Friday, May 3, 2013

Interview with Jenny Barker Devine: Part 2

Jenny Barker Devine, author of On Behalf of the Family Farm: Iowa Farm Women’s Activism since 1945, is an assistant professor of history at Illinois College.

4. Do you think women in farming today work in different circumstances than their mothers and grandmothers, or are there important continuities?

The most notable differences are in the technology and work options available to women. But even with all of these changes, women’s intense commitments to their families and to their land have remained the same. Over the decades, women’s primary concerns have been about building successful operations that can be handed down through the generations. In the past, policymakers have written this off as sentiment, but what women are really demanding is sustainability. One wonders what our current agricultural economy would look like if policymakers had listened to women decades ago.

5. Of all the individual stories you tell about women activists in the book, which one is your favorite?

All of the individual stories have some personal significance for me, but my favorites come from the oral histories by members of the National Farm Organization (NFO). Those women laid bare the triumphs and struggles of their lives and I am so grateful for their honesty. I often think of Luella Zmolek talking about how “it was a very sad day when the last cows went out of the yard.” All of her hopes and dreams were placed in those cows, and she gave them up for the NFO. It not only shows the depth of her commitment and the strength she possessed to see her ideals through, but I think we can all relate to those moments when life just isn’t what we thought it might be. 

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Interview with Jenny Barker Devine: Part 1

Jenny Barker Devine, author of On Behalf of the Family Farm: Iowa Farm Women’s Activism since 1945, is an assistant professor of history at Illinois College.

1. How did you get interested in farm women’s political activism?

Looking back, it was a pretty unlikely topic for me. I actually grew up in town and my last relatives to live on farms were my great-grandmothers—both of whom left in the 1920s. My first exposure to the topic was as a college senior, when I interviewed ten farm women about their experiences during the Second World War. Those women, with a really strong self-identification as workers, inspired me to entirely rethink what I had learned about feminism in women’s history courses. They were more interesting to me than urban wage-earning women because on a farm you negotiate work roles and economic resources with a husband or other family members, rather than a boss. The social and family dynamics involved are still incredibly fascinating to me.

2. Why focus on the decades after 1945?

When I first started this research, there was a wonderful literature on activism before 1945 as well as activism during the farm crisis of the 1980s. I was curious to know what happened between those years. Scholars of the farm crisis asserted that women’s activism was something new, but I had this hunch that it was actually quite old. I wanted to know what happened as the dramatic changes related to mechanization were actually unfolding, and how those changes affected farm women and their perceptions of appropriate roles on the farm.

3. You argue that the Iowa farm women who participated in the Farm Bureau, the Farmers Union, the National Farm Organization, and the Porkettes in the 1950s and 1960s were feminists, even though they probably wouldn’t have called themselves that. Why do you think this is so?

In my line of work, as an academic who studies and teaches about gender issues, saying “I am a feminist” is an asset that enhances my credibility in scholarly circles. But this is not true everywhere, and even in 2013 identifying as a feminist carries certain risks. Depending on the crowd, you risk being ostracized as a disruptive, anti-male, anti-family radical. For women working to better conditions in the countryside, feminism wasn’t the primary issue. They saw improving women’s lives as one part of a much larger whole, so they drew from and developed feminist strategies, but standing up and publicly proclaiming one’s feminism was not a priority. This is not to say the women in these organizations wanted to identify but were too fearful. It simply wasn’t rhetorically necessary for them or their success as a group.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Iowa Public Television show featuring Linda & Robert Scarth

Linda & Robert Scarth, photographers of DEEP NATURE, spent a day with Chris Gourlet, from Iowa Public Television, where he videotaped them as they worked.

They will be featured on his show “Iowa Outdoors: From the lens of one wildlife photographer to the handlebar view from our state's biking enthusiasts, we explore springtime in Iowa.”

See it tonight!!

Show times:

Tuesday, April 30, 6:30 PM on IPTV
Saturday, May 11, 8:30 AM on IPTV

Monday, April 29, 2013

Excerpt from The Raptors of Iowa

The species' recovery that blows the door off all other raptor recoveries is the bald eagle. No bald eagle nests were known in this state from 1906 through 1976. In 2012 there appear to be more than three hundred active nesting territories within, at least, ninety-three of Iowa's ninety-nine counties. To put this species' recovery in perspective, Iowa now holds two-thirds as many eagle nests as existed in the entire lower forty-eight states in 1963. While outlawing use of DDT in this country in 1973 was a major coup for this species, so were other federal laws, like the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act and the Endangered Species Act. But even with these protective laws, I suspect no one could have predicted the huge population recovery that this species has shown. Iowa's recovery goal was to have ten active nests by the year 2000; there were at least one hundred nests that year!

Certainly there were widespread efforts in the 1980s and 1990s to assure that every active Iowa eagle nest was protected and watched over, but it was particularly encouraging to discover that this species was apparently adapting to living in close proximity to humans. Numerous eagle nest trees in Iowa are located within fifty yards of people's homes or outbuildings. At least two are located above parking areas at boat ramps. It appears that eagles are adapting to human activity. Perhaps a mutual benefit has grown out of this relationship, since most people who have eagle nests on their property are absolutely delighted. The world-famous Decorah nesting eagles that are featured on Bob Anderson's webcam certainly seem to have improved the status of the bald eagle as well.

From the essay by Jon W. Stravers in The Raptors of Iowa , paintings by James F. Landenberger