Fieldwork: The Family Farm, The Community and the Family- insight into the human condition through direct observation of and participation in everyday life.

Defining the Family Farm

One of our greatest challenges has been attempting to define the family farm. We have visited farms ranging from 4,000 acres to under a hundred; farms which use millions of dollars of equipment and farms that use only one tractor; farms that run by a family of four to farms that are run by a family fifteen; farms that are organized like corporations and farms that are considered “hobby farms.” Despite these vast differences, we found one common thread holding these farms together- the family.

[Therefore, the family also needs to be considered in any study of the USA, no matter what focus it may have, and what contributes and  creates a strong and healthy family. That may be for another time and place, as far as the Generation Farmers of Southwest Iowa are concerned, but we should register in the back of our minds that healthy family dynamics are important. Also, that working as a family group tends to create tight family bonds. That is significant.]

Regardless of technology, size, and product, all farms depend on the commitment of family members. These farms survive, in part, because of the unconditional participation of the whole family. [The family that farms together creates tight bonds, and it appears to be true from all that I have seen.]

“Right now we have three generations living and working there together, and so a lot of our family life and the farming kind of mesh.” Kathie Brown

“It’s a good family time. We do things all together, as a family, as a team working together.” Becky Shinaberry      [Team work, taught in the family, would be an excellent skill to carry out into the world as well.]

Another important aspect in defining the family farm seems to be the passing on these farms to future generations. Many of these farms have survived through multiple generations:  [ This describes many of the Generation Farmers of Southwest Iowa and perhaps is one of the reason we feel so connected to the family farm ground.]

“I live on a family farm. My dad owns the farm, we grew up on the farm, working on the farm. My brothers now work on the farm and I think they are going to continue working on the farm. Though if they continue working on the farm they will take over it… And Doug and Dwayne would be a second generation and that is kind of what I see as a family farm.” Anna Grassbaugh [ What about Anna? What about her own connectedness to her family's farm? We have seen parcels of historic family farm parcels divided up and the cousin simply sells off the home place; we are devastated when this happens. What about Anna? If her husband moves her to live in a new place, how will her children or grandchildren be able to return to farming the land? For some of the Generation Farmers, this is a concern. Others expect their children to continue working in the city and that they won't return to farming the land. The reality is that how to farm must be shared almost like in an apprenticeship situation. If your father isn't a farmer, there is a greater chance that you will not become a farmer either. But, what if you felt a connectedness to the land? How do you create the way for future generations to be able to return to the land?]

“I think that’s [passing down the farm] everybody’s goal. You like to see when you work and build something, you like to see it continue on. I’d love to think that this farm would go on… the next generation, next generation, and next generation… whatever it may be that would certainly be my goal… When you’ve got something that you built and worked, and that’s your life, you like to think that it will carry on.” Dale Grassbaugh

[For me it is about leaving something for the future, the next generation of our family, as well. I want to do something worthwhile and good for society; I believe that most people do.]

The Multigenerational Farm

Most family farmers experience a passion and close connection to their land that is hard for outsiders to understand. [ What brings these feelings into our hearts and minds?]

Why do many family farmers continue to battle specialization and expansion and reject lucrative offers to divide their farm into pieces of land? [Why?]

One simple answer is that the land and the farm may have belonged to their family for generations and they feel a responsibility to it, as if the farm were a part of their family, too. [Generation Farmers of Southwest Iowa feel close ties to their family farm ground just like other farm families. We are all alike. The response has been mainly from women who now own and manage their family farm ground.....This topic of "being a very involved absentee farm owner and the ways that we serve the community do not seem to have been addressed in this study. I am still looking for this kind of study. If none surface, we will have to do our own. Ideas? I think there may be some useful ideas within the structure of this Kenyon College course syllabus that we may be able to apply to our situation. Please join us for our next meeting in Southwest Iowa in April if you are creative and like finding solutions that serve the general welfare of the community.]

Knox County has many multigenerational farms, some even over one hundred years old.

The Blanchard family farm of Howard, is a multigenerational farm and is unique because it is cooperatively maintained by three brothers.

What is the Family Farm Project?

The Family Farm Project is a three-year study exploring family farming and community life in Knox County, Ohio. [ The date for this project seems to have been around 1995. Did they not get further funding? Was it considered a success?]

Initial support for the project was provided by a National Endowment for the Humanities Distinguished Teaching Professorship awarded to Kenyon College.

Project participants include Kenyon students, faculty and county residents.

Much of our work takes place in a Kenyon course, Fieldwork: The Family Farm. We are committed to presenting the results of our work widely through public projects.

In 1995, we produced Rural Delivery, a radio series, cassette, and booklet on family farm issues.

Through such projects, media coverage and public presentations, the Family Farm Project seeks to inform local, regional, national, and international audiences about the character and significance of family farming in America.

Fieldwork: The Family Farm

Project activities take place in conjunction with a year-long Kenyon College course, Fieldwork: The Family Farm.

In the fall term, students read a variety of materials to learn about family farming and conduct directed fieldwork to acquaint themselves with research techniques and Knox County life. Working together with community members, the class then develops a public project that they complete in the spring term.

Fall Course Syllabus


Anthropology/Sociology 67-68


Course meets: Thursday evening, 7-10 PM, 14 Davis House

Professor: Howard L. Sacks, Department of Anthropology/Sociology,106 Palme House

Office Hours: Monday, Wednesday, Friday 10-11 AM; Tuesday 1-3 PM; and by appointment (ext. 5850; e-mail SACKSH)

Research Room: 15 Davis House, ext. 5507


This course provides an introduction to fieldwork techniques and to the ethical and political issues raised by our purposeful involvement in other people’s lives:

What is my responsibility to the community under study?

