How you gonna keep 'em? etc.

14 Oct 1994 John Hannum How you gonna keep 'em, etc.

The issue of why people remain in farming in this day and age is a rather complex one. I would suggest that those who might be interested in a rather good argument as to why read Pat Mooney's "My Own Boss: Class, Rationality and the Family Farm" [1988, Westview]. Pat, one of my colleagues here at Kentucky, argues that a model of Weberian rationality goes a long way towards an explanation (to be simplistic about it).

I might argue that, here in Kentucky at least, people aren't necessarily staying on the farm that much anymore. We've seen some net farm loss (less than other states to be sure) and a steady increase in hired labour, especially for tobacco -- which is "periodically" labor intensive. This is indicative of the decline of the importance of family labor in the tobacco process.

Milt Coughenour and I developed some typologies of Kentucky farms a few years ago which indicated that those with sufficient capital, labor and profit DID stay on the farm, as did those with merely enough capital. (What did we call those "big guys", Milt? Squires?) It is the confluence of several factors, in other words, that determine if families will remain in farming.

I'd also recommend looking at the debates (Rural Sociology/Sociologia Ruralis) between Mooney and Susan Mann/James Dickinson. The latter two took a relatively mechanistically Marxist viewpoint that Mooney disagreed with and made for a relatively interesting debate: I still teach it.

Anyway, my two cents worth on this issue. It depends on what farming systems one is talking about, too. News I get from Zaire these days indicates that lots of folks (fonctionnaires, army, etc) are going back to farming in light of the virtually non-existent economy. Now there's a paradigm!

John Hannum University of Kentucky Co-Moderator


18 Oct 1994 Norma Bruce <nbruce@magnus.acs.ohio-state.edu> Re: How you gonna keep 'em, etc.

----------------------------Original message---------------------------- Or you could ask someone--why do you stay on the farm? The Sept 1994 issue of Home Office Computing did a feature story on 51 "Entrepreneurs who live the American dream," and just glancing through it I see that a number are either "farmers" or at least rural. There's Scott Olson, the guy who invented Rollerblades and lives in Waconia, MN (pop. about 3,000). The picture shows him on rollerblades, in a barn, holding a calf--so he's at least living on the edge of town. And the Doolings, who had a 100 acre farm that couldn't support them, so they imported cashmere goats from Australia and now own knitting business (Montana). Or the Banfields with a lovely house on 200 acres in New Hampshire, so now they own a country inn, grossing about $150,000. Now, this is not "research," only anecdotal evidence that some people pursue things other than money, and others can live well and be rural at the same time. Viewed with Marxist glasses or capitalist glasses, I'm sure the story comes out differently. They were all using computers (that's why they were featured) and we all know that there are captive cybersmurfs toiling away inside those cpu's and someone ought to investigate this labor abuse!

Actually, the author of this article DID ask a Wisconsin dairy farmer "Why di you go back to the farm (leaving a journalist job)?" His response, which I think was somewhat droll, as I would expect, "I don't know. A weak moment, I guess." (grossing $90,000)

Norma Bruce


19 Oct 1994

From:         keit@bf486.bloomu.edu                                             
Subject:      how you gonna keep 'em                                            

----------------------------Original message---------------------------- After lurking here for weeks, I have finally been provoked into posting by the suggestion that kids stay on the farm because they don't have the education or skills to do anything else. Setting aside the question of rural vs. urban schools (or, one suspects, suburban schools), it seems to me that successfully running a farm requires rather more in the way of smarts and skills than, say, managing a store in a strip mall. Nor do I think growing up on a farm leaves one educationally stunted. I offer my family as an example: we grew up on a small farm in Tennessee. Both my parents were educated and had off-farm jobs, but we did put out tobacco, raised cattle and hogs, etc. My siblings and I went to a small county high school. My sister's a pharmacist, (married to a lawyer), my brother heads a $55 million farm credit association, and I don't think I've done so bad with my backwoods education either.

