Prairie Patrimony: Family, Farming, and Community in the Midwest

Prairie Patrimony: Family, Farming, and Community in the Midwest

Prairie Patrimony: Family, Farming, and Community in the Midwest

Prairie Patrimony: Family, Farming, and Community in the Midwest

Synopsis

"Families cannot farm without land, and whoever controls land holds power over others in the farm family and the rural community. Yet in every lifetime, control of this scarce resource must be given up to the next generation. Drawing on her decade-long ethnographic studies of seven Illinois farming communities, Sonya Salamon demonstrates how family land transfers serve as the mechanism for recreating the social relations fundamental to Midwestern ethnic identities. With family land is passed a cultural patrimony that shapes practices of farm management, succession, and inheritance and that ultimately determine how land tenure and the personality of rural communities evolve. Half the communities Salamon studied are dominated by families of German descent and half by what she terms "Yankees," or people with British Protestant ancestry. These two groups are dominant in the rural Midwest, and ethnic identity as manifested among them is a powerful force shaping the social fabric of the region. Yankees treat farming as a business and land as a commodity; profit rather than persistence of the farm motivates their actions. Farmers of German descent, however, see farming as a way of life and land as a sacred family possession, and they hold continuity of farm ownership as the highest priority. The commitment of ethnic Germans to act on their beliefs in this regard, says Salamon, explains why this group now makes up more than half of the Midwestern farm population." Title Summary field provided by Blackwell North America, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Excerpt

My years of studying farm families began among student discussion groups in the cross-cultural family studies course I teach at the University of Illinois. When I began my first semester of teaching in 1974, I was initially struck by differences between students with farm backgrounds and those from suburban Chicago. For example, suburban students said they intended to leave for California (or a similar place with better weather than Illinois) upon graduation; farm-background students wanted to return home, if possible. Suburban students cited friends more than family members as intimates, while farm-background students spoke of the strength of their extended families. I became convinced, as the semester went on, that I was learning about fundamental cultural differences, and my curiosity was piqued.

When I turned to the literature, I was surprised to find little recent work on farmers, with the exception of the Canadian studies by John Bennett and Seena Kohl. No American research was evident since the 1940s, when fine anthropologists such as Walter Goldschmidt, Oscar Lewis, and Horace Miner, among others, had carried out ethnographic studies. But these were community studies, and as in most reports of the period, families scarcely appeared as actors. Only recently has anthropological interest turned to how culture is reproduced in the family context. Sharing a hotel room at a professional meeting with a colleague whose father was embroiled in a land dispute while breaking up a ranch partnership, and engaging in discussions with others having farm backgrounds, helped me to realize that, in the Midwest, obtaining, using, owning, and passing on land are of paramount importance to farm families. I decided to ask farmers about standard anthropological topics--inheritance and kinship beliefs--to explore the relationship between such cultural factors and the persistence of families in farming. Such issues had been virtually ignored by previous researchers.

The first farmer I met in 1975, whose family and I have kept in contact ever since, became the model for the yeoman farmer in this book. One fall morning we first met in the kitchen of the farmhouse where he had lived his entire life until retirement. He asked me three questions to decide whether I was acceptable even if a university professor: Did I own my own home? What religion was I? and Did my husband like "to beer"? It was important that I own my home. I thought being Jewish might be a problem, but it was more . . .

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.