of Rural Church & Farm: The Evolving Metaphor of "Family
Paul Nielsen received a Ph.D. in Ethics and Society
from the University of Chicago.
As a South Dakota farmer and Lutheran minister, he became involved
in the study of Midwestern farm life in light of the historical
term "family farm." Nielsen presented two lectures on campus about
his research, "Narratives of Rural Church and Farm: 'Family Farm'
as an Evolving Metaphor." He continues his work through a project
of leadership development and evaluation with the rural Evangelical
Lutheran Church of America.
Presentation Tuesday, September 12, 2000 1:30 Charter Hall
Abstract of Final Lecture: Narratives of Rural
Church and Farm: "Family Farm" as an Evolving Metaphor
As Technological development in the United States
in the late 19th and early 20th centuries caused a decrease in
the rural population and a change in farming practices and management,
people began to sense a move away from the traditional small family-run
farms. The term "family farm," that emerged into common
vernacular in the 1940's, became a popular as the prevailing view
of rural life evolved from that of a backwards eddy to a protector
of the good old tradition. However, in the process family farm
became a metaphor that carries much baggage, and is often used
for ideological purposes. In this talk I looked at the continuing
evocative power of the concept.
The broad thesis of my presentation, and of my entire
work at the CRRS, was that the nature of Midwestern farming life
has been both illuminated and hidden be the careless employment
of the commonly used metaphor of the "family farm."
My intent was to probe into the idea of the "family farm,"
explore its historical roots, its evolution, and its current evocative
but nebulous status as a metaphor. My method was, first, to examine
both contemporary and historical literature for references to
the "family farm." Second, I interviewed local ELCA
Lutheran pastors and farmers. I interviewed farmers in order to
uncover the views of those who considered themselves "family
farmers." I interviewed pastors in order to gain their perspectives
of the "family farm," since I viewed church involvement
as an integral part of the traditional idea of the "family
farm." My own Evangelical Lutheran Church of America background,
led me to interview pastors and farmers from that denomination
exclusively. This fortuitous choice provided me access to willing
and articulate farmers. My study was enriched and biased by my
own personal rural experiences. Hence, this study is supported
by the three legs of: (1) historical research, (2) contemporary
interviews, and (3) my own personal experience. I did indeed find
that the term is often used in a nebulous manner by a variety
of speakers in diverse fields. However, I also found that farmers
value the "family farm," of which they consider themselves
a part, as a way of life (rather than a "job"). They
see it as beneficial to the moral molding of their families, especially
the children, and they attach great importance to their privilege
of having a close relationship to the land.