A couple of high-profile entries in the civic conversation about the politics of small-scale farming--one in the New York Times and a response on Huff Post's Green blog--show some heartening, if also still small-scale, historical perspectives on the odds of making it as a farmer in the U.S.
Bren Smith's much-discussed piece in the Times, "Don't let your children grow up to be farmers" (August 9, 2014), noted how farmers' long-standing problems of debt, access to land, and competition are playing out within today's food movement. He points to the proliferation of CSAs, hobby farms, and non-profit farm projects as a new pressure within the marketplace, and notes that like most farmers, he's had to supplement his income with other kinds of work in order to keep his farm going.
Interestingly, he also looks to earlier "food movements" of the late nineteenth century, the Depression era, and the 1970s as models for the kind of direct political action and advocacy that he thinks today's small-scale farmers need to embrace more seriously.
Thursday, September 4, 2014
Tuesday, May 20, 2014
|The Tufts campus is at its loveliest at Commencement time.|
Saturday, May 10, 2014
|Source: Tufts Digital Collections and Archives.|
That's not me grubbing in the dirt at the left, BTW. It's a Tufts College (well, technically Jackson College, Tufts' then-new college for women) undergraduate helping to prepare the ground for the school's World War I garden in April of 1918, on the site of what's now the arts complex. Opening some new research into the history of food production on the Tufts campus is one part of what I've been doing this spring, in collaboration with a terrific group of students in this year's "New Food Activism: Roots and Visions" course. I've just finished grading the final papers from that class, and they've opened up some exciting directions that I'll be pondering more deeply, including in blog posts here and some advance planning for next year's class and possible future projects at Tufts.
Friday, December 13, 2013
|Dairy cows at Appleton Farms in eastern Massachusetts|
Take dairy. It's one of the agricultural sectors most overlaid with both nostalgia (think milkmaids, butter churns, black and white Holsteins on a Vermont hillside) and ideology (think childhood nutrition, school lunch subsidy, and the raw vs. pasteurized debate). It's also one of the liveliest frontiers of local-food revitalization (think urban professionals turned artisanal cheesemakers).
Yet it's a component of the food system whose history is particularly murky and ill-understood.
Friday, May 24, 2013
Around the table in Ottawa: A report from the Working Group on Public History and the Local Food Movement
|The Working Group at Ottawa's Experimental Farm, April 18, 2013|
Participants came to the table with a very wide range of backgrounds in interpretation, training, research, advocacy, and community organizing. Some key ideas that emerged from our discussions included:
- the importance of challenging the class distinction between manual and intellectual labor
- how to use tangible/physical experiences of growing and cooking food as a way to develop stronger questions that can inform our work as historians
- the need for long-term commitment to food- and farm-related projects
- how to educate ourselves and others about the complex realities of farming, agricultural policy, and marketing food
- ways to use public historical spaces and legitimacy to create new forums where people can connect across various class, political, and occupational boundaries.
|The Working Group has a working lunch|
But at the same time, we found ourselves agreeing that historians’ essential neutrality (that is, our core commitment to critical, contextualized inquiry) is a gift that can help us to raise more nuanced questions and create useable spaces for discussion within a politicized and complex field. So while we generally saw ourselves as advocates and allies for those working to relocalize food systems and challenge the dominance of big, industrialized agriculture, part of what we wanted to advocate for is a balanced conversation that doesn't demonize "big ag" or romanticize "the local."
|Another working group: the Experimental Farm's dairy herd|
For my co-facilitator Michelle Moon and I, the next steps after the meeting in Ottawa involve the book project that we've been developing around these questions. I'm hoping others in our Working Group will share a few thoughts here about where they see their food-and-farm-related work headed now. What next after Ottawa?
~ Cathy Stanton
Monday, April 15, 2013
Kate Christen: Kinetic history at play (and at work, of course…) in the fields of local food movements
|Slavic Village Learning Farm, one of Cleveland Botanical Garden's Green Corps sites|
Doubtless also common amongst us is the draw of the topic's close framing in action-potential--its focus on historians as kinetic actors. From the initial description: "This Working Group is based on the premise that the methods and critical insights of public historians are crucial in uncovering and communicating those more nuanced histories, and that doing so is an outstanding way to link our own methods and values with vital public dialogue about a wide range of environmental and economic issues." Also in the original description (I think that's where): "developing or amplifying a historical and theoretical framework for thinking about the public history/food movement nexus and the opportunities for partnerships to extend civic dialogue and action in these realms." And as Cathy wrote this weekend, our posts show "that we're all groping toward defining a specific role for ourselves and our skills as public historians who want to strengthen efforts and discourses around local food while asserting the value of the kind of careful, contextualized knowledge that historians can help to build."
For our in-person time, I’m interested in exploring ways we may want to move on helping define and implement specific roles for public historians within these food-related settings, how we might pull these into action, including perhaps through some form of practice-oriented trainings.
Thursday, April 11, 2013
I have just finished writing the copy for Nourish SC, a traveling exhibit of eight panels addressing community food security in my home state of South Carolina. I hope for the exhibit to become a rallying call for members of the local food movement to expand their efforts on the social equity front, which has been ignored in favor of the environmental and economic fronts of the movement. In creating the content for the exhibit, I interviewed 13 individuals involved in either the local food movement or increasing food security, including a local farmer, a USDA official, a food bank COO, social work and public health professors, and a board member of United Way of the Midlands.
I immediately encountered tension between the spoken and the actualized goals of the local food movement.