Enterprise, relationship, and home: Voices of ecological farmers in a time of change

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Social Sciences


Julia Loughlin


Farmers, Sustainable agriculture, Women farmers, Organic farming, Northeast United States

Subject Categories

Social and Behavioral Sciences


Increased public interest in the importance of fresh food, the option of organic food, and finding the sources of our food accompanies the proliferation of farmers' markets, increased availability of organic foods in supermarkets, bestselling books, and White House initiatives. At the heart of this burgeoning interest in the sources of our food is the relationship of the eater with the grower. My analysis is based on 25 interviews with 18 ecological farmers who operate small organic vegetable farms in the Northeast United States. The study was conducted over a ten year period, and nine of the participants were interviewed twice over that time. The semi-structured interview design and participant observation facilitated the farmers' rich expression of the meanings they construct about their lives. Analysis revealed three major themes from the data: farming as enterprise; farmers in relationship; and the farm as home. Findings suggest that the utilization of multiple marketing venues and variety in labor sources demonstrates a high level of creativity, ingenuity, and innovation among the farmers in this study. The farmers share their understanding of the awareness, hesitation and motivation of people's choices to buy ecologically grown food. The talk of farmers about their work experience point to relational processes link grower, food, land, and eater into a whole farm system. The farmers' narratives suggest that the farm is a place of meaning where home and work are blended into a way of life, and the story of coming to the land is also the story of how they became farmers. Important themes identified from the data include: farm labor sources; customer concerns and preferences; the experiences of women farmers; the meanings farmers give to why they farm; and the significance farmers ascribe to the place where they live and work. The exploratory findings from this research can be useful in identifying topics for further research. Four avenues of support and inquiry are suggested, based on the findings and narratives of the farmers in this study: watch organic legislation in Congress; meet a farmer; educate yourself and others; and support opportunities for new and transitioning farmers.


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