No substitute for tobacco

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No substitute for tobacco the search for farm diversification in Appalachian Kentucky
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Thesis:
Thesis (Ph.D.)--University of Florida, 2001.
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Includes bibliographical references (leaves 191-201).
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by Mark A. Swanson.
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Printout.
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Vita.

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NO SUBSTITUTE FOR TOBACCO: THE SEARCH FOR FARM DIVERSIFICATION
IN APPPALACHIAN KENTUCKY









By

MARK A SWANSON


A DISSERTATION PRESENTED TO THE GRADUATE SCHOOL OF THE
UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT OF THE
REQUIREMENTS FOR THE DEGREE OF
DOCTOR OF PHILOSOPHY

UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA

2001



























Copyright 2001

by

Mark A. Swanson


























This work is dedicated to my grandfather, Milton Ruhnke, who is the reason for my
interest in farming and my immense respect for farmers everywhere.














ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

I want to thank Dr. Gerald Murray, my committee chair, for his guidance and

assistance throughout my graduate school career at the University of Florida. I also

greatly appreciate the assistance of the members of my supervisory committee, Dr. H.

Russell Bernard, Dr. Christina Gladwin and Dr. Abe Goldman of the University of

Florida, and Dr. Lorraine Garkovich of the University of Kentucky, for their support and

advice throughout the Ph.D. process.

Special thanks go to the Agricultural Extension agents in Morgan and Wolfe

Counties, Mr. Chris Lindon and Mr. Ted Johnson, for their assistance, advice, and

friendship during the research for this dissertation. They, along with staff at the Farm

Service Administration offices and other officials I worked with during my time in

eastern Kentucky, were consistently patient, helpful, and encouraging.

To the farmers of Morgan and Wolfe Counties I owe a special debt of gratitude.

Without their willingness to answer a virtually unlimited supply of questions, this

research would not have been possible.

I thank the Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research for their

generous financial support for the research phase of this project.

I will always be in debt to my parents, Harold and Wanda Swanson, for raising

me in a manner to promote intellectual curiosity, critical thinking, and a love of learning

that have served me well and will continue to do so throughout the rest of my life.









Finally, I could never have completed this long and difficult process without the

unflagging support and love from my wife, Dr. Nancy Schoenberg, and our wonderful

children Rachel and Benjamin Swanson. It is because of them that all of the work to

attain this degree has been worthwhile.















TABLE OF CONTENTS

page

ACKNOW LEDGM ENTS ........................................................................................... iv

LIST OF TABLES .......................................................................................................... x

LIST OF FIGURES........................................................................................................ xi

ABSTRACT..................................................................................................................xii

CHAPTERS

1 INTRODUCTION ....................................................................................................... 1

2 METHODS AND SAMPLE CHARACTERISTICS.................................................... 6

Research Site Selection................................................................................................ 7
Data Collection............................................................................................................ 8
Sampling and Survey Data Collection........................................................................ 10
Description of Sample ............................................................................................... 13
Production Data ............................................................................. ...................... 13
M management Data............................................................. ....... ... ........... .......... 15
Demographic Data................................................................................................. 16


3 UNITED STATES AGRICULTURE: TRENDS AND THEORIES .......................... 19

Trends in United States Agriculture........................................................................... 19
Farm Population .................................................................................................... 20
The Changing U.S. Agricultural Structure ............................................................. 20
Definitions........................................................................................ ..................... 25
Family farms...................................................................................................... 25
Part-time farms .................................................................................................. 27
Small farms ........................................................................................................ 28
Theories of Agricultural Change................................................................................ 33
Fam ily Farms in a Capitalist Economy................................................................... 33
The Future of the Family Farm .............................................................................. 34
M arxist Perspectives on the Family Farm ............................................................... 35
The inevitability of capitalist agriculture............................................................ 35
The persistence of non-capitalist agriculture....................................................... 36









Precursors to the disappearing fam ily farm debate ............................................. 39
Implications of U .S. Agrarian Change.................................................................... 42


