New Textbook Explores the Culture, Literature of Farming
Thursday, Jan. 23, 2014
Three professors from Utah State University’s College of Humanities and Social Sciences have written a new text book called Farm: A Multi-Modal Reader to accompany a popular English course on farming in literature and culture.
“We know that we are riding a wave here with all the current interest in food culture,” said co-author and associate professor of English Evelyn Funda. “It’s clear that there is deep interest in farming and agriculture, and what could be more appropriate to an Aggie campus than a course on farm literature.”
Joyce Kinkead, Funda, and Lynne McNeill wrote the new textbook, which is already being used in the USU course “The Farm in Literature & Culture” this semester. In creating the course and its textbook, the authors were well aware of the numbers of books, particularly memoirs, written by urbanites who have returned to the land. Books like The Dirty Life, Growing a Farmer and Animal, Vegetable, and Miracle to name a few.
The trio uses an interdisciplinary approach to consider what does the farm mean as a culture. They want readers to explore the culture within agriculture. The book focuses mostly on the American farm although there are examples from ancient times, including the Sumerian Farmer’s First Almanac. In addition to literary selections from Novella Carpenter, Willa Cather and Hamlin Garland, there is history, like Teddy Roosevelt’s Country Life Commission and the Morrill Act that created land-grant universities, including USU. There’s ecology like Rachel Carson’s warning of impending ecological disaster. And, there’s music, like Woody Guthrie songs, folklore that focuses on hex signs and crop circles, and popular culture discussions that include the Farm Aid concert of 2001, filmed just 18 days after 9/11.
Today’s farms may mean rooftop gardens in Brooklyn, Williams-Sonoma designer chicken coops for the backyard, micro-farmers selling at gardener’s markets and a sisterhood of farm girls organized by a former USU student — MaryJane Butters. Farmers’ market mysteries stories written by Salt Lake resident Paige Shelton indicate just how popular farm themes have become in literature. The authors provide a handy glossary demystifying the spate of new words associated with a renewed interest in agriculture. For example, Locavore, eating locally and ethically, was deemed the word of the year in 2007.
“We think this book is a natural fit for any land grant university, but given the widespread interest in farming and ranching, we suspect that a lot of colleges might be interested in it for literature or writing courses, as well,” co-author Kinkead said.
Thomas Jefferson called farmers “Cultivators of the earth, the chosen people of God.” Farm: A Multi-Modal Reader connects readers back to the soil and the work of farmers. It explores how agriculture is essential to everyone — even if a person has never planted a seed, hoed a row or pulled a carrot from the earth. The authors believe that understanding the culture of agriculture can have wide benefits for future lawyers or economists who will be making decisions on land use, new teachers who will move to rural communities or graphic designers who will work for food conglomerates.
The book’s cover is derived from a painting by Jon Anderson, USU professor emeritus of art, and depicts Cache Valley’s iconic “woman’s tonic” barn. The visual rhetoric of farm imagery is explored throughout the book.
The course, English 3630, is offered every semester, including summer. By reading fiction, non-fiction, poetry and other texts, as well as viewing film and visual arts, students enhance their understanding of the role that farming, ranching and agriculture have played in American life.
Farm: A Multi-Modal Reader by Fountainhead Press is available at the USU Bookstore.