How might my research affect the lives of the people I observe?

Far more than casual scrutiny, fieldwork involves precise methods for the

  • planning,
  • collection, and
  • analysis

of material obtained in the field.

Whether the subject is a Tibetan religious rite, homelessness in New York, or a Knox County family reunion, fieldwork provides insight into the human condition through direct observation of and participation in everyday life.

Commonly used by anthropologists, folklorists, sociologists, and historians, fieldwork is valuable to anyone with a desire to explore human activity in context.

Students will conduct original field research in the surrounding county for public presentation as the central component of their coursework.

Our fieldwork will revolve around the family farm.

“The family farm” resonates as a key image of traditional American culture, but today that institution faces perils that threaten rural community life. 

Recent scholarship on subject emphasizes an interdisciplinary approach that stresses the relationships between the farm economy and its cultural context.

As a general theme, the family farm offers a wide variety of potential topics for investigation:

the changing role of women and children on the farm, 

land-use aesthetics, 

agribusiness and the home economy, 

the significance of religion in Amish farming, 

contracted labor, 

family folklore, and 

farm values.

Background readings will be drawn from a variety of sources in

    • the arts,
    • humanities, and
    • sciences.   [Did participants find this to be useful, I wonder?]

Students may receive full credit in anthropology or sociology, or they may arrange partial credit in other departments and programs.

This course satisfies the senior seminar requirement in American studies.

Prerequisite: permission of instructor. This course is cross-listed as both anthropology and sociology.


Wendell Berry, The Unsettling of America: Culture and Agriculture (San Francisco: Sierra Club Books, 1986)

Family Farm Project, Rural Delivery: Family Farming in Knox County, Ohio (Gambier, OH: The Family Farm Project, 1995)

Bruce Jackson, Fieldwork (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1987)

Ronald Jager, Eighty Acres: Elegy for a Family Farm (Boston: Beacon Press, 1990)

Marty Strange, Family Farming: A New Economic Vision (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1990)


This course emphasizes collaborative learning involving students as active participants in the creation of knowledge, and our activities reflect this approach. I will provide detailed handouts describing each assignment in class.

Research Assignments.

Students will conduct original research, including both focused assignments and self-directed work toward completion of a course project.

Course Project.

Students will develop and implement a significant project for public presentation in the spring.


Each student will maintain a journal including research documentation, responses to course readings, and discussions of class activities.

Class Participation.

Students are expected to contribute actively to class meetings through both

      • formal presentations and
      • general discussion.

Tentative mid-year grades will be based on my evaluation of your journal entries, research assignments, and class participation–each weighted equally. I will continue to evaluate your work in these areas throughout the year. As the culmination of your work, the course project will be the most significant determinant of your final grade.


[NOTE: Dates listed in bold are special events at times other than our regularly scheduled meetings.]

8/31 Introduction to the Course  course syllabus

Required Reading: Ruth D. Fitzgerald and Yvonne R. Lockwood, eds., 1994 Festival of Michigan Folklife (East Lansing: Michigan State University Museum)

Assignment: Mount Vernon News

Fieldwork: Issues and Approaches

 Required Reading:   Bruce Jackson, Fieldwork, pp. 1-78, 244-279

Recommended Reading:

Colin Bell and Howard Newby, Community Studies: An Introduction to the Sociology of the Local Community (New York: Praeger Publishers, 1974)

Michael Chibnik, ed., Farmwork and Fieldwork: American Agriculture in Anthropological Perspective (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1987)

James Clifford and George E. Marcus, eds., Writing Culture: The Poetics and Politics of Ethnography, (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1986)

Robert M. Emerson, ed., Contemporary Field Research: A Collection of Readings (Prospect Heights, IL: Waveland Press, 1988)

Kamyar Enshayan, Dr. Twisted Visits a Farm (Cedar Falls, IA: Privately printed, 1994)

Don D. Fowler and Donald L. Hardesty, Others Knowing Others: Perspectives on Ethnographic Careers (Washington: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1994)

Charles C. Ragin and Howard S. Becker, What is a Case?: Exploring the Foundations of Sociological Inquiry (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1992)

Research assignment: Gambier farmers market

9/14 The Family Farm and Community Life: Family Farm Project, Rural Delivery

Recommended Reading:

Eleanor Arnold, ed., Voices of American Homemakers (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1985)

Jane Brox, Here and Nowhere Else: Late Seasons of a Farm and Its Family (Boston: Beacon Press, 1995)

Joan M. Jensen, With These Hands: Women Working on the Land (Old Westbury, NY: Feminist Press, 1981)

Wayne D. Rasmussen, Taking the University to the People: Seventy Five Years of Cooperative Extension (Ames: Iowa State University Press, 1989)

Rachel Ann Rosenfeld, Farm Women: Work, Farm, and Family in the United States (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1987)

Jane Smiley, A Thousand Acres (New York: Fawcett Columbine, 1991)

Joanna L. Stratton, Pioneer Women: Voices From the Kansas Frontier (New York: Touchstone Books, 1982)

Sherry Thomas, We Didn’t Have Much, But We Sure Had Plenty: Rural Women in Their Own Words (New York: Anchor Books, 1989)

William Turner, Ohio Farm Bureau Story, 1919-1979 (Columbus: Ohio Farm Bureau Federation, Inc., 1982)

Thomas Wessel and Marilyn Wessel, 4-H: An American Idea, 1900-1980 (Chevy Chase, MD: National 4-H Council, 1982)

Assignment: The family farm in community life

9/16 Visits to Family Farms

Research assignment: Visiting a family farm

9/21 Discussion of Farm Visits            no readings

9/28 Crisis in the Family Farm Economy: Marty Strange, Family Farming

Recommended Reading:

Rand D. Conger and Glen H. Elder, Families in Troubled Times: Adapting to Change in Rural America (New York: Aldine de Gruyter, 1994).