4 APPALACHIAN CULTURE AND AGRICULTURE............................................... 44

Appalachian N natural, Social, and Econom ic H istory.................................................. 45
The Environm ent ................................................................................................ 45
Human H history ...................................................................................................... 48
Industrial D evelopm ent in Appalachia ..................................................... ........... 52
D oes Appalachia Really Exist? .................................................... .............................. 54
The Invention of Appalachia ......................................................... ........ ............ 54
The Politics of Appalachia ................................................... .................................. 56
Self-definition in Appalachia .............................................. ..... ........................... 57
Appalachian Kentucky Today.................................................................................... 58
Eastern Kentucky: The Heart of Appalachian Poverty............................................ 58
ARC's D stressed Counties Program ...................................................................... 58
Eastern Kentucky Poverty Indicators..................................................................... 59
Explanations for Appalachian Poverty .................................................................... 63
The Culturalist Approach....................................................................................... 63
Yesterday's People ........................................................................................... 63
The culture of poverty.... ............... ........................................... ............... 66
Critiques of the culture of poverty...................................................................... 67
Em pirical tests of the culture of poverty theory.................................................. 72
Bureaucratic Realism ................................................................ .......................... 74
The Structuralist Approach .................................................................................... 76
A N ew Synthesis? .......................................................................... .................. 77
Comparing the Approaches to Appalachian Poverty............................................... 78
Traditional Appalachian Agriculture and Economy.................................................... 80
Conclusions ............................................................................................................... 83


5 TOBACCO: THE CORNERSTONE OF APPALACHIAN AGRICULTURE........... 85

The Tobacco Production Process ............................................................................... 86
Land Preparation ................................................................................................... 86
Seeding.................................................................................................................. 87
Setting Tobacco..................................................................................................... 89
Cultivating, Topping, and Sucker Control.............................................................. 89
Cutting and H ousing.............................................................................................. 89
Stripping................................................................................................................ 91
The Tobacco Program ................................................................................................ 91
Origins of the Tobacco Program ............................................................................ 92
Tobacco Quotas and Price Supports....................................................................... 93
Quota Fluctuations................................................................................................. 98
Factors affecting dem and ................................................................................... 99
Farm er perspectives on quota cuts.................................................................... 101









Contracting......................................................................................................... 102
M ailbox Payments .............................................................................................. 105
P h a se II................................................................... ................................. ........ 10 6
Tobacco Loss Assistance Program ................................................................... 107
Buyout Proposals................................................................................................. 108
Tobacco Farming and Diversification...................................................................... 109
Conclusions........................................................................... .................................. 112


6 THE SEARCH FOR TOBACCO ALTERNATIVES............................................... 113

Vegetables............................................................................................................... 113
Vegetable Production for Processors.................................................................... 115
East Kentucky Vegetable Producers Association.................................................. 117
Direct M marketing ................................................................................................. 119
Farmers markets .............................................................................................. 120
Roadside sales ................................................................................................. 122
L iv e sto ck ................................................................................................................. 12 3
G o ats ............................................................... .................................................. 12 4
C battle ................................................................................................................... 12 5
Kentucky's Agricultural Development Process........................................................ 126
The County Agricultural Development Councils.................................................. 128
Public forums................................................................................................... 131
Development of county comprehensive plans................................................... 134
The Kentucky Agricultural Development Board .............................................. 135
Local funding priorities.................................................................................... 136
The politics of opposition................................................................................. 137
Conclusions .................................................................. ......................... .................. 139


7 INDIVIDUAL RESPONSES................................................................................... 140

Tobacco Production Decisions................................................................................. 141
Tobacco Production in 2000 ............................................................................... 142
Responses to quota cuts ................................................................................ 143
Explanations for varying responses to quota cuts............................................. 145
Alternative Farm Products....................................................................................... 150
Influences on Alternative Crop Production .......................................................... 151
Problems with Alternative Crops......................................................................... 154
Production difficulties...................................................................................... 154
M marketing problems......................................................................................... 155
Prices received................................................................................................. 156
Conclusions............................................................................................................. 157









8 CASE STUDIES ..................................................................................................... 161

The Part-Time Family Farmer ................................................................................. 161
The Full-Time Renter............................................................................................ 163
The Tobacco Farm Landlord.................................................................................... 165
The Full-Time Vegetable Farmer............................................................................. 168
C o n clu sio n s .............................................................. ............................................... 17 0


9 CONCLUSION ....................................................................................................... 172

Key Findings ........................................................................................................... 172
Theoretical Lessons ................................................................................................. 174
The Future of Farming in Eastern Kentucky............................................................ 176


APPENDICES

A SURVEY INSTRUM ENT...................................................................................... 178

B COSTS AND RETURNS OF TOBACCO PRODUCTION..................................... 189

LIST OF REFERENCES ............................................................................................. 191

BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH ....................................................................................... 202














LIST OF TABLES



Table Page

2-1 Land ownership and rental, 2000 .......................................................................... 14

