|Farmers' Protest, 1977 (LC)|
From the 1890s to the 1930s, rural Americans played a vital role in radical leftist politics. Over the decades, some of those people chose to leave, but more of them were driven out due to policy — agricultural policy, in particular. Republicans and Democrats, alike, have supported laws that favor corporate agriculture, which continue to drive small farmers out of business and depopulate the countryside. While specialists know this history well, the public tends to know a folk history, written by figures associated with contemporary food movements.
This folk history rests on several key myths, which cover different periods of modern history from the New Deal to the present. We challenge these myths, not to attack particular authors or engage in pedantry, but to reveal the causes and extent of the suffering endured by rural families in the 20th century, which in turn, decimated the populist left. A reconsideration of the history of agricultural policy will help food-system reformers develop a more radical — and more effective — vision for rural America.