Osha Gray Davidson, Broken Heartland: The Rise of America’s Rural Ghetto (New York: Anchor Books, 1990)

Mark Friedberger, Shake-Out: Iowa Farm Families in the 1980s (Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1989)

Mark Friedberger, Farm Families and Change in 20th-Century America (Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1988)

Linda M. Lobao, Locality and Inequality: Farm and Industry Structure and Socioeconomic Conditions (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1990)

10/5 Family Farm Life in Historical Perspective…Ronald Jager, Eighty Acres

Recommended Reading:

Charles Fish, In Good Hands: The Keeping of a Family Farm (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1995)

John Hildebrand, Mapping the Farm: The Chronicle of a Family (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1995)

Robert Leslie Jones, History of Agriculture in Ohio to 1880 (Kent, OH: Kent State University Press, 1983)

Archie Lieberman, Neighbors: A Forty Year Portrait of an American Farm Community (San Francisco: Collins Publishers, 1993)

Joe Munroe, Changing Faces on Our Land (Des Moines, IA: Meredith Corporation, 1990)

Research assignment: The family farm in history

10/12 Discussion of Newspaper Research             no reading

10/19 Fieldwork: Interviewing    Bruce Jackson, Fieldwork, pp. 79-193

Research assignment: Interviewing

10/26 Tour of Knox County Agricultural Museum    no reading

11/2 Discussion of Interviews and Farm Themes   no readings

11/9 Preparation for Meeting With Farm Community:   no readings

11/12 Community Dinner

11/17 Discussion of Project    no readings

11/18-26 Thanksgiving Vacation

11/30 Farming and the Environment:  Wendell Berry, The Unsettling of America

Recommended Readings:

Alternative Agriculture (Washington: National Academy Press, 1989)

Wendell Berry, Sex, Economy, Freedom, and Community: Eight Essays (New York: Pantheon Press, 1993)

Wendell Berry, Home Economics (New York: North Point Press, 1993)

Wendell Berry, The Collected Poems of Wendell Berry, 1957-1982 (New York: North Point Press, 1987)

Robert Chambers, Arnold Pacey, and Lori Ann Thrupp, eds., Farmer First: Farmer Innovation and Agricultural Research (London: Intermediate Technology Publications, 1993)

David Ehrenfeld, Beginning Again: People and Nature in the New Millennium (New York: Oxford University Press, 1993)

Cary Fowler and Pat Mooney, Shattering: Food, Politics, and the Loss of Genetic Diversity (Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1990)

Joan Dye Gussow, Chicken Little, Tomato Sauce and Agriculture: Who Will Produce Tomorrow’s Food? (New York: Bootstrap Press, 1991)

Wes Jackson, Becoming Native to This Place (Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1994)

Wes Jackson, Alters of Unhewn Stone: Science and the Earth (San Francisco: North Point Press, 1987)

David Klein, Great Possessions: An Amish Farmer’s Journal (New York: North Point Press, 1990)

Verlyn Klinkenborg, Making Hay (New York: Vintage Books, 1986)

Gene Logsdon, At Nature’s Place: Farming and the American Dream (New York: Pantheon Books, 1994)

Catherine Lewallen Marconi, ed., Handspan of Red Earth: An Anthology of Farm Poems (Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 1991)

David Mas Masumoto, Epitaph for a Peach: Four Seasons on My Family Farm (San Francisco: Harper, 1995)

Judith D. Soule and Jon K. Piper, Farming in Nature’s Image: An Ecological Approach to Agriculture (Washington: Island Press, 1992)

12/7 Discussion of Project     no readings

[Generation Farmers of Southwest Iowa, please consider the possibility and potential that journal keeping may have to you as farm managers. I would like to hear your ideas. By recording them regularly and when your ideas are fresh, you will have them at your disposal for up-coming conversations and discussions as we study the best path into the 21st Century] 


Journals are personal documents that chronicle an individual’s life experience and impressions. You will keep a journal of your coursework that will provide

(1) your responses to course activities and materials,

(2) documentation of your field assignments and original research, and

(3) regular communication between instructor and student regarding coursework.



    • I have selected readings to broaden your understanding of family farming and research methodology.
    • You are expected to record your responses to each assigned reading.

These journal entries are designed to encourage your systematic reflection on the readings in preparation for class discussion;

    • they do not take the place of outlines or
    • content summaries that you might prepare.

Your responses should include four components.

First, identify what is in your mind the central issue raised by the author. What key idea or ideas do you come away with from the reading?

Second, consider the methodology used in the author’s approach. How does our understanding of the family farm change as we move from humanistic discourse to scientific analysis, from documentary photography to fictional portrayal?

Third, generate questions that might be a fruitful starting place for class discussion.

Fourth, identify project ideas that might give direction to our work in the field. How does this reading help us to conceptualize the family farm or develop a cogent research strategy?


  • Class assignments are focused exercises to help you begin the research process.
  • You are expected to write reports on all assignments that include detailed information on your experiences and critical discussion of the adequacy and appropriateness of the methods employed.


    • As the year progresses, your effort will increasingly be devoted to original, independent research.
    • Your journals will provide a detailed account of your activities, complete documentation of your research (i.e., copies of original materials, interview transcripts, fieldnotes), and critical assessment of your approach.

In essence, your journal is to become a personal activities log with respect to your research.