2-2 Average amounts of tobacco quota, by means of access, 2000 .............................. 14

2-3 Age and education of respondents......................................................................... 16

2-4 Participation in off-farm work............................................................................... 16

2-5 Percentage of total household income from farm................................................... 17

2-6 Total household income................................................................................. 18

3-1 Farm Population, 1900-1990................................................................................. 21

3-2 U.S. farm distribution by acreage, 1900- 1997..................................................... 22

3-3 Farms by annual gross sales .................................................................................. 26

3-4 Principal Occupation, as reported by farm operators .............................................28

3-5 Days worked off-farm by principal operator, 1997................................................ 29

3-6 Small farms by gross sales, 1997............................................................................ 31

4-1 Median Household Income ................................................................................... 61

4-2 Percentage of people living in poverty .................................................................. 62

4-3 Educational attainment, 1990................................................................................ 63

7-1 Quota access by farmers, 2000............................................................................. 143

7-2 Farmer response to quota cuts............................................................................... 144

7-3 Has farmer ever tried non-traditional crops?......................................................... 151














LIST OF FIGURES


Eig Dis re

3-1 Distribution of U.S. farms by gross sales, 1997.....................................................23

3-2 Distribution of Kentucky farms by gross sales, 1997.........................................24

3-3 Distribution of farms by acreage, 1997.................................................................. 30

4-1 Persistently Distressed Counties in Appalachia, 1960 and 1990 ............................ 60

5-1 Changes in national tobacco marketing quota, 1990-2001 ..................................... 99















Abstract of Dissertation Presented to the Graduate School
of the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of the
Requirements for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy

NO SUBSTITUTE FOR TOBACCO: THE SEARCH FOR FARM DIVERSIFICATION
IN APPALACHIAN KENTUCKY


By

Mark A. Swanson

December 2001

Chairman: Gerald Murray
Major Department: Department of Anthropology


Farmers in Appalachian Kentucky are facing significant changes in their farming

operations as a result of major cuts in their most important cash crop, burley tobacco.

Over the last three years, the amount of burley tobacco that can be grown under the

federal tobacco program has been slashed by nearly two-thirds as demand for cigarettes

has decreased and imports of less-expensive foreign tobacco have increased. This

research examines how tobacco farmers in two eastern Kentucky counties are responding

to the loss of such a large proportion of their farm income.

Farmers in the study region exhibit many of the same characteristics as farms

across the United States, with small, part-time farms representing the majority of all

farms and off-farm income constituting an essential source of household income for farm

Families. Loss of income from tobacco sales over the last three years has forced farmers

to rely more heavily on off-farm income or develop ways of enhancing farm income. The
\-








high levels of poverty and economic distress in this part of Appalachia make the cuts in

farm income even more problematic.

With the long-term prospects of tobacco as a major income source tenuous at best,

farmers are searching for alternative agricultural enterprises to support their farming

operations. Interest in agricultural diversification throughout tobacco-dependent regions

is not new, but the large cuts in tobacco sales and production since 1998 have intensified

the long-term search for alternative sources of agricultural income for Kentucky farmers.

Despite renewed efforts to promote agricultural diversification with the establishment of

a well funded statewide agricultural development program, few farmers in the study

region have incorporated new farm products into tobacco dependent farm operations. The

reasons for the reluctance of tobacco farmers to produce nontraditional agricultural

commodities are explored by this research, along with local and statewide efforts to

promote farm diversification.













CHAPTER 1
INTRODUCTION

In 1997, the amount of burley tobacco U.S. farmers were allowed to produce

reached the second highest level in history. Within only three years, however, the

marketing quota for burley tobacco had dropped to its lowest level in more than four

decades. Over that three year period, the amount ofburley tobacco that farmers could

produce and sell under the federal tobacco program dropped by 65%. Burley tobacco is

the most important, and often the only, cash crop on eastern Kentucky farms. This

research seeks to understand the factors shaping farmer responses to the drastic

reductions in their primary cash crop.

The demise of tobacco production in the United States has been predicted for

years, and each downturn in the tobacco markets prompts renewed attention to the need

for agricultural diversification in tobacco producing regions. Yet few efforts towards

diversification have been successful, at least in the region of eastern Kentucky where this

research was conducted. Would the drastic cuts in burley tobacco production of the late

1990s prompt lasting efforts towards diversification?

