Keeping the farm in the family

“If you want to make a million dollars as a farmer, start with two million…” With a wry laugh and firm handshake, one interviewee thus started our conversation. Rising land values, encroaching suburbanization, and increasing opportunities for better-education, more mobile young people leaves multigenerational farms in the lurch. How do farmers with a tradition of patrilineal farm transfer negotiate the fate of their farm – and their cultural frameworks – in the midst of such pressures?

In this research and subsequent article, I explored how rural culture is in dialogue with changing external contexts. Sociologists tend to view rural culture as an inertial force, committing members to past cultural patterns which, in turn, inform their present courses of action.

By emphasizing such cultural stasis, we obscure how members of cultural enclaves negotiate, recommit to, or revise certain cultural traditions. Drawing on interviews I conducted among a small group of German-heritage farmers in southern Wisconsin, I find that farmers select legal arrangements, entrepreneurial actions, and traditional male succession in order to fulfill the “yeoman” goal of keeping the farm in the family name.

I explore how the narratives farmers develop about the cultural priority of transferring the home-farm to a new generation allow sociological insight into their creative negotiations between cultural traditions and a greatly altered context of agricultural production. I argue that this dialogue between a historically persistent cultural tradition and very present pressures of agricultural production makes a significant contribution to the dynamics of modern rural life.

Read the full article based on my Master’s Thesis research, “Keeping the farm in the family name,” published in Rural Sociology Journal, here