The audio excerpts on this website come from interviews with farmers in Blue Earth, Nicollet, and Le Sueur counties and are shared with their consent. Gustavus students under the supervision of Professors Anna Versluis (Geography) and Annika Ericksen (Anthropology) have been engaged in research related to farming in southern Minnesota since early 2017. We are seeking to understand the complex changes and challenges in modern farming from farmers’ perspectives. We selected prospective participants to interview through a random selection process based on public records, and we contacted those selected by mail. Those who agreed to participate were interviewed in person, typically on their farms. Interviews were semi-structured to allow for conversation about the unique histories and circumstances of different participants. The oral history website was created by students in 2018 to share some of stories that we have collected.
Our interview participants engage in dairy production, hog farming, and crop farming. The sizes of their operations vary greatly, and smaller farmers are more reliant on off-farm employment to make ends meet. While some farms are thriving, we were struck by the risks and uncertainties that they face. Our participants’ worries include pricing and supply systems outside of their control and frustration with non-farming consumers’ misunderstandings about modern farming practices. Our interviewees explained to us that they have a vested interest in responsible environmental stewardship and humane care for their livestock.
About the student creators of this website:
Megan Mindt is a Sophomore Biology major with a pre-vet track from Mora, Minnesota. She grew up helping out on her grandparents’ hobby farm that included chickens, pheasants, and beef cattle. She was also involved in 4-H, mostly raising and showing rabbits, but she also showed poultry, cattle and sheep. Megan has a strong interest in the views of farmers and how to educate people about farming and livestock.
Charlotte Cowdery is a Junior Geology and Classics double major from Minneapolis. She grew up visiting her aunt’s duck farm in Southeastern Minnesota and her uncle’s cattle ranch in Western South Dakota. She often works with farmers in relation to her geology major, especially her work around seven mile creek and surrounding properties. Interested in the changes that modernization is bringing to farming, she believes that farmers and environmentalists often have the same goals and that only by striving to understand both sides of the issue and the larger systems at play can we come to a good solution that will work for everyone.
Hola! Devyn Wallem is a Senior Sociology-Anthropology and Spanish double major. She has traveled to Bolivia and studied issues with climate change. Her parents grew up on a farm and her uncle owns a hog operation, which both impact her interest in farming issues. She herself grew up in Dexter Minnesota and has been around farming her whole life. The future of farming, genetically modified organisms, and climate change fascinate her, especially in relation to farming.
Ruth Chuah is an international freshman student from Penang, Malaysia. She plans on taking a nursing major along with a sociology/anthropology minor. Coming from a tropical country that mainly produces rubber, palm oil, and cocoa, she had no idea what farming was like in the United States and particularly in Minnesota. She then developed an interest in learning about southern Minnesota farming and agriculture through January-term at Gustavus. She is grateful for the opportunity to interview the farmers living in Minnesota. It was an eye-opening experience for her to learn their perspectives about the issues regarding technology, climate change, and public perception in the farming industry.
We are grateful to the farmers who shared their stories and perspectives with us, as well as others who shared background information and expertise. We are also thankful for students who have worked on this research prior to our class: the Spring 2017 Environment and Society students who piloted interviews with farmers, the Summer 2017 research students–Taylor Wicklund and Amos Johnson–who carried out several of the interviews and worked hard on transcription and analysis, and the Fall 2017 Political Ecology students who analyzed patterns arising from the interviews and recommended further questions to ask farmers. We are also grateful to Barbara Fister of the Gustavus Library, who offered technical support.
Funding for the research comes from multiple small grants. A Margaret A. Cargill grant to the Environmental Studies program at Gustavus funded the Summer 2017 research. An Andrew W. Mellon Digital Humanities grant to Gustavus funded our continuation of interviews with farmers in January 2018. And a Gustavus Community-Based Learning mini-grant funded a community discussion about farming, at which we previewed this website to a small crowd farmers and other community members and sought feedback. Many thanks to all who have supported us!