This research into the factors affecting farmer decision-making about agricultural

diversification is intended to add to the body of theoretical literature on the relative

importance of material or structural forces and non-economic or subjective forces

shaping human behavior. The findings in this research support the argument that while

material forces are the predominant influences on aggregate human behavior, non-

material factors can be influential in determining the effects of material forces on the









community and individual levels. This theoretical perspective will be developed through

an examination of theories and patterns of U.S. agricultural change, causes and solutions

to persistent poverty, and debate over the causes of Appalachian underdevelopment and

poverty.

This research was conducted in two counties in the eastern Kentucky portion of

the Appalachian mountains. Morgan and Wolfe counties are predominately rural, with

the nearest metropolitan area over an hour's drive away. Wolfe County is the smaller of

the two counties, with 223 square miles and a population of 7,065 in the 2000 U.S.

Census. The county seat of Campton is quite small, with a population of 424, one grocery

store, several gas stations and convenience stores, and a scattering of other retail stores.

Campton is strategically placed at the intersection of two major highways-the Mountain

Parkway, a four lane divided highway connecting the area with Lexington, the nearest

metropolitan area, and U.S. Highway 15, which runs south into the Appalachian

mountains and the regional centers of Jackson and Hazard. Campton is the only town of

any size in Wolfe county; the other communities in the county consist of a handful of

houses and a convenience store or two. The population is overwhelmingly white (99.2%)

and poor; the poverty rate in Wolfe County is among the highest in the nation.

Morgan County is nearly twice as large as Wolfe County, with 381 square miles

and a population of 13,948. West Liberty, the Morgan County seat, is a considerably

larger town than Campton; its population of 3,277 (plus the surrounding rural areas)

supports at least five grocery stores, several restaurants and fast food outlets, a movie

theater, a branch campus of the regional university, and the Eastern Kentucky

Correctional Complex, a medium security prison that is the largest in the state. Because








of the prison, Morgan County has a higher minority population (5.4% nonwhite) than

Wolfe County, but the non-institutionalized population is overwhelmingly white; I did

not see any minorities in over a year of travelling around the county.

The rural landscape of the two counties is beautiful, with heavily wooded

mountains divided by valleys of flat land carved by streams. Narrower valleys, or

hollows (pronounced hollers) branch off from the main valleys and are dotted with

houses, mobile homes, and farms. Most agriculture is practiced in these valleys, although

in a few areas, the mountain ridges are wide enough to support cultivation. Farms are

marked by the presence of large black tobacco-drying barns, quite commonly with a

basketball hoop mounted on one side'. The Daniel Boone National Forest occupies the

western portion of both counties and the Red River Gorge, part of which is in Wolfe

County, is a world-renowned spot for rock climbing.

The beauty of the study region stands in contrast with the severe and persistent

poverty that characterizes the region. As will be discussed in Chapter 4, both study

counties are classified as persistently distressed counties by the Appalachian Regional

Commission. In the context of this economic deprivation, the prospect of the significant

cut in agricultural income that would result from an end to tobacco production is

alarming. The precarious economy of the study region is one reason for the extensive

attention paid to the possibility of alternative agricultural products that could compensate,

at least in part, for tobacco income.





Basketball has been described as the state religion of Kentucky. I regularly had to
schedule meetings around televised games of the University of Kentucky men's
basketball team!









The findings of this research suggest that agricultural diversification will be a

difficult, if not unattainable goal for most farmers in the region. Despite intense interest

in and discussion about the uncertain future of tobacco, farms in the study area remain

overwhelmingly dependent on this critical cash crop. The reasons for this difficulty in

diversification, it will be argued, are both structural and attitudinal in origin. While the

primary causes of continued dependence on tobacco are economic-no other crop is

anywhere near as profitable as tobacco-the reluctance to experiment with alternative

crops is, in part, due to mindsets created by past experiences and the nature of the federal

tobacco program. Farmers regularly repeated to me the phrase "There's no substitute for

tobacco." Given the expectations created by participation in the federal tobacco program,

that assessment is likely to prove accurate.

Before introducing the specifics of tobacco farming and the search for alternative

farm products in eastern Kentucky, this work will attempt to provide a context within

which the situation in the study region can be better understood. Chapter 2 briefly

outlines the methods used in this research and some of the characteristics of the sample of

tobacco farmers surveyed. Chapter 3 discusses trends in U.S. agriculture and some of the

key social science theories to explain those trends. Chapter 4 provides an overview of

Appalachia, including data on the levels of poverty in the study region and the theoretical

debates about the causes of Appalachian poverty. Chapter 5 describes the important

features of the tobacco production process and the federal tobacco program. Chapter 6

discusses some of the efforts in the region to promote alternative farm products,

examining the reasons why these efforts have been largely unsuccessful. Chapter 7

focuses on individual decisions about tobacco and alternative crop production. Chapter 8






5


provides case studies of four farmers. These case studies help portray the context within

which agricultural production decisions are made. Finally, Chapter 9 offers some

conclusions about the prospects for agricultural diversification in eastern Kentucky.













