Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Growing a historic site: The Oliver H. Kelley Farm

Farm fields at the Oliver H. Kelley Farm in Elk River, Minnesota
Jill Lepore has spoken about what she terms "cuspiness"--the feeling of being on the edge of big changes.  I often have that sense when I look at what's happening in the realm of food and farming interpretation in the museum and public history realm, and it's been confirmed by encounter with many people in those fields who are reaching toward a much more consequential and socially-engaged way of connecting audiences with big questions relating to food. 

Michelle Moon and I were once again struck by this at a workshop we led at the American Association for State and Local History conference in Minnesota last week, and it struck me even more on a tour I took as part of the conference, to the Oliver H. Kelley Farm in Elk River, Minnesota.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

History at the edges of the conversation

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.