Purdue University Graduate School
Pleasant Dissertation Final(2).pdf (2.4 MB)

There's More Than Corn in Indiana: Smallholder and Alternative Farmers as a Locus of Resilience

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posted on 2021-04-06, 14:20 authored by Virginia F PleasantVirginia F Pleasant

This dissertation is a policy driven ethnography of smallholder and alternative farmers in Indiana that centers food justice and utilizes interdisciplinary frameworks to analyze the adaptive strategies that farmers use to address the specific challenges they face. Through the implementation of adaptive strategies such as regenerative growing practices, the cultivation of community, stewardship of the land, and an emphasis on transparency, the smallholders I worked with over the course of this study negotiate complex agricultural spaces and build the resilience of their farmsteads and the communities they serve. Smallholder and alternative farmers in Indiana are reimagining the agricultural spaces they occupy and driving transformational change of dominant narratives and local food systems. Critiques of conventional agriculture and commodity production are not intended to reify binary perceptions of the agricultural paradigm, but rather to demonstrate that the critical role of smallholder and alternatives farmers should be valued as well.

This research draws on four years of ethnographic research, archival sources, and close readings of policy measures and media reports to illuminate the historical context that has positioned smallholders in juxtaposition to large-scale conventional agriculture, and the critical role of smallholder farmers in driving food systems change while centering food justice and community resiliency. The driving research questions for the following essays follow: Why have small scale and alternative farmers chosen to farm (and farm differently)? What specific challenges do they face and how might these challenges be better addressed by existing support systems and new legislation? What can be learned from the alternative narratives and reimagined spaces smallholder farmers engage with? This work joins the growing body of research that challenges agricultural meta-narratives by presenting a counter-narrative of smallholder resilience and the a priori notion that posits agricultural technology as a panacea for everything from world hunger to economics to environmental concerns.


Degree Type

  • Doctor of Philosophy


  • American Studies

Campus location

  • West Lafayette

Advisor/Supervisor/Committee Chair

Dr. Laura Zanotti

Additional Committee Member 2

Dr. Shannon McMullen

Additional Committee Member 3

Dr. Sherylyn Briller

Additional Committee Member 4

Dr. Rayvon Fouche