                                        Jeanette Keith                          
                                        Associate Professor                     
                                        Bloomsburg University                   
                                        Bloomsburg, PA                          
                                        keit@mercury.bloomu.edu                 

20 Oct 1994

Subject: how you gonna keep 'em In-Reply-To: In reply to your message of WED 19 OCT 1994

----------------------------Original message---------------------------- I would agree with the argument made by Prof. Keith that growing up on a farm does not necessarily leave one unable to cope in an educational environment. But I would even go as far as to assert that growing up in such a setting might even equip one to handle an educational environment better, as it teaches work skills and discipline necessary to be a successful student. These are traits that many students today are lacking.

                                     Eric L. Rousey                             
                                     Dept. of History Murray StateUniv.         

A83514F@MSUMUSIC.BITNET


         20 Oct 1994                                                            
         Lowell Dyson <LKDYSON@ERS.BITNET>                                      
Subject:      Re: how you gonna keep 'em                                        

----------------------------Original message---------------------------- On Wed, 19 Oct 1994 09:05:38 EDT <keit@bf486.bloomu.edu> said: I think that Jeannete Keith makes good points about what seems to be the gen- eric topic, "keepin' 'em down on the farm." I wish David Danbom would weigh in on this subject. He made so many good observations in his book _The Re- sisted Revolution_ about both urban and rural attitudes about farm people that I resist summarizing. Coming from small town Iowa myself, I reject the idea that farm youth don't have the skills to hold down urban jobs that require much skill. Not to be a chauvanist, but Silicon Valley is populated by former Iowans (I won't comment on the obseration that the migration of Iowans to Cali- fornia raised the intelligence level of both states). I suspect that my con- solidated school education was as good or better than most but the elite urban schools. As to skills, well, subsistance farming and the general ignorance that went with it is pretty much a thing of the past most places. On the other hand, keeping the present day panoply of farm implements in running condition might just be better technical background for many jobs than many city and suburban kids get.


|LOWELL K. DYSON                                            |                   
|ECONOMIC RESEARCH SERVICE                                  |                   
|U.S. DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE       202-219-0786          |                   
|1301 NEW YORK AVENUE, NW 932         202-219-0391 FAX      |                   
|WASHINGTON, DC 20005-4788            LKDYSON@ERS.BITNET    |                   

----------------------------Original message---------------------------- In response to the messages by both scott riney and jeanette keith... Although I don't believe that rural school are necessarily more or less "backward" than suburban and/or urban schools, I think the issue goes beyond the availability of opportunity in the classroom and the opportunities to learn on the farm. I think scott riney hit an important point with the mention of culture. "Opportunities" might be available but the need to work on the farm to make a living might very well take away from one's ability to take advantage of these "opportunities". Furthermore, there may be a cultural understanding that hard work is more important than education thus creating peer pressure among children (especially boys in the area in which I grew up) not to do well in school for fear of being labeled "sissies," "nerds", etc. Thus, there was a prejudice in the farming community in which I grew up against boys who did well in school. Furthermore, no matter what opportunities one takes advantage of, the view by those in higher educational institutions, in positions who do hiring, and in positions of power in general might believe that rural kids are "backward." An example, when I was teaching at a branch campus of a small two-year Illinois college, just south of Chicago, I got a phone call from the department head a couple of weeks before the first class meeting in which I was warned that these were "just farm kids" and "I couldn't expect too much of them." My reply was "That's interesting, I'm just a farm kid too." If I had had a set of prejudices which believed that rural schools and people are not capable of performing, my expectations might have been fulfilled. Instead, I expected just as much from this class as from any other class and my expectations were fulfilled....

