(A Farmers (latest) Test of Basic Hog Sense)
The Farm Justice issues that the U.S. Family Farm Movement has been working on for six decades recently, (and for many more decades going far back into history,) are among the biggest issues in the world. That’s because the U.S. is the dominant global farm exporter, and has long been bigger in export market share for major farm exports than OPEC in oil. The Family Farm Movement has long been working “in the belly of the beast.” As the dominant exporter, the U.S. is the price leader, setting global farm prices. Meanwhile, rural people make up about half of the world, and it’s the poorest half. Least Developed Countries are just under 70% rural (2015). The global “undernourished” are 80% rural, mostly farmers. Clearly the central “Family Farm” issue, fair farm prices, has enormous global significance. Unfortunately, in our day it’s almost always radically misunderstood, both inside of the U.S. and globally. That radical misunderstanding, at least in the U.S., is rooted in “Farm Studies Illiteracy,” in illiteracy about the core issues of “Farm Justice,” an illiteracy about the Family Farm Movement.
This is the latest in a series of “tests” I’ve written under the general heading of “A Farmers Test of Basic Hog Sense.” This one explores cultural and academic literacy in relation to the historical Family Farm (or Farm Justice) Movement, and in a context of comparison with the Civil Rights Movement and related literacy and illiteracy.
I’ve been influenced here by Black History and other minority studies, and Women’s Studies, which provide important models for expanding academic paradigms in holistic ways, to include the “people’s history.” These kinds of programs have broad qualitative value. They’ve inspired me in work I’ve done over the years under the heading “Farm Studies.”
These academic and organizational programs have played important roles in positive social change. That’s great. On the other hand, there are some huge minority problems today, crises that need a lot more work. Incredibly, “Black Lives Matter” means, in part, that law enforcement officers shouldn’t “casually” shoot African American men in the back, and similar for African American women.
This paper, however, is about Farm Studies. It’s about how “Farm Businesses Matter,” and how the story, the “people’s history” of how farmers have organized themselves and fought for justice, can have the same kinds of broad qualitative value that other “people’s studies” have. The organizational activity that I focus on under the banner of “Farm Studies” is the Family Farm Movement. What I’m arguing is that the Farm Studies of this movement’s activity, much of it pre-internet, must be remembered. We must not be erased from history.
Today I see a crisis of Farm Studies. What I see is rampant “Farm Studies Illiteracy.” It’s an important academic problem, and it’s happening even in today’s context of a rapid expansion of “food systems” studies at prestigious academic institutions, (I attended a conference at Harvard last spring). Even in this context, of sophisticated work for academic legitimacy and serious concern about justice, I see a severe problem of Farm Studies Illiteracy.
To help food and sustainability academics and movement leaders, (including their minority and women participants,) to better understand the current status of Farm Studies illiteracy, I’ve thrown together a “Farm Studies Illiteracy Test.” This test could be used in classrooms and conference workshops, to stimulate discussions of this challenging academic problem. I think it could serve as a basis for theses and dissertations, or organizational studies, as well.
The test compares our knowledge of Farm Studies with our knowledge of Black Studies and, in particular, our knowledge of the Civil Rights Movement. My implied thesis, which I hope you’ll soon catch on to, is to show how much more advanced and effective Minority Studies often are, compared to Farm Studies. My purpose is not at all to suggest that minorities (or women) have got it made. Their history of crises has usually been, in important ways, a lot more severe than what most U.S. farmers have faced. There are striking differences between the two categories, and I don’t mean to discount them. For example, as “white” farms, (the majority of farms,) have been massively eradicated, the people have simply blended into society, such that no further problems may have been visible. That’s clearly often not the case for minorities. In part this may be because the ethnicity of farmers is not as potent as other kinds of ethnicities. In part it’s simply a matter of skin color.
I find that minoritity academics and food leaders are often more receptive than others to issues of Farm Studies Illiteracy. They represent a key audience for helping farmers to get a toehold, and a foothold, into the recent expansion of academic and organizational activity around the topic of food.
In a number of ways, then, Minority Studies, especially that part of it related to the Civil Rights Movement has helped me in my work on Family Farm issues. I’ve learned a lot from it. It’s been an important cultural and academic model. I identify closely with it. In fact, in recent years, I’ve often said to myself, “Wow, how I’m feeling reminds me of how minorities talk about things. I feel a little like an uppity black person or something.” Of course, having been raised in a small town in Iowa, and having lived here most of my life, I don’t know a whole lot about being black! Still, it’s out of that close identification, out of thinking of myself and our movement in terms of these themes of minority literacy, that I’ve been developing the various ingredients that you find in the test below. (They’ve been simmering in the pot for a few years.)
