30 years during which he wrote over 130 publications and received numerous honors for his efforts. While the first part of his career focused on international agriculture and development, his last decade increasingly turned to the application of anthropology to local food and environmental issues in the United States.

He was born on a farm in southern Oklahoma in 1942. After two years of college at Oklahoma State University, he joined the United States Peace Corps in 1962 and was sent to Nepal, an experience which dramatically altered his outlook on life. Afterwards, he returned to Oklahoma State and completed his B.S. degree with a double specialization in agriculture and sociology. In 1966, he received an East West Center Fellowship at the University of Hawaii where he studied international development and sociology. As a part of the fellowship, he spent a year abroad at the University of Philippines-Los Banos and the International Rice Research Institute studying the diffusion of IR-8 or "miracle rice". In 1968, he turned to farming part-time as well as teaching at Phillips University, a liberal arts college in Enid, Oklahoma. As the viability of the family farm in this region of the US continued to decline, he decided to continue his education in anthropology at the University of Oklahoma where he received his Ph.D. in 1976.

After teaching two more years and conducting research on labor migrants in Europe and the US, he accepted a Rockefeller Foundation Research Fellowship and was sent to Lima, Peru, to work with scientists at the International Potato Center. As one of the first social scientists to work in the Consultative Group for International Agriculture Research (CGIAR), he was able to help pioneer new perspectives in interdisciplinary, participatory approaches to agricultural and natural resource management. His "farmer-back-to-farmer model" (with Robert Booth) is considered a classic in development circles and was a forerunner to much of the present-day activity in participatory research and development. The model was based on team experience in generating small-scale storage systems which were adopted by thousands of farmers in Asia, Africa, and Latin America. In 1988, he transferred to Asia where he founded UPWARD (User's Perspective with Agricultural Research and Development), a pan-Asian network aimed at generating agricultural technology which is user-friendly and environmentally safe.

In 1991, he accepted the Headship of the Department of Anthropology, University of Georgia. Within two three-year appointments as Head, he was able to add eight new faculty lines, establish five new laboratories, increase the external funding ten fold, implement a new graduate and undergraduate program, and give the department its first high visibility in its fifty year history. During this same time, Dr. Rhoades brought in more than 2.5 million dollars in external funds through the various research programs he manages. In 1994, he was appointed by the Secretary of Agriculture to serve on the National Genetic Resources Council, a citizen body which advises the Secretary on plant genetic resources. In that same year, he gave the Seventh "Tex Frazier" Distinguished Lecture before the American Society for Horticulture Sciences Annual Meeting. In 1997, with Virginia Nazarea, he founded the Southern Seed Legacy, a network of southern gardeners and seed savers dedicated to preserving old varieties of vegetables, fruits, and crops.

He was appointed to numerous boards of international research organizations, more recently IBSRAM (International Board Soil Research and Management in Bangkok, Thailand) and TSBF (Tropical Soil Biology and Fertility Institute in Nairobi, Kenya). In 2000, he was elected North American Board Member to the International Mountain Forum and was heavily involved in the UN International Year of the Mountain during 2002. Dr. Rhoades managed a large interdisiciplinary sustainable agriculture and natural resource management project (SANREM-Andes) in Ecuador funded through the CRSP (Collaborative Research Support Program) of USAID. During 2002 he won the coveted William A. Owens Creative Research Award at the University of Georgia and was appointed a Senior Fulbright Scholar to Ecuador. Dr. Rhoades produced six PhDs while at the University of Georgia and was Chairperson for another six PhD candidates [at the time of this writing]. Many of his graduate students worked in his lab or on his projects in the field.

Robert Rhoades was keenly interested in making natural resource and agricultural issues understandable to the educated lay public. He wrote regularly for National Geographic Magazine, an effort which gave him national acclaim. In 1991, he was awarded the National Science Writers Award for his National Geographic article on the world food supply and biodiversity.

Finally, he was the founding Executive Director of Agrarian Connections, a non-profit educational and research organization working toward the preservation of rural landscapes and lifeways. The organization worked to restore a 312 acre degraded cotton farm in the Georgia Piedmont, including the historical farm structures representing four time periods from pre-European down to the present.

Source: University of Georgia Faculty Page


Dr. Robert E. Rhoades, Distinguished Research Professor of Anthropology at the University of Georgia, was born January 30, 1942 and passed away on March 24, 2010. He filled the moments in between with writing, teaching, research, administration, activism, farming, log-cabin building and heirloom cattle raising.

He is survived by his family: wife, Virginia; son, Tristan; daughters, Danila and Natasha; son-in-law, James; brother and sister-in-law, George and Lynn; and sister-in-law and brother-in-law, Josefina and Alois. He will be fondly remembered and sorely missed by family and friends, and students and colleagues, whose lives he touched.

There was a visitation at the Day Chapel of the State Botanical Garden from 9 to 11 a.m. on March 25, 2010 with transition rites at 11 a.m. Interment was at noon at the Oconee Hill Cemetery, followed by a luncheon at the Sexton's House. Bridges Funeral Home, Athens, was in charge of arrangements.


  1. Obituary

  2. Google Citation Page for Dr. Rhodes

  3. "Robert E. Rhoades – John Van Willigen:Oral History Interview for the Society for Applied Anthropology," March 7, 2002.

  4. Distinguished Research Professor 2006, University of Georgia.

  5. Faculty page at the University of Georgia, June 13, 2010.


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