The American Work Ethic and the Changing Work Force: An Historical Perspective

By Herbert Applebaum | Go to book overview

16
FARMERS IN THE
TWENTIETH CENTURY

FARMERS' WORK ETHIC

Industriousness, independence, fair play, and honesty, traits that gain meaning and substance through hard work, comprise the central features of the traditional farmer's work ethic. Hard work for the farmer is more than keeping occupied. It is the basis for his or her respect and self-esteem. A farmer's esteem attaches both to work itself and the goals that work fulfills. These goals, short and long term, are pursued with great personal sacrifice to comfort and leisure. Farmers and their families endure working in the heat of summer, the bitter frost of winter, laboring during harvest from five in the morning till after dark, loading hay by searchlight, milking at midnight and dawn, driving long miles to market, and caring for family, farm, and animals in every kind of adverse weather. Farm work is physically exhausting. Yet, farm families have the satisfaction of calling the land their own and of watching nature procreate under their loving care. If not all farmers achieve this ideal level of respectability through dedicated work, it is the standard by which their peers judge them.

The traditional farmer faced many changes in the twentieth century. Yet, farmers are still around in the United States, though their numbers have declined drastically, both relatively and absolutely. They still represent a particular ethic that resonates in the American mystique, a way of life practiced with cultural and ritual complexity. Capital investments and modernization are important, but for traditional farmers, machines are often old and limited in quantity--a tractor with some accessories, spreaders and mowers that need replacing but are kept going by repairing, some hand tools, a second-hand pick-up truck, and hand-operated farm implements. Stock and storage buildings require constant maintenance. Farmers must be mechanics and carpenters who are constantly fixing if they are not to go broke. The traditional farmer survives by using all of his family's labor. The family, the church,

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