The reality which emerges about what the possibilities for "farm kids" are is greatly molded by these types of expectations. Cultural values also have a large role to play in how much these people value the work process as well as the amount of money they get paid. Growing up on a farm tends to instill values of "being one's own boss". (I think this might be a part of Pat Mooney's arguement--although I have not read his book I did speak with him at a conference a few years ago and got the impression that this was an important part of his argument). Thus, the alternatives might be either staying on the farm or making it far enough up the ladder to be in a position of relative independence--such as university professor! Thus, working in a factory is not a viable alternative. This is very intertwined with issues of Jeffersonian agrarian democracy. The issue is not money, but rather living a particular way of life. If one hangs on to a small plot of land and works it after hours, one can still claim to be a "farmer" and hang on to the dream that one might some day be able to give up the job in the factory or elsewhere and really be a full-time farmer. I have three brothers who are doing exactly this. Two of them have the capability to "do much better" in the words of their bosses, but that would mean leaving the area where they have support networks, friends, land ownership, and the possibility of inheriting land from my parents.... To leave, for them, would be to leave their dreams behind....

Mary Engelmeyer economics department university of notre dame


20 Oct 1994

From: Elizabeth Prine <prine@qal.Berkeley.EDU>

----------------------------Original message---------------------------- Brava Jeanette! I share your concern about the tone that this thread has taken; I don't understand why it is more acceptable (it seems) to "return" to the country as an ex-urbanite or suburbanite, than it is to choose to stay there (or to leave for a period of time and then return).


20 Oct 1994

From:         John Hannum <JHANN00@ukcc.uky.edu>                                
Subject:      How you gonna etc                                                 

I knew that as soon as I complained, listserv would kick all the messages that had been sitting there for two days out again ;-). Now if UGA would just come back up.

I also hope that Elizabeth Prine's message gets there before this one.

I wonder if I've missed something here in the all net weirdness. I didn't particularly pick up on the idea that returning to "rural" areas was inherently "better" than staying there. What started this whole thread was "why do people stay?" The research that Milt Coughenour and I have done (v)indicates that many farmers are, indeed, highly skilled managers, and that the more skilled they are, the more satisfaction they find in their farming operations. That same research indicates as well that for some commodities there is a "culture" surrounding the production of those commodities. Indeed, in the Fruit & Vegetable markets, this is most true, and our colleague Grace Zilverberg did an interesting dissertation on this. I think there's a typology at work here: "culture" (I won't touch a definition with a ten-foot pole) interacts with skill and environmental factors to produce satisfaction (sorry, Milt, I know this is reductionist, but maybe we can flog off a few extra copies of the F&V study).

Pat's whole reaction to the production time/labour time thesis of Mann and Dickinson (it was pretty mechanically marxist, btw) was based on his own experience of growing up in rural Iowa. There is a rationality at work, but not necessarily an <economic> rationality. If the latter were the case, then capitalism would by now have fully penetrated agriculture and displaced petty commodity producers which it has yet fully to do (we sure are getting there though). One could argue, in the case of Kentucky at least, that the Fordist state has in fact done so through the tobacco program. I'm not going to take that up here. An interesting comparative analysis might be to look at the equality differentials in the tobacco and cotton programs (research project, anyone?).

Before I ramble further afield, the issue for us sociologists of agriculture is understanding why petty commodity production remains viable. Off-farm employment is certainly a big reason (the main one, I would argue). The historical processes that alter the means and relations of production are the main way we study changes in the mode of production. If there is now (I doubt it, btw) a major non-metro turnaround, that is a demographic variable that needs to be examined: it has eventual consequences for the entire food system. Enough, just some thoughts at the end of a long day.

John Hannum


24 Oct 1994

From:         sriney@asu.edu                                                    
Subject:      Re: how you gonna keep 'em                                        

----------------------------Original message---------------------------- It seems to me that the meaning of my original posting has been lost in some rather defensive (and perhaps not well considered) reactions. In describing the successes of themselves and their siblings in academia, business, etc., Jeanette Keith, Eric Rousey, and Lowell Dyson are using precisely the wrong examples. Yes, many people can leave rural areas to achieve success elsewhere. My father did so.

