Come Help on the Farm: Using Participant Observation to Better Understand First-generation Farmers in Blue Ridge Appalachia

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Walker, David H, Jr.; Goodman, Teri; Johnson, Laura; Murrey, Louisa
lecture / presentation description
My research concerns how first-generation Appalachian farmers become successful and find access to land. This paper will describe my research methodology how I used participant observation to better know Blue Ridge Appalachia and its sustainable agriculture community; which, I am a member. When I was younger my parents held a large summer garden, a place of running through corn stalks, towering sunflowers, and imaginative possibilities. It was a place very much connected to, yet divorced from the fields of staked tobacco that I would pass on my way to my grandmother’s home place in the North Carolina mountains. Both my childhood garden and the farm of my grandmother’s youth inform my current research about first-generation Blue Ridge Appalachian farmers. As I plant vegetables on my family’s reclaimed farmland or walk the aisles of the local feed store, I seek “to purchase rurality itself,” as Ann Kingslover writes. I seek to know and become a part of this place. In doing so, I also come to better know the sustainable agriculture community that I document through my research. This process, the gardening and the research, envelopes my desire to recapture my food memory, tasting something akin to what my grandmother did when she ate from that same soil. When I speak with first-generation Appalachian farmers about why they too want to return to the land, they speak of similar desires. They too wish to form a place that has meaning and connections to the earth.