CHAPTER 2
METHODS AND SAMPLE CHARACTERISTICS



Data for this research come from 13 months offieldwork in Morgan and Wolfe

counties. Data collection utilized two of the primary methods common in cultural

anthropology-participant observation and survey research. Bernard (1995) distinguishes

between two types of participant observation, the participating observer and the

observing participant. The participating observer does not take on the role of the people

being studied, but does involve himself or herself in the daily lives of the research

subjects. In contrast, the observing participant actually takes on the role of the research

subjects, studying their behavior and attitudes from within. Like most anthropologists,

my role was as a participating observer as I worked in tobacco production, attended and

facilitated meetings, and helped to draft various documents for agricultural organizations

in the study area. Combined with informal interviewing and survey research, this mix of

methods allows researchers to collect and interpret both qualitative and quantitative data.

The initial months of the research focused on participant observation with the goal of

understanding the key issues regarding tobacco farming and agricultural diversification in

eastern Kentucky. That understanding was used to develop a questionnaire that was -

administered in the last months of the research period. This chapter describes the process

of selection of the research counties, the methods of data collection used, the sampling

strategy and survey administration process (as well as the problems that arose with this








component), and concludes with descriptive statistics to provide a picture of the

agricultural situation in the study counties.




Research Site Selection

Preliminary research for this project focused on the East Kentucky Vegetable

Producers Association (EKVPA), a vegetable marketing cooperative to be discussed at

length in Chapter 6. In addition to interviews with members of the board of directors and

the manager of EKVPA, I attended several board meetings of the organization at the

invitation of these officials. As will be discussed in Chapter 6, these board meetings

focused on the serious managerial, financial, and organizational problems plaguing

EKVPA, problems that were to lead to the closing of the organization in December 1999.

When the organization eventually folded, the focus on EKVPA planned in the original

research proposal for this project had to be abandoned. Nonetheless, the question of if

and how farmers are diversifying farms highly dependent on tobacco remained the central

research question.

While I had originally planned to use the EKVPA membership as a sampling

frame for farmers seeking to diversify into alternative crop production, the closing of

EKVPA allowed me to focus my research on just two of the fifteen counties served by

EKVPA. In retrospect, this focus allowed me to develop a better understanding of the

local agricultural community dynamics that affect farm diversification decisions. After

meeting with Cooperative Extension agents in a number of eastern Kentucky counties, I

decided to focus on two counties, Morgan and Wolfe, for this research. The counties are

contiguous and have fundamentally similar agricultural economies, but Morgan County is








nearly twice the size in population and 75% larger in land area. By working in two

counties, I was able to reduce the danger that findings would be tied to idiosyncratic

county-specific factors. My intent was to make the findings as generalizable as possible

to other parts of Appalachian Kentucky. In fact, as will be seen in Chapter 6, there were

some significant differences in the ways the statewide agricultural development process

unfolded in the two study counties. Research in two counties does not, of course,

guarantee generalizability to the entire state, but it does provide some methodological

safeguards.




Data Collection

Throughout the research, I met often with the county extension agents and Farm

Service Agency officials from both counties. These officials proved to be among the most

important of my key informants, as they regularly talked to a wide range of farmers, were

involved in every agricultural diversification program in the region, and were able to

suggest key farmers with whom I should speak. It soon became clear, however, that these

officials tended to direct me towards a certain type of farmer-the more educated and

affluent farmers who were more likely to interact with agricultural officials. Thus, I was

typically urged to talk to large-scale farmers, farmers who served on the various county

committees administering federal agricultural programs, and farmers who were articulate

and vocal about agricultural issues. I was not, I realized, being directed to talk with small-

scale farmers, tenant farmers, or farmers with low levels of education, a situation I made

a conscious effort to remedy.








In addition to formal and informal interviews with agricultural officials and a

wide range of farmers, 1 regularly attended public meetings sponsored by the extension

service and commodity producer organizations, business meetings of the county

committees administering the federal agricultural programs, and other public gatherings

of farmers. As will be discussed in Chapter 6, I also attended and facilitated meetings of

the newly created County Agricultural Development councils in both Morgan and Wolfe

counties.

