Farm Families and Change in 20th-Century America

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The farm family is a unique institution, perhaps the last remnant, in an increasingly complex world, of a simpler social order in which economic and domestic activities were inextricably bound together. In the past few years, however, American agriculture has suffered huge losses, and family farmers have seen their way of life threatened by economic forces beyond their control. At a time when agriculture is at a crossroads, this study provides a needed historical perspective on the problems family farmers have faced since the turn of the century. For analysis Mark Friedberger has chosen two areas where agriculture retains major importance in the local economy-Iowa and California's Central Valley. Within these two geographic areas he examines farm families with regard to their farming methods, land tenure, inheritance practices, use of credit, and community relations. These aspects are then compared to assess change in rural society and to discern trends in the future of family farming. Despite the shocks endured by family farmers at various times in this century, Friedberger finds that some families have remained remarkably resilient. These families evinced a strong commitment to their way of life. They sought to own their land; they maintained inheritance from one generation to the next; they were generally conservative in using credit; and they preferred to diversify their enterprises. These practices served them well in good times and in bad. Innovative in its use of a combination of documentary sources, quantitative methods, and direct observation, this study makes an important contribution to the history of American agriculture and of American society.