Notes on the State of American Agriculture: Young Farmers and "The Farm" After the 1980s Farm Crisis
thesisposted on 2020-04-27, 15:56 authored by Katje Jo ArmentroutKatje Jo Armentrout
Historically, American farmers have been identified as white, middle-aged, working- to middle-class, men who reside in rural environments to grow large expanses of corn, soybeans, or wheat. However, this dissertation questions this fraught representation of past farmers and introduces a new identity in contemporary American agriculture - Young Farmers. Usually, Young Farmers are first-generation agriculturalists, who hold small parcels of land, produce a diverse assortment of crops, and adopt items of rural material culture to better perform as farmers. Additionally, they believe their lifestyles and their existences are dependent upon interactions with their local environments and members of their communities. By focusing on these individuals, this study examines how American farmers, the environments they inhabit, the goods they produce, and the locations they distribute their products have changed, especially after the most recent Farm Crisis in the 1980s.
To best understand these alterations, this dissertation offers an exploration of three farmers market locations in Michigan's Lower Peninsula to highlight and compare the social, cultural, environmental, and economic shifts occurring in the agricultural community. Arguably, farmers markets provide Young Farmers a space to meet prospective consumers and to distribute their products to them. Likewise, these site are a venue for Young Farmers to develop successful systems of community with other people involved with small-scale farming. Throughout this dissertation, I layer ethnographic and historical archive data with quantitative metrics, such as U.S. Census Bureau data to better explain demographic shifts occurring across Michigan's farming landscape. Additionally, I critically analyze images associated with past and current representations of individuals involved with agriculture to address how Young Farmers redefine themselves culturally and participate in methods of food and economic sustainability. By studying and understanding the codependence of the people and place who comprise farmers and farming communities in a representative location like Michigan, I recognize the relevance of the Midwest as a crossroads of contemporary American agriculture.