Place-making in the Corn Belt: The productivist landscapes of the “good farmer”

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Since the end of the second World War, the landscapes of the U.S. Corn Belt have increasingly been dominated by large-scale, industrialized agricultural production. Although not without its benefits, industrial agriculture has been shown to be detrimental to the social and ecological fabric of rural communities and beyond. In response, state and federal policy has encouraged farmers to adopt a limited number of strategies that may reduce the negative externalities of industrial agriculture. However, a growing body of research argues that to achieve transformative environmental and social change, the U.S. must transition to alternative food and farming systems. This study explores the potential of such transformative change by integrating the concept of the “good farmer” within a place-making framework to allow us to examine the shared understandings of place among farmers of an Illinois watershed. Through semi-structured interviews, we analyzed the experiences of 17 farmers, focusing on their management practices, connection to the land, and the centrality of farming to their lives. In addition, we interviewed eight non-farmers whose careers or family life were directly connected to local agriculture. The results of our analysis found that the farmers in our study have incorporated a good farmer identity that goes beyond the highly visible productivist notions of faming. The place-meanings of family legacy, stewarding a viable future, and caring for the land were found to be as important to farmers as profit-making and efficiency of their operations. Our findings suggest that a transition to alternative farming systems would likely align with the identity and shared place-meanings of the farmers in our study. Programs and policies intending to facilitate a transition away from productivist systems of farming in the Corn Belt should be designed to support the farmer-held meanings of family legacy, farm viability, and care.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)415-424
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Rural Studies
StatePublished - May 2022

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Development
  • Sociology and Political Science


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