But that isn't what this thread is about. I am not talking about the people who left, but the ones who stay. I submit that there are obstacles -- not insurmountable, but obstacles nonetheless -- to easy transitions from rural areas to the city. In areas of the country where disparities in funding exist between rural and urban school districts, it is often the rural districts that are disadvantaged. When I lived in Colorado, there were initiatives proposed to replace property tax funding of schools with more equitable state financing. The argument was that rural districts' (in a state where the land is not so rich as Iowa's) tax revenues were lower, and that costs, particularly transportation, were significantly higher than those of urban school districts. This, it was believed, restricted the access of rural students to the state's institutions of higher education. More recently, Arizona's universities have considered raising admission standards. The concern, again, is that this might discriminate against students from rural high schools.

And then there are the cultural biases against education Mary Engelmeyer referred to. I shouldn't have to say that not _all_ farm children hold education in low esteem. I would expect professionals to be comfortable enough with nuances of meaning to refrain from reading absolutes into general observations. Since that is apparently not the case, however, I will be very cautious and say that _some_ farm kids see little reason to pay attention to school when they can learn about farming from their parents. A shortsighted attituded, perhaps, but it does exist, and it can do grave damage to a young person's future. _Those_ are the people who may find it difficult to find jobs in town with satisfaction equal to that of being one's own master on one's own land. And having spent no small amount of time in the guts of a combine, I can say from personal experience that exposure to farm equipment isn't half as useful to a technical education as a good calculus class -- not when even diesels are going to computerized fuel-delivery systems. The job market isn't what it used to be.

Actually, the intent of my original posting was to try to draw the thread down from a theoretical level to a more practical consideration of the options available to farm people. It is my hope that people who have actually experienced the transition from farm to city might be able to participate in a dialogue on the subject with open minds, and without assuming that I am hostile to farm people. Must an interest in rural history be accompanied by a defensiveness in the face of any perceived criticism of rural life? Now _there's_ a stereotype.

Scott Riney, Department of History (Graduate) Arizona State University

Internet: sriney@asu.edu


24 Oct 1994

From:         Lowell Dyson <LKDYSON@ERS.BITNET>                                 
Subject:      Re: how you gonna keep 'em                                        

----------------------------Original message---------------------------- On Mon, 24 Oct 1994 11:57:23 EDT <sriney@asu.edu> said: Since I never lived on a farm I didn't feel that my response was defensive -- ar had to be. Rather, I thought that like good historians we were trying to seek a loving solution. However, my memory of the farm kids in my high school is that they were as interested in school as any other sweaty, hormaonal teenagers. But, on reflection, maybe you are right: Iowa has always been a special place. . . . >----------------------------Original message---------------------------- >It seems to me that the meaning of my original posting has been lost in >some rather defensive (and perhaps not well considered) reactions. In >describing the successes of themselves and their siblings in academia, >business, etc., Jeanette Keith, Eric Rousey, and Lowell Dyson are using >precisely the wrong examples. Yes, many people can leave rural areas to >achieve success elsewhere. My father did so. > >But that isn't what this thread is about. I am not talking about the >people who left, but the ones who stay. I submit that there are >obstacles -- not insurmountable, but obstacles nonetheless -- to easy >transitions from rural areas to the city. In areas of the country where >disparities in funding exist between rural and urban school districts, it >is often the rural districts that are disadvantaged. When I lived in >Colorado, there were initiatives proposed to replace property tax funding >of schools with more equitable state financing. The argument was that >rural districts' (in a state where the land is not so rich as Iowa's) tax >revenues were lower, and that costs, particularly transportation, were >significantly higher than those of urban school districts. This, it was >believed, restricted the access of rural students to the state's institutions >of higher education. More recently, Arizona's universities have considered >raising admission standards. The concern, again, is that this might >discriminate against students from rural high schools. > >And then there are the cultural biases against education Mary Engelmeyer >referred to. I shouldn't have to say that not _all_ farm children hold >education in low esteem. I would expect professionals to be comfortable >enough with nuances of meaning to refrain from reading absolutes into >general observations. Since that is apparently not the case, however, I >will be very cautious and say that _some_ farm kids see little reason to >pay attention to school when they can learn about farming from their >parents. A shortsighted attituded, perhaps, but it does exist, and it >can do grave damage to a young person's future. _Those_ are the people >who may find it difficult to find jobs in town with satisfaction equal to >that of being one's own master on one's own land. And having spent no >small amount of time in the guts of a combine, I can say from personal >experience that exposure to farm equipment isn't half as useful to a >technical education as a good calculus class -- not when even diesels are >going to computerized fuel-delivery systems. The job market isn't what >it used to be. > >Actually, the intent of my original posting was to try to draw the thread >down from a theoretical level to a more practical consideration of the >options available to farm people. It is my hope that people who have >actually experienced the transition from farm to city might be able to >participate in a dialogue on the subject with open minds, and without >assuming that I am hostile to farm people. Must an interest in rural >history be accompanied by a defensiveness in the face of any perceived >criticism of rural life? Now _there's_ a stereotype. > >Scott Riney, Department of History (Graduate) >Arizona State University > >Internet: sriney@asu.edu


