Food Producers: Popular Perceptions and Food Security from Reconstruction to the Farm Crisis

Solicited by the Agricultural History Society (AHS).
Endorsed by the Business History Conference and the Western History Association

Friday, April 3, 2020, 1:00 PM - 2:30 PM

Type: Panel Discussion

Tags: Agricultural and Rural; Environment; Public History and Memory


Once most people in the United States worked as farmers, but today, farmers account for less than 2 percent of the population. Panelists explore different ways that farmers were mythologized over the 100 years from the 1870s to the 1970s, and they contrast these myths with the reality, which has resulted in popular depictions of farm life and agricultural policy that devalued agricultural laborers and served growers and consumers intent on inexpensive foods

Session Participants

Chair: Anne Effland, Office of the Chief Economist, U.S. Department of Agriculture
Anne Effland earned her Ph.D. in Agricultural History and Rural Studies at Iowa State University in 1991. She worked with the U.S. Department of Agriculture since that time, and currently serves as the Senior Economist in the Office of the Chief Economist, U.S. Department of Agriculture (January 2016 to present). She is a prolific scholar having published numerous USDA reports and book chapters. These include “USDA 1900-1945,” Oxford Research Encyclopedia of American History (New York: Oxford University Press, 2018); “Rural Labor" in The Routledge History of Rural America (2016), pp. 311-331; and “The Evolution of a Public Research System: The Economic Research Service and the Land-Grant Universities,” in Service as Mandate: How American Land-Grant Universities Shaped the Modern World, 1920-2015 (2015), pp. 115-151.
Other publications include a report co-written with Carolyn Dimitri entitled “From farming to food systems: The evolution of U.S. agriculture and food policy into the 21st century,” in Renewable Agriculture and Food Systems (2018); “A Brief History of Eating Away from Home” in America’s Eating Habits: Food Away From Home, a report published by the USDA's Economic Research Service, EIB-196, September 27, 2017; and a report co-written with Joseph W. Glauber, “US Agricultural Policy," in Handbook of International Food and Agricultural Policies, Vol. 1: Policies for Agricultural Markets and Rural Economic Activity (2017). She received the Gladys Baker Award from the Agricultural History Society in 2018 recognizing exceptional service to Agricultural History.

Panelist: Debra A. Reid, Henry Ford Museum
Debra A. Reid, PhD, is Curator of Agriculture and the Environment at The Henry Ford. She has training in historic preservation and history museum studies (with a B.S. from Southeast Missouri State University, and an M.A. from the Cooperstown Graduate Program in History Museum Studies) and in history (MA from Baylor University and PhD from Texas A&M). She was a professor in the Department of History at Eastern Illinois University from 1999 through 2016 before moving to The Henry Ford. She remains an adjunct professor teaching a history of Illinois agriculture at the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana for the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences. Her books include the award-winning Reaping a Greater Harvest: African Americans and the Agricultural Extension Service in Jim Crow Texas (2007) and Interpreting Agriculture at Museums and Historic Sites (2017), the co-edited Beyond Forty-Acres and a Mule: African American Landowners since Reconstruction (with Evan Bennett, 2012), and the co-written Interpreting the Environment at Museums and Historic Sites (with David D. Vail, forthcoming from Rowman & Littlefield). She is VP of the Agricultural History Society (and a fellow of that society).

Panelist: David Vail, University of Nebraska at Kearney
David Vail is assistant professor of history at the University of Nebraska--Kearney. He specializes in environmental and agricultural history, science and technology, the Great Plains, and public history. His research has appeared in Kansas History, Endeavour, and Middle West Review, and Great Plains Quarterly. Vail is the author of Chemical Lands: Pesticides, Aerial Spraying, and Health in North America's Grasslands since 1945 published by the University of Alabama Press as part of the NEXUS Series: New Histories of Science, Technology, the Environment, Agriculture, and Medicine. Vail also serves as the advisor of his Phi Alpha Theta Chapter and is book review editor for The Public Historian.

Panelist: Margaret Baker Weber, University of Wisconsin–Eau Claire
Margaret Weber is a visiting lecturer in History at the University of Wisconsin—Eau Claire. She received a doctoral degree in Rural, Agricultural, Technological, and Environmental History Program from Iowa State University in 2018. She is currently working her dissertation (“Manufacturing the American Way of Farming: Agriculture, Agribusiness, and Marketing in the Postwar Period”) into a book. Her research studies the connection between agribusiness, the political economy, and changes to cultural perceptions of agriculture after the Second World War. Before attending Iowa State, Weber received a B.A. in History and B.S. in Secondary Education from Marquette University. She has presented a number of conferences including the Organization of American Historians, the Agricultural History Society, the Berkshire Conference of Women’s Historians, and the Rural Women’s Studies Association. Weber has also received the Mort Rothstein Fellowship from the Agricultural History Society, the Roswell Garst Dissertation Fellowship, and Excellence in Research Award from Iowa State University. Finally, Weber has recently published an article in Agricultural History, titled “The American Way of Farming: Pioneer and Power in Postwar America. She has also published several book reviews, online essays, and alumni newsletters.