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Shake-Out: Iowa Farm Families in the 1980s

Copyright Date: 1989
Pages: 192
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  • Book Info
    Book Description:

    The farm crisis of the 1980s quickly became a media event, with scenes depicted starkly in black and white on color TV. The embattled farmers, accompanied by their advocates, stood holding off bankers and sheriffs wielding foreclosure notices. In this new book, using findings from interviews and participant observation, agricultural historian Mark Friedberger peels away the emotion and rhetoric of the "save the family farm" movement to provide a realistic picture of what happened in on important farm state.

    Shake-out: Iowa Farm Families in the 1980sdepicts the farm crisis of the 1980s in all its complexity, providing a useful corrective to popular accounts. Friedberger's approach and his focus on individuals present the problem in America's heartland at a truly grass roots level. Those seeking a better understanding of American agriculture in the 1980s and of rural life generally will find it invaluable.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-6147-1
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Tables
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Preface
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  5. Introduction: Iowa’s Rural Heritage
    (pp. 1-16)

    “Iowa,” one of her most discerning observers once said, “combines the qualities of half a dozen states, and perhaps that is the reason why it often seems the most undistinguished place in the world.”¹ Such a statement, though it would surely touch a sensitive nerve in most Iowans, delineates an appealing characteristic for anyone attempting to draw inferences about the farm crisis from one state, indeed, from several small communities within that state.

    This lack of distinctiveness can be traced to the settlement of Iowa, when an artificial organizational system was superimposed on the virgin prairie. Following the system designed...

  6. 1 Structure
    (pp. 17-41)

    Throughout the twentieth century agriculture has been undergoing a modernization whose primary goal is the substitution of technology for human labor. Supporters of modernization see agriculture as a business and believe that, like any other industry, it is driven by the profit motive. This philosophy stands in opposition to an agrarian tradition whose advocates believe strongly that farming is a way of life and that the people who live on the land, and the land itself, should be given highest priority in the formulation of policy.

    In the past twenty-five years modernization proceeded rapidly, and the power of agribusiness grew...

  7. 2 Boom
    (pp. 42-62)

    In the late sixties and early seventies some farmers began to change the way they lived and worked. For years the experience of the Great Depression had influenced farm families. The image of the “frugal” farmer, someone who never bought anything unless he had the cash, died hard. But an inflationary economy gradually altered these attitudes for a segment of the farm population.

    The idea that the good life could be had in rural America came to fruition in the 1970s. The steep increase in the price of corn and soybeans after the Russian grain deal of the early seventies,...

  8. 3 Storm over the Country
    (pp. 63-80)

    Financial stress carne to the families in this study in a number of ways. Usually they were unable to keep up with interest payments on land, machinery, or improvements. After a period of delinquency the lender would call in the loan, and the farmer would receive notice of a writ of replevin for the recovery of movable property or foreclosure in the case of real estate. Here, the use of the vernacular term “getting into trouble” signifies some kind of reorganization of a family farm: a negotiated or forced loss of property through give back, buy back, foreclosure, some kind...

  9. 4 Mobilization
    (pp. 81-103)

    The farm crisis made it necessary for state, local, and private organizations to mobilize their resources to assist a traditionally independent segment of the Iowa population, accustomed to taking care of its own affairs. This time individual effort was not enough, and after February 1985 government and the private sector made an unprecedented attempt to meet the physical, legal, spiritual, and psychological needs of farmers and their families

    Characteristically, though, farm families continued to act alone, even when their livelihood was threatened. They generally remained suspicious of outside assistance, spurning officially sponsored programs except in dire emergency. Often well-intentioned outsiders...

  10. 5 Survival
    (pp. 104-126)

    Although the downturn was selective, it did not differentiate between the well-to-do and the less well established farm family. All took part in the general expansion of the seventies to some extent, but the timing of their actions was most important. Some bought land before the steepest inflation, or their children were too young to begin farming in the boom. These the crisis spared while it savaged others. Among those who did have problems, family solidarity, off-farm jobs, the farm program, and the wise use of still-available resources all gave a family some hope of putting their lives together again....

  11. 6 The Frugal Farmer
    (pp. 127-143)

    As one wag put it, for a farmer the definition of success in the eighties was still having part of what he possessed ten years before. Just under 60 percent of the families in this study did not “get into trouble,” did not face foreclosure, give back land, file bankruptcy, or reorganize their operation. The selectivity of the crisis gave failure all the more sting. The sight of those who were relatively unscathed and able to take advantage of high livestock prices was just another humiliation for those who were forced to quit farming. Indeed, the corn-hog ratio (which is...

  12. 7 Retrospect and Prospect
    (pp. 144-168)

    Not surprisingly, rapid change had an impact on the infrastructure and the people who lived and worked in farm communities. But given the magnitude of the transformation and the many underlying problems that beset agriculture, one of the most striking aspects of these years was the lack of debate among farmers themselves as to the future of family farming. To be sure, on the sidelines there was no lack of discussion between factions claiming to represent the farmers. But in general it seemed, to use a sporting analogy, that the farmer-players ran round the field in a daze while the...

  13. Appendix A. Data Collection
    (pp. 169-175)
  14. Appendix B. Farm Family Survey
    (pp. 176-181)
  15. Appendix C. Coding Scheme
    (pp. 182-183)
  16. Notes
    (pp. 184-195)
  17. Index
    (pp. 196-199)