Another qualification to keep in mind is that Farm Studies Illiteracy IS a kind of Minority Studies Illiteracy. It IS a kind of Women’s Studies Illiteracy. I want to show (through this and other papers,) that Farm Studies Illiteracy is an area that these and all food academics and movement leaders should learn more about. It needs to become a part of the general education of all of us, as seen at Southwestern Minnesota State University, where, I’ve heard, 8 credits of rural studies has been required for general education.
In all of this, of course, I welcome peer review. (Mine is a limited perspective for making these comparisons.)
Disclaimer: the focus here is on a certain period of time, and on movement activism. There is, of course, much more to Minority Studies and Farm Studies that these aspects and time periods.
THE FARM STUDIES ILLITERACY TEST: A COMPARISON
[1a.] What are 2 or 3 important Civil Rights Organizations from the Civil Rights Movement of the past 60 years? Can you name a key difference in the approachs of two different Civil Rights organizations, or something different about their “corporate cultures?” Can you name/describe a conflict within the movement? Can you say something about a change in the style of the Civil Rights Movement at a certain point in history? (When?)
[1b.] What was the leading activist family farm organization of the 1960s, (& 50s, & 70s,) making big headlines? What was the name of a new national family farm organization that played prominent roles in the big family farm activist events of the 1970s. Can you name a key difference in the approachs of two different Family Farm organizations, or something different about their “corporate cultures,” (1952-1990)? Can you name a conflict within the Movement? Can you say something about a change in the style of the Family Farm Movement at a certain point in history? (When?) Which organization mobilized a million people to come out to meetings in 19 states within a six month period against cheap food? In what decade?) What are two family farm coalitions or allliances from prior to 1990?
[2a.] Name three prominent leaders of the Civil Rights Movement. What organizations were they associated with? Three women? Can you name three prominent whites who were important historical figures for their support of the Civil Rights Movement?
[2b.] Name three prominent leaders of the Family Farm Movement who played prominent roles between 1955 and 1980. How about during the 1980s? Today? Can you name three prominent women who were leaders in the Family Farm Movement prior to 1995? Can you name three blacks who were big leaders in the U.S. Family Farm Movement, (or in fighting for it’s issues, outside of movement organizations,) prior to 1990?
[3a.] Name three important orators from the Civil Rights Movement. Can you recite any of the words from one or more of the speeches? Were you there? If not, and if you know these things, how did you learn them? How often and in what ways have you been exposed to information about this? What has had the greatest impact on you?
[3b.] Name three important orators from the Family Farm Movement of 1953-1990. Can you name at least one from the 1960s, and one from the 1980s? Can you remember any lines from the speeches? Were you there? If not, and if you know these things, how did you learn them? How often and in what ways have you been exposed to information about this? What has had the greatest impact on you?
[4a.] Name three songs from the Civil Rights Movement. (Can you name seven?) Name three singers? Do you know some occasions where they were sung? Were you there? If not, how do you know about them?
[4b.] Name three songs from the Family Farm Movement. Name three singers. Do you know some occasions where they were sung? Were you there? If not, how do you know about them?
[5a.] What’s the largest rally of the Civil Rights Movement that you recall? What’s another large rally? Where were they? Were you there? If not, how do you know about them?
[5b.] What’s the largest rally of the Family Farm Movement that you recall? (i.e. 40,000?) What’s another large rally that you recall, (indoors: 34,500? 10,000?) Where were they? Were you there? If not, how do you know about them?
[6a.] What are two prominent methods of activism, (i.e. kinds of demonstrations,) in the Civil Rights Movement?
[6b.] What are two methods of activism, (i.e. kinds of demonstrations,) that have been more or less unique to the Family Farm Movement? Of the 1960s? Of the 1970s? 1980s? 1930s?
[7a.] When in the past 60 years has the Civil Rights Movement come head to head with a U.S. President? A Presidential advisor or cabinet member? On what issue(s)? How was it resolved? How about a governor? (How many governors?)
[7b.] When in the past 60 years has the Family Farm Movement come head to head with a U.S. President? A Presidential advisor or cabinet member? On what issue(s)? How was it resolved? Which family farm organization was on who’s “blacklist” in what decade?) Who said something about exporting farmers? What was said? When? How about conflict with a governor (prior to 1990)?
[8a] What’s a major court case or decision related to the Civil Rights Movement? Prior to 1960? After? What’s the name of one of the lawyers, and/or the organization that provided the lawyer(s)? How did you learn about this? Can you name someone in a civil rights case (all years, i.e. _____ vs. _____)?
[8a.] What’s a major court case or decision related to issues of the Family Farm Movement? Prior to 1950? After 1970? What’s the name of one of the lawyers, and/or the organization that provided the lawyer(s)? How did you learn about this? (What major family farm organization fought a court case for about a decade [until about 1980]? Who won? What big case went from Clinton to Bush, and to what result? What kinds of issues is one of the current/recent dairy cases about?) Can you name someone in a family farm case prior to 2000 (i.e. _____ vs. _____)?