Ideally, as your instructor, I should be able to assemble a comprehensive description and progress report of your work from the cumulative content of your journal without missing so much as a phone call, interview, or trip to an archive.

In addition to (or in the course of) these specific entries, I encourage you to record other thoughts which might be stimulated by the course.

    • Something said in class may generate a new question or bring together thoughts previously unconnected in your mind.
    • An aspect of the course material may be unclear to you.
    • Record your reactions, too, to the course pedagogy–did you find a class particularly stimulating or disorganized, or was an assignment especially provocative or difficult to complete?


Your journal book should be an 8 1/2″ x 11″ loose-leaf notebook, large enough to accommodate your research as well as your reactions over the course of the year.

You are encouraged to make generous use of section dividers to separate the materials you accumulate into sensible sections.

To begin, insert dividers that separate entries on readings, assignments, and research.

As the year progresses, you will likely want to add additional divisions.

Place a label on the outside cover identifying the notebook as your journal.

The inside cover page should include the following information:

(1) your name,

(2) your telephone number

(3) your e-mail address,

(4) course number and title,

(5) the year in which the course is taught, and

(6) the professor’s name.

Begin each entry with the date (month/day/year) and a complete reference.

In the case of readings, provide the standard bibliographic citation.

      • Primary research documents,
      • interview transcripts, and
      • other observations require analogous information.

Refer to The Chicago Manual of Style for guidelines on content and style.

      • All entries should be typed, single-spaced, with a ragged right margin.
      • Be sure to maintain several backup copies of journal materials (something that is easily accomplished with computerized word processing), especially your original research.
      • You will be filing copies of your reports throughout the year on the computer in the Family Farm Project research room.


I will collect journals for my comment and evaluation at the conclusion of each weekly class meeting. Journals turned in after this time will automatically be penalized one full letter grade for each day or portion thereof that the journal is late. You may pick up your journal each Wednesday anytime after 9 AM in the Family Farm Project research room.

My evaluation will be made with respect to three questions.

  1. Is the journal current and complete with regard to coursework?
  2. To what degree do journal entries provide a substantively sound examination of the material at hand?
  3. What level of engagement with course material is reflected in your responses?

Mount Vernon News


As regularly published, publicly accessible documents, newspapers offer an important source of information on the family farm.

Unlike “big city” newspapers, which often focus on national and international news, today’s small-town papers devote considerable space to issues of local interest.

      • We must read the paper daily to learn more about farming in our community and to be aware of upcoming events of interest to our project.

The Mount Vernon News, published daily except Sundays, is the primary newspaper in the county.

It arrives at newsstands at approximately 2:30 PM on weekdays and by noon on Saturdays. We have a subscription to the paper that is delivered each day to Davis House.

Each week one student will be assigned to read the paper and cut out all items relevant to family farming.

Weekly assignments will begin with the Friday paper and ending with the edition the following Thursday.

Students will post the items collected on the bulletin board in the research room for the rest of us to read. On the following Friday, the student responsible for collecting the previous week’s items will store them appropriately in the research room file cabinet.

Search the paper carefully for items of potential interest. National and international news items related to farming tell us what kind of information local farmers receive through the paper.

      • The business page routinely provides agricultural market reports. Look for weekly reports from granges, 4-H, and other organizations associated with farming.
      • Classified advertisements include notices of farm auctions and equipment for sale.
      • Advertisements address farm interests and needs.
      • And don’t overlook the editorial page.
      • In short, every page of the newspaper is a potential source of relevant items.

It is crucial that a complete reference be given for each item collected.

      • Many newspaper items will be used again as primary research materials in current and future projects;
      • materials without complete references are useless.

A complete newspaper reference includes 

(1) author of article, if any;

(2) title of article;

(3) newspaper name;

(4) complete date (month, day, year); and

(5) page number. With large papers (e.g., the Sunday New York Times), you should also note the section name or letter (e.g., “book review section” or “section A”).

Months with more than four letters should be abbreviated to three letters (e.g., “April” becomes “Apr.” and “July” remains as is).

Since the author and title will be included in the item you cut out of the paper, only the final three bits of information need to be noted on the back.

Thus, a typical note would be: Mount Vernon News, Sep. 1, 1994, p. 3. Be sure to use a writing implement that is legible (pencils often fade) but will not seep through the porous newspaper (i.e., felt-tip pens are to be avoided). A ballpoint pen is best, and you’ll find several in the research room.

We’ll file our newspaper items by month and year, with a new folder each month.

Be careful to file your items in calendar order; that way, the next person to use the materials can

    • easily find an item or
    • trace a continuing story.

Gambier Farmers Market


Each Saturday in the fall, local farmers and others assemble on Middle Path in the center of town to sell produce, baked goods, flowers, and other homemade delicacies. 

The market is typically in full swing by 10 AM and lasts until noon. The Gambier Farmers Market offers us an opportunity make initial contact with members of the farm community and test our abilities as field researchers.

This Saturday you will go to the market and take time to visit with one of the people selling there.

    • We’ll assign students to particular sellers so everyone doesn’t talk to the same people.
    • You should team up and go in pairs–this will make conversation easier and enable you to talk with someone else in the class about your experiences.

Before you engage anyone in particular, take a few minutes to observe the scene. 

  1. Who do you find there?
  2. What do you see going on?
  3. What mood is conveyed?
  4. How does it feel to be there?
  5. What purpose does this market have beyond providing an opportunity to buy and sell goods?

A good place to start your conversation is with the items people have for sale. Learn about a homemade relish–where the recipe comes from, what’s special about it. If they have produce for sale, try to find out more about their farming operation.

