Memoir tracks the life, decline and death of a family farm
2012 JUN 14 (VerticalNews) -- By a News Reporter-Staff News Editor at Agriculture Week -- The story of the Allison-Switzer farm (named for Switzer's maternal grandparents, who bought the 121-acre property in 1916, and his father and mother, who took it over after her parents retired in 1946) is just one of millions of such stories, Switzer writes.
"In 1900, 42 percent of the U.S. population lived on farms; by 1990 that number had dwindled to less than 2 percent," he says in the book's prologue. This transition occurred largely as a result of economic and technological changes made possible by the aggressively optimistic borrowing, investing and expansion that some farmers were willing to embrace in the latter half of the 20th century. Many other farmers, who had stared down economic catastrophe in the 1920s and '30s, were unwilling to take on new big risks, and their farms generally gave way to the forces favoring consolidation and the mass-production of agricultural commodities. (Watch an audio slide show about the book.)
Switzer's book is not a treatise on the evolution of American farming, however.
"The characters in this story are not statistical stick figures illustrating the decline of a Midwestern family farm," he writes. "They are my family. The details of their lives provide an intimate portrait of a once common way of life, now almost entirely vanished from the American countryside."
This portrait includes details normally left out of family memoirs: his maternal grandmother's hostility to her daughter's intellectual and educational aspirations; his grandfather's recurrent narcolepsy, a lifelong handicap brought on by severe heatstroke suffered while working in the fields as a teenager; Switzer's mother's depression and unhappiness with farm life; and his father's inability to recruit his sons to the profession.
The book also offers an account of the changes that occurred over the 76 years the family owned the farm, from the early days of kerosene lamps, hand milking and horse-drawn plows, to the gradual - though never fully realized - modernization of equipment and farming techniques.
Keywords for this news article include: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
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