[9a.] What are two major Civil Rights Movement related laws that were passed in the past 60 years? Were they good or bad for the Movement? When were they passed (what decade or year)?
[9b.] What’s a major federal law that was passed between 1953 and 1990 on Family Farm issues, (& that was not a farm bill)? Were they good or bad for the Movement? When were they passed (what decade)? What quantitative change happened to the Commodity Title of the Farm Bill in 1985 (what increased a lot, what decreased a lot)? What big things happened in the Farm Bill in 1953 and 1996? In 1961? Can you name a Farm Bill issue that Earl Butz got passed?
[10a.] Have large corporations played a major role in opposing or supporting the Civil Rights Movement? Businesses in general? What kinds of businesses? How? When? Where?
[10b.] Have large corporations played a major role in opposing or supporting the Family Farm Movement? Businesses in general? What kinds of businesses? How? When?
[11a.] Name three books from, representing, or about the Civil Rights Movement? Can you name three authors? Have you ever read a historical (to you) novel about civil rights?
[11b.] Name three books from, representing, or about the Family Farm Movement (prior to 1995)? Can you name three authors? Have you ever read a historical (to you) novel about family farms?
[12a] Name three films about Civil Rights issues. Do you know three about the Civil Rights Movement itself? Fiction? Documentaries? Have you ever seen a historical documentary about the Civil Rights Movement on public television? How many? Do you recall ever seen historical footage of leaders from the Civil Rights Movement on commercial TV?
[12b.] Name three films about Family Farm issues from prior to 1995. Do you know three about the Family Farm Movement itself? Fiction? Documentaries? Have you ever seen a historical Family Farm Movement documentary on PBS? How many? Do you recall ever seen historical footage (prior to 1990) of leaders from the Family Farm Movement on commercial TV? Public?
[13a.] What are two Civil Rights Movement organizations of today? What are two big issues that the Civil Rights Movement is struggling with today?
[13b.] What are two Family Farm Movement organizations of today? What are the two major Family Farm Movement Farm Bill proposals of today that focus on the core, historical issues of the Family Farm Movement? How are these proposals treated in the Food courses, books, films and conferences today? Who is the leading academic who has supported these two proposals (with studies)? What academic group did similar work on Farm Bill proposals during the 1980s? Can you name a media source that has mentioned either of these proposals? Can you name a media source that has called for subsidy reforms?
[14a.] Have you ever taken a food course, attended a food conference, or read a food curriculum that featured sections related to Civil Rights issues? African American? Hispanic? Native American? Women’s issues? All of the above? What’s a black farming organization of today that was not present during the 1980s? What did black cotton farmers of the 1980s want in the Commodity Title of the Farm Bill? How does it relate to what the Family Farm Movement has wanted for sugarbeets? Which has done’ better in the Farm Bill, cotton or sugar beets? Which are supported by the Food Movement?
[14b.] Have you ever taken a food course, attended a food conference, or read a food curriculum that featured sections teaching about the historical issues of (Family) Farm Studies Illiteracy along the lines described above (i.e. organizations, law, politics, songs, leaders, media, race, women, etc.)? What did you learn?
[15a.] What is something that you learned about the Civil Rights Movement or your knowledge of, or relation to it, by taking/reading this test? How would you describe your general reaction?
[15b.] What are two (or more) main things you learned about the Family Farm Movement or your knowledge of, or relation to it, by taking/reading this test? How would you describe your general reaction?
 Who else do you know in the United States who is working on these historical issues of the Family Farm Movement, in the sense of academic Farm Studies Illiteracy?
Some similar comparisons could be made about differences between the Family Farm Movement and the New Food Movement, and/or the Sustainable Agriculture Movement.
Again, I think that something along these lines would make a great academic thesis or dissertation, or organizational report.
Maybe I’ll write up my answers and post them. I may add more questions over time. This is designed based upon certain assumptions I’ve made! I look forward to seeing what responses I get. What feedback do you have for me?
My own view is that there is an impressive array of academics who are doing good work on the Civil Rights Movement, and we see some of them featured prominently in quite a variety of documentaries on public television. I’m too far removed from that movement to really know how well they’re doing, but it looks very impressive from here. (But I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that grassroots Civil Rights activists often find themselves saying, “that’s really not how it was, that’s a common misunderstanding, we hear that all the time.” like we do.) Certainly there’s still a lot of work to be done.
What then for “farm justice,” for the needed work on core issues of the Family Farm Movement? To get the needed work done, we need to overcome the crisis of Farm Studies Illiteracy. At least that’s how it looks from here.
Finally, as with so many things, if I were very wrong about my assumptions here, that would be great.