Farming is the new sexy
Gone are the days when the American public thought of farmers as uneducated, country hicks. The growth of farmer’s markets and the popularity of Farmville are just two of many indications that farming is undergoing a profound renaissance in the American imagination, one that harkens back to Thomas Jefferson’s assertion that, “Cultivators of the earth are the chosen people of god.” Farmers represent patriotism, strength, integrity, resourcefulness, creative power, and the centrality of American middle-class values. In her talk, Evelyn Funda will trace the rich, varied, and sometimes contradictory ways we envision farming and what that says about our cultural values at any given moment. Ranging from Victory Garden Posters to FarmAid in a post-9/11 world, and from the advertising of DDT in the 1940s to a Superbowl ad from 2013, she believes no other occupation in America—but with, perhaps, the exception of motherhood—is so profoundly invested with symbolic significance in our culture, even by those who have never worked or lived on a farm. Understanding the complexities evident in the culture of agriculture, she believes, can make us wiser consumers, better legislators, and more compassionate citizens.
Evelyn Funda is an associate professor of English at Utah State University, where she specializes in American literature and teaches courses on American culture, including a popular course on the literature and culture of the American Farm. As a daughter of Idaho farmers, agriculture is a subject close to Evelyn’s heart, and it is something she has written about in her memoir Weeds: A Farm Daughter’s Lament, which portrays the struggles faced by three generations of her Czech immigrant family as they settle on and farm a small acreage in southwestern Idaho. Calling the book “a moving look back at a lost way of life,” The New York Times describes it as “part eulogy, part memoir and part investigation” and praises the way it “unpacks her family’s relationship to their land and, in the process, examines the myth and reality of the American farmer.” Evelyn is also co-author and co-editor of Farm: A Multimodal Reader. Based on the courses she teaches, the book includes a far-ranging look at farming as it is depicted in literature, history, ecology, gender studies, fine art, music, film, folklore, advertising, print and popular culture, and more.