|LOWELL K. DYSON                                            |                   
|ECONOMIC RESEARCH SERVICE                                  |                   
|U.S. DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE       202-219-0786          |                   
|1301 NEW YORK AVENUE, NW 932         202-219-0391 FAX      |                   
|WASHINGTON, DC 20005-4788            LKDYSON@ERS.BITNET    |                   


25 Oct 1994

From:         Heather Goodall <H.Goodall@uts.edu.au>                            
Subject:      Re: How you gonna etc                                             

----------------------------Original message----------------------------

An interesting comparative analysis might be to look >at the equality differentials in the tobacco and cotton programs (research >project, anyone?).> >John Hannum

I'm just about to start looking at the social and political relations of production of cotton in NSW, Australia, where cotton has been produced first by co-operatives of smaller scale farmers [1960s] but increasingly because of the rising costs of production and necessary environmental safeguards,smaller operators have been forced out. Cotton here is now very big business only. Has there been anything written yet at all about looking at cotton in Kentucky [compared to tobacco or not]?

Heather Goodall Applied History University of Technology, Sydney.


28 Oct 1994

From:         Aaron Fox <aaf@ccwf.cc.utexas.edu>                                
Subject:      And why do they go back?                                          

----------------------------Original message---------------------------- Dear H-RURAL folks --

Haven't posted in a dog's age . . . But I have been following the "How you gonna keep'em" thread with interest and agree with Calnan's latest suggestion that the category of "class" (and the racing and gendering of class) and some theorization of the total urban/rural economy and the cultural co-construction of the urban by the rural and vice-versa, along with accounting for the rural mix of agriculture and other kinds of industrial and blue-collar work and the proximity of the rural site in question to urban working-class jobs, makes more sense for me than a *purely* cultural notion of rural character, society, or values or a *purely* economic notion of cost/benefit "rationality" for understanding the lure of "the country."

The reason I post is to solicit suggestions. I am working on a chapter of my diss. ("Redneck poetics. . . " -- an ethnography about country music and working-class culture in "shallow rural" towns in Texas and Illinois) which deals with the class-bound desire to move BACK to the country, or at least some semblance of the country, close enough to town that you can drive in to work every day unless you're drunk or unemployed, after living for a stretch (usually young adulthood) in the city and trying to "make it" there in urban blue-collar work. Most of the people I have talked to extensively about this grew up in rural poor homes, in families that were either very Christian or very alcoholic or both. Their memory of home ("down on the farm" or the mine or the railroad or the factory or the base) is hardly rosy or unmodulated, and yet they seek to recreate a new rural blue-collar sociability in the image of a pretty imaginative notion of 'country," involving some kind of deep, albeit reflexive, identification with the hillbilly stereotype.