  • Is the produce overflow from a family garden, or do they operate a “truck farm” to generate a more significant amount of income?
  • These questions might lead you naturally into a broader conversation about their lives in farming and in the broader community.
  • Be sure to tell them a bit about the family farm project, too. Its a good way to get the word out in the community, and they’ll likely be interested.

Because these people have chosen to sell in a public setting, you should not feel shy about engaging them in conversation.

  • At the same time, be considerate.
  • Try to talk with them when they aren’t busy selling.
  • Don’t take up more than five or ten minutes of their time, and be mindful of other people who may be waiting.
  • Be sure to buy something from them before you leave as a token of the exchange.
  • Everything is very inexpensive, and some fresh flowers or a food treat will surely brighten your day.

As soon as you’ve concluded your visit, sit down with your research partner in a quiet place and discuss your experiences.

What did you learn about

  • foodways,
  • farming, or
  • the people involved?

Did the “interview” go smoothly?

  • How did you feel in the situation, and
  • how did those you talked with feel about the exchange?
  • Might the people you met be interesting participants in our project?

Write detailed observations about these experiences in your journals, describing the market in general and your interviews.

Write your journal entries immediately following the visit if possible; the rich details of field experience fade from memory very quickly. We’ll discuss your visits next class.

If you want to think a bit more systematically about interviewing, I recommend you take a look at

Bruce Jackson’s Fieldwork, pp. 63-104.

We’ll consider interviewing in great detail later in the course, but a quick skim of this section now would call your attention to some relevant issues and techniques.

The Family Farm in Community Life


One of our first tasks is to become acquainted with the general character of family farming in Knox County.

Fortunately, participants in the first year of the Family Farm Project did much to document the general character of family farming and presented their findings in Rural Delivery.

This assignment is designed to introduce you to the work already completed and to the resources you can draw upon as you examine family farming in community life.

Your primary task is to read the booklet and listen to the tape comprising Rural Delivery.

As with other “reading” assignments, write a response consistent with the guidelines I presented in the Journals handout.

Rural Delivery is a public project as well as a piece of scholarship, and it should be examined on both counts.

Consider the following questions (but don’t feel limited to these) as you review the material and write your response:

If your family or friends back home asked you to describe the character of family farming in Knox County, what would you tell them?

What are the major themes or issues relevant to understanding family farming?

Do the issues you identify emanate from the farm community or from the fieldworkers?

How effectively does Rural Delivery convey the character of family farming in community life?

Rural Delivery was broadcast as a radio series on Knox County radio station WMVO, and copies of the boxed tape and booklet have been sold throughout Knox County.

How would the local community respond to this series?

What do you imagine would be the responses of local farmers and of the non-farming community?

What questions remain unanswered in your mind about family farming and community life?

What issues require further investigation?

Your second task is to visit the Family Farm Project research room and familiarize yourself with the files in the two file cabinets.

These cabinets contain a wealth of materials about family farming in Knox County and beyond.

After going through the cabinets, select one file that interests you and examine it in detail. 

  • Summarize what you learn from the file and
  • record your responses to that material along with your comments on the reading.

We’ll share what we’ve found in the cabinets as part of our upcoming class discussion.

Visiting a Family Farm


Conducting fieldwork with local farmers is the central task of this course.

Here you will become directly acquainted with the richness and complexities of family farming in community life.

This assignment constitutes your initial fieldwork experience on a family farm.

    • Each student will visit a family farm for the day.
    • Once again, you’ll team up in pairs, with one pair visiting a farm.

In order to facilitate your entry into the field, I’ve already contacted each of the farm families you’ll be visiting by phone.

  • At that time I briefly described the project and obtained their willingness to participate.
  • Each family now expects a student call to arrange the details of your visit.

One member of your research team should call your assigned family immediately. In the course of your conversation you should

(1) introduce yourself and your partner,

        • discuss what you might do during your visit,
        •  arrange a specific time and date to visit, and
        •  get detailed directions to the farm.
        • As we’ve already discussed in class, introductions require some thought prior to making the call.

You’ll want to give your name, of course, and identify yourself as a Kenyon student participating in the Family Farm project. You might remind them that Howard Sacks called a few weeks ago about the visit.

Determining what will happen during your visit is a matter for mutual negotiation.

They’ll undoubtedly ask what you would like to do, and you should have some answers ready. 

[Generation Farmers of Southwest Iowa, perhaps we/you should also plan for our regular visits to see our family farm in much the same way. Suggestions?]

You’ll want to get a sense of their farming operation,

  • touring buildings and 
  • getting the lay of the land.
      • You’ll also want to learn about the farm’s history and that of the family.
      • You’ll engage in conversation stimulated by the tour, but you’ll likely want to sit down and talk, too.
      • You might mention that you’re interested in old photographs of life on the farm or other items that evoke farm history.
      • Try, too, to meet as much of the family as you can, including any children.
      • Beyond that, let them know if there is something in particular that interests you.
      • You should also encourage them to suggest activities that they think will give you a better understanding about family farm life.
      • After all, they know more about farming than you do.
          • Offer to help out with any chores to be done.
          • This is one way of giving something to the family in return for their time.
          • Just as importantly, doing some farm work gives you an understanding of farm life that you cannot get from simply talking about farm life.

Working together on a task can be a great way to stimulate conversation and establish rapport. 

      • But remember–SAFETY FIRST!!
      • Don’t do anything that you feel may jeopardize your well-being.
      • Nobody wants an injured Kenyon student.

In my phone conversations I suggested Saturday, September 17 as a possible date for your visits; in most cases, that date seemed fine at the time.

You’ll need to get some idea of how long you might visit.

Some families might expect to have you for the day, while in other cases a shorter visit might be in order.

