American Dreams, Rural Realities: Family Farms in Crisis

American Dreams, Rural Realities: Family Farms in Crisis

American Dreams, Rural Realities: Family Farms in Crisis

American Dreams, Rural Realities: Family Farms in Crisis

Excerpt

The farm crisis of the 1980s was a prolonged and violent thunderstorm, smashing dreams, frightening even the most economically secure farm families, and revealing in bright flashes some powerful changes in American rural life. Experts predicted that the crisis years would force out of business primarily small- and medium-sized family farms, leaving a structure of agriculture dominated by larger farms, dependent on hired wage laborers. In fact, the crisis hurt the largest farms as much or more than the others and forced a widespread reevaluation of the trend toward larger scale, ambitious expansion, and farm indebtedness.

This book draws on the stories and words of over a hundred farm families in an average county in Georgia's prime agricultural region to construct an account of the disaster years and their consequences. For social scientists whose interest in the farm crisis stems from concerns about the future of American agriculture and American rural communities, this study addresses controversies about family farming: debates about the eventual dominance of large farms, the importance of hired labor, the role of past and present government agricultural programs, and the impact of a more capitalist, entrepreneurial orientation to farm management. These debates must be located within the history of the region and the context of an agrarian way of life that is increasingly challenged by an encroaching national industrial culture. Dodge County has been the scene of tensions between an agrarian and an industrial way of life since its creation in 1870. Today, farm families face alternative visions of "success," "the good life," women's roles on the farm, proper child rearing, and prudent farm management. These dilemmas and options are reflected in decisions about farm and household management in the 1980s that in turn determine which farms survived the crisis.

Many of the dilemmas farmers face echo a wider American reality -- struggles surrounding commitments to individualism versus family and community, con-

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