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Author ORCID Identifier


Campus-Only Access for Five (5) Years

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Program


Year Degree Awarded


Month Degree Awarded


First Advisor

Millie Thayer

Second Advisor

Don Tomaskovic-Devey

Subject Categories

Food Studies | Race and Ethnicity | Rural Sociology | Social Justice | Sociology of Culture


Amidst the increase in farm-to-table foodie culture, craft beers and artisanal food, there has also been a significant increase in the number of beginning farmers - people who didn’t grow up on farms or in agricultural communities. This project set out to understand who these beginning farmers are and what motivated them to choose farming, using a qualitative, intersectional and interdisciplinary approach. Interview data, visual data and participant observation provide a complex picture of the intersections of race, class, gender and sexuality in contemporary agriculture. The findings offer insight into young farmers’ reasons for choosing farming as well as a broader understanding of social and cultural forces at play. The project focused on beginning farmer-owners in the northeast with supplemental data related to farmworkers and apprentices. Interview data revealed reasons to choose farming as: the desire for something real; for honest, hard work; a desire to be outside; and a connection to something bigger, primarily community. Their reasons illustrate a contrast to the “concerted cultivation” (Lareau 2003) of their upbringings while also revealing resonance with narratives and images of the “romance of farming” in contemporary popular culture, with roots in a historic legacy of the agrarian ideal. The intersection of whiteness and heteronormativity in farming, prevalent on farm websites and in representations of farmers in popular culture, reveal the premium put on these social categories and their role in constructing ideas of the authentic “family farm” or, as I call it, the Pastoral Ideal brand. This authenticity is particularly salient in an economy driven by consumption and commodification of the rural. Agritourism, farm education centers, glamping farm-stays and high end chicken coops are the broader consumer culture context in which the Pastoral Ideal is available for consumption via participation in Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farms. Insights from this research have implications that must be accounted for in policy level discussions of food security and food justice. It underscores the need for comprehensive redistribution of land and resources to support the long legacy of farming by Indigenous, Black, Latina/o, Asian and Pacific Islander farmers, immigrants, refugees, as well as women and LGBTQ people in the United States.