Aging farmer demographics and declining agricultural trends provoke policy makers, farmer advocacy groups, and food system scholars to ask, “Who will do the work of farming in the future?” One response to this concern has been the rise of a “beginning farmer” narrative, where the goal of creating new farmers emerges as a key aspirational food systems reform mechanism. In this vision, young and beginning farmers will seize the transitioning lands from retiring farmers and bring with them an alternative system that is ecologically minded, open to new innovations, and socially oriented. Given the flurry of governmental, nonprofit, and private sector activity spurred by this vision, this article asks, what are the ideological drivers of the beginning farmer construct, and what are the consequences for the goals associated with a just food system transition? Invoking the concept of mythology, this article examines the character of the American beginning farmer narrative. The narrative is shown to appeal to a particular land use vision, one based on ideals of individual land ownership, single proprietor farming, neoliberal logics of change, and whiteness. In a sense, the beginning farmer movement embraces a yeoman mythology, a powerful force underwriting the American dream. The consequence of this embrace has problematic outcomes for the transformative potential of a politically engaged beginning farmer constituency. Embracing alternative imaginaries and mythologies may be a first step in forging a new farmer movement that provides equity across socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers.
The Yeoman Myth: A Troubling Foundation of the Beginning Farmer Movement
Adam Calo is a food systems researcher at the Social, Economic, and Geographical Sciences group of the James Hutton Institute. He completed a PhD in the Department of Environmental Science, Policy, and Management at the University of California, Berkeley.
Adam Calo; The Yeoman Myth: A Troubling Foundation of the Beginning Farmer Movement. Gastronomica 1 May 2020; 20 (2): 12–29. doi: https://doi.org/10.1525/gfc.2020.20.2.12
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