Willard Cochrane and the American Family Farm

By Richard A. Levins | Go to book overview

3
The Treadmill

Cochrane graduated with a master's degree from Montana State University in June of 1938. He was twenty-four years old and starting to look like he might make it as an academic after all. He spent the summer grading oranges back in California, but his thoughts were in Minnesota, where he had been offered an assistantship in the Ph.D. program. In September he and his mother drove to Minnesota and stopped to visit the family farm in Iowa along the way. Grandfather Chambers had died several years earlier. Cochrane's favorite uncle, Zene Chambers, was running the farm. His farming left something to be desired, to be sure, but that was more than compensated for by his willingness to include his admiring nephew on expeditions into town in search of drinks and stories. Apart from its new management, the farm had not changed much. The same land was farmed in virtually the same way, with only a small tractor to signal what was to come.

Zene was a tragic man in some ways, a victim of the family farm tradition. That he was ill suited to farming meant little in a world where passing a farm on from generation to generation had the status of divine revelation. First, his teenage son committed suicide, then drinking became more and more of a problem, next gambling, and finally his wife left him. Grandmother Chambers forgave his rent payments when she could but finally gave up. She eventually sold the place to a neighboring farmer who wanted to get big enough to use some of the new farm equipment coming on the scene. As for Uncle Zene, he did all right once the farm was gone. He remarried, raised a second family, and went to work as a government farm program agent.

The land once owned by the Chambers family went on producing just as much, even more, once Zene was gone and a better manager started calling the

-26-

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Willard Cochrane and the American Family Farm
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Illustrations viii
  • Foreword ix
  • Acknowledgments x
  • 1 - Family Farms in Form but Not in Spirit 1
  • 2 - The Golden Age 13
  • 3 - The Treadmill 26
  • 4 - Professor Cochrane Goes to Washington. 44
  • 5 - An Unreconstructed Liberal 62
  • 6 - Heartland 79
  • Notes 83
  • Selected Writings of Willard Cochrane, 1939-1997 85
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