    • In any event, don’t make specific plans for the period immediately following the anticipated end of your visit.
    • Once folks get talking, visits can take longer than expected. Local hospitality is generous in these parts.
    • If you make friends, you may be invited to stay for supper.

Dress to fit the occasion and local tastes.

    • If you anticipate tramping through fields or milking cows, casual clothes and sensible shoes are appropriate. It might be prudent to throw an extra clean shirt in the car, just in case.
    • At the same time, don’t try to dress like a farmer; there is nothing as ludicrous as an outsider trying to pass as a local.
    • Local tastes are conservative, so leave provocative fashion (political, cultural, sexual) on campus. Remember, you are an invited guest in their home, so their values apply.

What are you trying to accomplish in this visit? 

[Consider this same question as a Generation Farmer of Southwest Iowa and think about each farm visit that you make to manage your family farm.]

In general, your approach should be exploratory.

Your goal is to learn as much as you can about the character of family farming as your hosts understand it, rather than to carefully examine a particular theme or hypothesis.

Once we have gained a general sense of family farming in community life through reading and initial fieldwork, we can revisit these and other farms with more specific tasks in mind.

The key to a successful visit is keen observation. 

  • Everything you experience will contribute to your understanding of the family farm–sights, sounds, smells, as well as conversation.
  • Reading the program of the Michigan Folklife Festival will help sensitize you to themes and experiences you might explore.

[Generation Farmers of Southwest Iowa regularly visit and walk up and down the rows of their farm land and do research into agricultural topics and common practices. Your input is being sought from your vantage point. Please join us in this on-going conversation.]

Your visit is also an exercise in research methodology. 

  • Pay close attention to the flow of your visit.
  • How easily do you establish rapport with each person you meet?
  • What techniques stimulate or retard conversation?
  • Are their awkward moments, and how might they be avoided in the future?

Finally, use this visit as an opportunity to present the project to the community and identify other farmers we might contact. 

      • If your experience has been positive, ask your hosts at the end of the visit if they can think of other families in the area who might want to participate.
      • Do you think it would be worthwhile to continue working with this family? If so, be sure to ask if it would be all right to visit again sometime.
      • As soon after your visit is over, discuss issues of substance and methodology with your partner. Write your field notes immediately, in order not to lose the rich details of your experience.
      • Finally, take a moment to send a card thanking your hosts for their hospitality.

The Family Farm in History


While family farming has been a central part of life in Knox County for nearly two centuries, the nature of farming and its relationship to the community has changed.

The events surrounding the family farm crisis of the 1970s and 1980s vividly demonstrates the dynamic character of family farm life. 

In this assignment we will begin to trace long and short-term changes in family farming in order to place our understanding of contemporary agriculture in historical perspective.

[This same topic may be of interest to the Generation Farmers of Southwest Iowa to do with a diverse group of people so that a dialogue can be initiated.]

We will use newspapers as our primary resource.

As we have already discovered, today’s local paper provides valuable information on agriculture and rural life. 

Reading papers from Knox County’s past can provide comparable historic detail.

    • The Public Library of Mount Vernon and Knox County (201 North Mulberry Street, Mount Vernon; phone 392-8671) maintains a microfilm collection of county newspapers extending back to the 1850s.
    • You will divide up into pairs, with each team taking responsibility for examining a sample of newspapers from a particular historic period.
    • We will determine as a class what periods to examine and how to sample newspapers from each period.
    • Your task will be to identify newspaper materials relevant to family farming and community life (articles, advertisements, photographs, etc.).
      • Make xerox copies of any materials you consider important to understanding farm life, being sure to get complete references for each item.
      • You will then write up a report summarizing your findings, with the primary materials you’ve collected included as an appendix.
      • Each team should write a single report.

In writing your report, consider these questions:

1. What newspapers did you review and in what time period? What strategy did you use to sample issues of the papers? How effective was this sampling strategy? 

2. To what extent do the papers you reviewed focus on local news and features? How rich was the material on local farm life?

3. What is the image of agriculture portrayed in these papers?

    • Where do the images come from, and how are they portrayed?
    • What are the sources of agricultural information and knowledge?
    • Who speaks for agriculture?
    • What continuities and changes (e.g., economic, political, social, cultural) do you find when comparing the historic presentation of agriculture with what you know about family farming in Knox County today? 



Through our consideration of local newspapers, scholarly readings, and continued contacts in Knox County, we have come to recognize the broad significance of family farming throughout the local community.

Business people, clergy, educators, politicians, and those in the media carry distinctive images of family farming that grow from their contact with farm life. 

In this assignment you will gather information through structured interviews so that we may develop a perspective on the ways family farming is viewed within this community.

Each student will conduct an interview with a Knox County resident who represents an important dimension of the local community. 

As a class we will identify the groups, institutions, and locations that mark the boundaries of community life, enabling us to select individuals representing a broad diversity of viewpoints.

Together we will construct an interview schedule that will guide each interview, assuring the collection of comparable data that we can discuss later.

You may want to modify this general outline of questions to meet your particular situation.

        • Some questions may not apply to your subject’s situation.
        • Moreover, you may have topics of your own that you wish to pursue in addition to those identified by the class.

In order to conduct the interview, you must

      • first identify and make contact with your subject.
      • I or another class member may be able to suggest a particular individual to pursue.
      • Otherwise, you will have to explore the community to find a suitable subject.
      • In either case, you must start immediately to ensure that you can arrange a suitable interview date and time.
      • Be sure to determine what information you need to convey to the potential subject before you make your call.
      • Anticipate questions that the subject might have about your interest so that you can answer succinctly and completely.
      • Be sure you get detailed directions to the site of the interview.
      • Our discussion of interviewing and Jackson’s chapter in Fieldwork should prepare you for the interview process.
      • Be sure to have a tape recorder, blank tape, and materials for taking notes when you go for the interview.
      • Dress in a manner appropriate to the context and to your role as a professional.