Weberian (ir)rationality -- well they've got that: cheaper than the city to live, better place to raise the kids, fewer minorities (yeah, I know, but it's more complicated than it sounds, especially for Texas rednecks), less crime (which may not be objectively true), lower taxes, easier/safer to drive drunk and own and shoot guns and go hunting and fishing and hang out and play country music and raise a little hell on Saturday night.

But there's also a veeeeery interesting note of class resistance that sneaks in to this talk, founded on the identification with rural culture and values of self-reliance, fewer toys and commodities, a plainer, less status-conscious society, more sociability and less alienation, more FREEDOM, all mixed up with the idea of re-creating a hillbilly utopia in postmodern America in the shadow of wal-mart, a dead main-street, and a closed-down mine/factory/ base/whatever. And of course, there's the sense that things move slower, including the pace of change in gender roles and race relations as well as other more laudable kinds of conservatism.

The point is, these are not all lifelong country people -- they have put in time in the military, in city jobs (many if not most work in the city anyway), and they have travelled quite a bit in their lives. They also KNOW (speaking of Weber) that when they DO choose to work at one of the few jobs to be had "out the country" (as they say), they make MUCH less money and get poor or no benefits. If they do go into town to work, they also factor, like good rational actors, in the cost of working in the city in terms of travel time and expense. But their decision to live "out the country" seems to be more about consciousness, sociability, and values than it is about economic rationality in any simple sense.

I'm not a rural sociologist or historian -- I'm a musico-linguistic ethnographer. So my reading, such a it is, has been pretty scattershot. Does anybody want to coach me by telling me where YOU think I should go to illuminate this specific case of goin' BACK to the country? Not so much agricultural stuff as working-class stuff. I know some of the economic anthropology on this topic, but I'm curious about the history of the migrations from country to city and back over generations, and particularly in contextualizing what seems to me to be a current movement of people and of desire -- in part a response to the smashing of unions and working people in the Reagan years --to the margins of the city (the "rural"/industrial wasteland of auto graveyards, small farms, factories, and dumps) by people with some pretty dim memories (and luminous fantasies) of a deep rural life.

Thank y'all in advance . . .

Aaron Fox

Grad. program, Anthropology Univ of Texas at Austin

&

after 12/15 (Acting til I finish my diss.) Asst. Prof of Anthropology Univ of Washington, Seattle

But I will still be at:

aaf@ccwf.cc.utexas.edu

through March.

I would like to second Aaron Fox's comments about rural folk, with a couple of additions. His thoughts accurately describe many of my neighbors here in rural Vermont, notjust the natives but also the flatlanders like me, who came here in droves beginning in the late 60s and erly 70s. I think Aaron's notion that consciousness, sociablity,and values rather than economic rationality are the basis of choosing this kind of rural lifestyle is right on. I would add that the orientation he describes applies as much to people who have never left this area as to ones who have; and to those who are self- employed as contractors, masons, craftspeople, domestics, as well as to those who work in town. Finally, a key point I think is that these folks under- stand power and how it works in mainstream society. They are quite aware of the ways money and influence shape decisions that affect their lives, usually to their detriment. They tend to feel disempowered and screwed, and to a large degree they are cynical and alienated about politics at all levels even local. This is also a reason that Independent/Socialist Bernie Sanders has had such political success in Vermont, and will likely be reelected next week. (For those of you who have been reading Cockburn in The Nation and following that debate and his critique of Sanders, sorry but I won't comment at this time.

Alan Berolzheimer U of Virginia tevahab@vtnet.com

Information provider:
Unit: H-Net program at UIC History Department Email: H-Net@uicvm.uic.edu
Posted: 17 Jul 1995
 

Return to Menu