Burton, R.J.F., Forney, J., Stock, P., Sutherland, L. 2020. The Good Farmer: Culture and Identity in Food and Agriculture. Routledge Publishing.
Yellow curry on George Street. That’s where I think The Good Farmer book was born. At least if not yellow curry then definitely over tea. Some shared beverages or foodstuffs between friends and colleagues. You see, The Good Farmer not only celebrates and documents the historical and contemporary struggle of farmers the world over (though with a UK/European bias for the empirics admittedly), but is also a testament of the importance of friendship and shared meals for collegial research outcomes. While the four of us have never all worked at the same place together, Rob has worked with Lee-Ann in Scotland and with Jeremie and Paul in New Zealand. It has meant many cups of tea and a smattering of curry for lunch together. There many truths emerged: There is never enough research money; those doling it out do not know what they are doing; and a shared lunch is always a good idea.
In the end, the emergent literature of the good farmer reflects a wider turn to the tension between autonomous individual farmers and their families and the global marketplaces driven increasingly by big data analyses and trade battles. Now each of us bring rich research experiences that reflect familial and partner choices, job opportunities near and far, and a wider network of supportive colleagues. Over the years that finally became this new volume we have all had the opportunity to visit one another at conferences, in each other’s homes and in places like Toronto, Florence, and Aberdeen. One of the keys to completing this volume was revisiting an idea that Jeremie, Rob and me with our collaborator Sue Peoples undertook in Wanaka, New Zealand - a writing retreat. Over shared meals, lakeside walks, and late-night films, the writing retreat helped shape numerous book chapters and articles from the other-wise doomed project we were affiliated with. For The Good Farmer, we were able to meet in Norway at a mountain cabin that helped tamper the difficulty of geographic distance and the lack of appropriate funding directly connected to finishing the book.
While distance, funding, and theoretical differences remain, the volume provides a nice summary of an emerging and viable lens to try and make sense of what it means to be a farmer in the 21st century much less a good one. Further, we experimented with a collaborative writing process such that it is co-authored book rather than a collection of essays written individually. Nor is it an edited volume. Save for one chapter, each chapter reflects both individual insights as well as collective work of digging up references, drafting sections, copyediting, disagreements, revisions, and discussion.
In the end the volume represents many years of individual and collaborative research. We hope that it serves not only as a summary of the good farmer literature, but a jumping off point for scholars new to the literature as well as those looking to extend this interesting mixture of social psychology, sociology, geography, and anthropology within the agri-food sphere. With chapters focused on history, theory, symbols, social capital, morality, ethics, gender, and practice there is a little bit of something for everybody.
As with all books it was a labor of love, but more importantly friendship.I could really go for some yellow curry or a cup of tea right now . . . who’s up for it?