You have two tasks upon the completion of your interview. 

First, write a report on the substance of the interview,

your own thoughts regarding issues or questions that might have been stimulated by the

    • experience, and
    • your methodological assessment of the interview process.
    • As always, write out extensive notes as soon as possible to capture the richness of the experience while it is still fresh in your mind.

Your second task is to create a complete transcription of the interview.

      • Be sure your transcript, like the interview tape itself, begins with a complete identification of the interview setting, date, and parties involved.
      • You will turn in these two documents on computer files as well as hard copies.
      • Title your report file with the type of group or institution you interviewed (e.g., CLERGY, ELKS, FOURH, etc.) and your three initials after the period.
      • Your transcript file title should be the last name of your subject, followed by your initials.
      • Finally, send a card thanking your subject for his or her cooperation.

Family Farming Themes

These themes were identified by students in the Family Farm Project on the basis of interviews with farm families and community members, as well as from various readings on family farming, November 1994.

Farm Diversity:

defining the family farm, diversity of types (size, technology use, farm workers, management type, crops, ethnicity)

Family Dynamics:

growing up on the farm, farm education (ag. schools, FFA, 4-H, church), folklore and traditions, gender roles, working off the farm, generational conflicts, farm inheritance

Farm Economy:

farmers exchange and cooperatives, farm markets, commodity markets, banks, farm credit bureau, auctions, realtors, machinery/technology

Farm Politics:

farm bureau, government policy (price supports, regulation, taxes)

Farm Ecology:

stewardship, aesthetics, farming techniques, land use, weather, farm safety

Community Dynamics:

grange, farm bureau, fraternal and sorority organizations, how farmers build community, image of farmers

Farm Values:

independence, helping, pride of place, sense of creation, self-image

Farm History:

changes in technology use, farm size, crops, number of farms, age of farmers, views of historical changes, future of farming

[Generation Farmers of Southwest Iowa may find this list of farm themes helpful in organizing topics for our organization to discuss in an on-going way and how they may relate to our goal of creating community among us and the local community, ways to return the family to the community and farming and other topics related to your specific needs as Generation Farmers in Southwest Iowa.]

What is Family Farming?

What is Family Farming in Knox County? One of the goals of the Family Farm Project is to acknowledge diversity of family owned farms. We’ve struggled to break down the myths and sterotypes that surround the midwestern farm family. Through numerous interviews with farm families we have learned about the great diversity of farms and farmers that make Knox County their home. 

Myths and Stereotypes about the Family Farm

In a country with few of its citizens active in family farming, there exist ideas, images and beliefs about the American family farm.

Through interviews with farmers, community members and students in Knox County, the Family Farm Project has identified three central themes to help understand the American myths and stereotypes surrounding the family farm.
Farming is an Easy Way of Life

Family Farming is Inefficient and Outdated

All Family Farming Follows the Same Model

Myth: Farming is an Easy Way of Life

America has a rich agricultural history. The Jeffersonian ideal of the “yeoman farmer” still persists although family farms have changed dramatically over the years.

American art and literature depicting the family farm in a romanticized light have encouraged this ideal to persist.

This painting by Ohio Impressionist Edward Volkert (1873-1935) creatively depicts the beauty of the farm but, to the non-farmer, the image may only show the aesthetic qualities of the farm, leaving out any indication of the labor and care required to maintain a farm. This farm has no “dirt.”

Wendell Berry, a farmer, poet and philopsopher from Kentucky, makes the distinction between the words “scenery” and “land.” 

Berry says that by seeing the land as scenery people make it into an object—something separate from themselves.

Farmers, on the other hand, are unable to see the farm simply for its beauty because they are so connected to the land and the farm operations. 

Berry writes about his sense of connection to the land.     

Sowing the seed,

my hand is one with the earth.

Hoeing the crop,

my hands are one with the rain.

Having cared for the plants,

my mind is one with the earth.

Hungry and trusting,

my mind is one with the earth.

Eating the fruit,

my body is one with the earth.

[Generation Farmers of Southwest Iowa have a sense of connection to the land. As we move into the 21st Century and our family grows, we need to consider the future for our family farm and our families. This community project was first inspired by the writings of Wendell Berry]

Marcia Brown, of Knox County, didn’t grow up on a farm but married a farmer. She recalls how her perceptions about farming changed as a result of living and working on a family farm. “I thought farming was a very slow-paced life [laugh]. I am so pooped from this slow pace!”

Similarly, a New York City native and former Family Farm Project participant commented on her perceptions about farming changed after having spent time with many farm families. “I didn’t think that the days were as long as they were and that as much work went into farming as it does. I just thought ‘it’s beautiful,’ and ‘it must be great to live on a farm.’ I didn’t realize that there are also a lot of difficulties.”

Hear a student from The Family Farm Project reflect on what she learned about the nature of families and farm work:

One of the primary difficulties that many people do not realize about farming is that it can be dangerous.

Farm children learn very early to stay away from certain machinery for their safety and for their parent’s safety.

Farming accidents occur no matter how cautious a family may be. Injuries and even death are a part of the work considerations for the farmer. Because of the dangerous nature of farming, family farmers often rely on each other and their families for help when injured.

Finally, farming is a full-time job.

Farmers cannot just leave for a vacation and have someone else take up their responsibilities. Ron Elliott, a dairy farmer from Gambier, says, “I don’t think that we’ve had a good vacation for at least two or three years. We’ve only had a few days here and there–but just get up and go somewhere different? No.”

Don Hawk, a turkey farmer from Howard Township, also explains the daily responsibility of being a farmer. “On a day-to-day basis, the turkeys are a 365 day operation—there are always turkeys on the farm. And that includes doing chores, the necessary chores each and every morning and each and every evening.” 

The typical daily chores on a family farm require a firm understanding of a variety of related areas:




veterinary medicine,



government regulations and


For these reasons, it is a myth that farming is an “easy” job requiring few skills to be successful. [Generation Farmers of Southwest Iowa also intend to pursue the ways to return the next generation to the farm. We recognize that they will need some training. How to get that proper training for a generation who was raised elsewhere, but who maintain close emotional ties to their land need to be considered. Please read "Hannah Coulter, a novel" by Wendell Berry which addresses this need. Other writings by Wendell Berry pursue this topic in greater detail and should also be considered by Generation Farmers of Southwest Iowa.]

Myth: Family Farming is Inefficient and Outdated

Opinions about “what is efficient” are shaped by the neo-classical economic model of the market economy. This means that questions of environmental stewardship and the social effects of a certain type of economic system are largely ignored. These issues are considered “externalities”—not a concern of the business.

On the family farm, land use and quality of life are very important.

Farmers, knowing that the land may stay in their family for many generations, are concerned about the quality of land that they leave to their children.

For this reason, it is “efficient” for the farmer to consider such methods as crop rotation, no-till and reduced till farming, narrow row spacing, post-emerge herbicides and organic farming.

[Generation Farmers of Southwest Iowa are very interested in protecting the quality of the soil and the top soil on their family farm ground. This most likely will be one of our main topics that will become a recurring and on-going for many years to come]

Another so-called economic externality is community life. Family farming communities, characterized by owner-operated farms, often help each other in times of need. Because of the competitive nature of large national companies, they do not have the same kinds of ties to the local community and are less likely to share knowledge and help with one another in the same way that locally owned businesses and family farms are more inclined to do. Farm economies based on a multiplicity of family farms breeds a climate of cooperation and community values.

Generally, large-scale, absentee-owned businesses and farms do not consider the effect they have on the local society because they are simply not an integral part of all aspects of the community.

[ Generation Farmers are specifically seeking to address this topic. Some stereotypes may need to be addressed regarding the use of the term "absentee owner" because it is more often than not associated with negative connotations.  What input do these family farm owners have for this discussion? I think that may be the only voice that is missing in this study.]

Finally, “efficiency” is inextricably linked to the ideology that bigger is always better.

Many family farmers and economists would agree that the quality of the management is more important than the quantity of land and/or livestock that the farm holds. 

Responsible, thoughtful farming is ultimately more important than size.

As Ron Elliott, a dairy farmer from Gambier, expresses,”The most profitable farm is that farm that has good management … Profit comes from management decisions … [Y]ou have to call the shots and then hope for the best.”

Family farming may not be outdated and a relic from the past if we consider how efficient this method of agricultural organization is in dealing with the very issues the marketplace deems external to the issue of production.

Efficiency is all in how you define it.

Myth: All Family Farming Follows the Same Model

Family farms differ with respect to what is produced, technology use, farm size and family size. Some family farms are incorporated , others are partnerships and some have no official business organization. In addition, all family farms do not organize the division of labor in the same way.

The labor within the family also varies according to the farm.

Knox County has farms with

      • male proprietors,
      • female proprietors,
      • husband and wife partnerships, and
      • parent and child partnerhships.

Regardless of the offical organization, all members of the family farm work together to make the farm a success.

Becky Shinaberry, of a Fredericktown sheep and beef farm, says that although her husband and father-in-law are the main proprietors of the operation, it is still very much a family effort.

“So, it’s more of a team, family effort where all of us seem to do a lot of the same kinds of things and help each other out.”

Finally, there is a prominent Amish population in Knox County who organize and operate their farms differently than the non-Amish population.

Dan Hathaway, a dairy farmer , comments on the farm community of Knox County, “There’s many good farms in the county. Each of them runs at a different level, for different reasons. You know, each has their own ideas about where they want to be.”

Types of Family Farms

Although family farmers of Knox County share many features including

      • hardwork,
      • closeknit family relationships,
      • a connection to the land, and
      • a great passion for farming,

the emergence of newer technologies has caused these family farms to become more diverse.

Farming technology is more varied today than in years past with some farmers adopting the newest technologies while others continuing to use the farming practices of the past.

The size of the family farm has become more diversified as a result of the emergence of newer technologies.

While many farms remain only a few hundred acres, some have reached several thousand.

The size of the family unit often determines the size of the farming operation.

As families grow it is often necessary to enlarge the farm in order to support the growing family.

The county has also experienced specialization in agriculture.

Rather than all farms participating in the production of the same products each farm’s production is unique.

These similarities and differences make up family farming in Knox County today.

Spring Term: The spring term seems to have been devoted to website creation. Few details were provided on line from the link above.

One speaker was brought in:

Author and farmer Gene Logsdon will offer a special presentation on the significance of the small, garden farm to the economy to our class and the introductory course in environmental studies. Students in our class are invited to join Mr. Lodgson for lunch following the presentation in Lower Dempsey Hall.

Home place


Generation Farmers of Southwest Iowa

Please look over this syllabus to see if there are any topics within it that are of interest to you and your family farm operation.  Do you see any potential future topics for us to pursue?


view of the corn field from inside of the farm house ~ Iowa

view of the corn field from inside of the farm house ~ Iowa in July

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