One of the difficulties I continually faced in this research was something I had not

encountered in my previous research in developing countries. Unlike anthropologists

working in rural communities and small towns in developing countries, I did not

regularly "run into" farmers, but instead generally had to arrange meetings in advance.

My work with several farmers in tobacco production, along with my regular attendance at

and participation in meetings of agricultural organizations allowed some of the informal

interaction central to participant observation. There were few places where farmers "hung

out", although I did spend time talking informally with farmers in the several farm supply

stores in the region. Indeed, one informant noted that community events that had helped

provide coherence to local communities in the past were not common anymore. Bernard

(1995) notes that hanging out is one of the important parts of participant observation, and

I had to make a conscious effort to compensate for the lack of hanging out possible in this

research setting. For example, I was generally the first person to arrive and almost always

the last person to leave community meetings, using this time as a way to chat informally

with other meeting attendees and establish my presence as routine. By doing this, I was

able to observe the significant controversy that developed in the county agricultural








development councils discussed in Chapter 6. In addition to observing the disputes during

the meetings, however, my ubiquitous presence after the meetings gave me the

opportunity to hear candid appraisals of the meetings by those involved in the

controversies.

Despite the limitations on standard participant observation, I was able to meet

with and interview a wide range of farmers. By using lists of individuals who rented and

leased quota, I was able to identify farmers who did not fit the profile of those generally

recommended for interviews by agricultural officials. Once the survey phase of the

research began, I made a special effort to explore critical questions with renters and

small-scale farmers who I was less likely to speak with during the initial stages of

research.




Sampling and Survey Data Collection

Survey data collection was conducted from November 2000 to April 2001. The

sample was drawn from a list of farmers with marketing cards to sell tobacco. This list is

limited to farmers actually growing tobacco, or those who have tenants growing tobacco

on their land. There were a total of 1299 people in the two counties issued a marketing

card, 66% live in Morgan County and 34% in Wolfe County. All 1299 names were

numbered and a random number table was used to draw the sample. A sample of 250

names was drawn. Names selected for the sample were contacted in approximately the

order in which they were drawn. The person named on the marketing card was

telephoned and asked if he or she was actually producing the tobacco, or if someone else








was tending it. If that person was the grower, an interview was scheduled; if not, the

grower's name was obtained and that person was then contacted.

Reaching individuals in the sample proved challenging, as there were no

telephone numbers on the list and the addresses were often rural routes. Most telephone

numbers were located cross-referencing the telephone book and asking extension agents

and FSA staff for assistance. Nevertheless, of the 250 names selected in the sample, 42

could not be contacted due to lack of phone numbers or addresses, and 21 declined to be

interviewed or failed to meet the interviewer as arranged. Of the remaining 187 names,

113 interviews were completed, representing 8.7% of the total number of people issued

marketing cards. While the target sample size was 200, difficulties in arranging

interviews resulted in a considerably smaller sample. Interviews were conducted in the

farmer's home, and the combination of more extensive driving than anticipated and

scheduling difficulties limited the number of interviews that could be completed.

Additionally, I had some difficulty hiring appropriate research assistants; of the four I

hired and trained, only two actually conducted any interviews. As a result, I conducted 82

of the 113 interviews. The survey instrument is provided in Appendix A.

Concerns about informant accuracy led me to discard some of the data collected

with the survey instrument. Many farmers had only vague estimations for a number of

questions, particularly those regarding labor (both family and hired), crop yields (other

than tobacco), and plans for future farm enterprises. The problem of informant accuracy,

discussed by Bernard and colleagues (Bernard, Killworth, Kronenfeld, and Salier 1984),

is an extraordinarily difficult one. In general, I found that questions concerning data over

a year old tended to evoke speculative and uncertain answers; not surprisingly, for








example, people were far more able to confidently report the number of pounds of

tobacco they were entitled to sell in the current crop year than the same data from two

years previous. However, the data concerning 1998 tobacco production, for example, was

so tentative that I chose to exclude it from analysis. While I have included analysis of

some other questionable data, I have noted my concerns with it in the text. A related

problem developed with questions about alternative crop production. As discussed in

Chapter 7, almost all alternative crop production took place at least 4 to 5 years ago, and

the data about that production tended to be quite vague. Thus, while farmers could tell me

the reasons they abandoned vegetable production, for example, they were unlikely to

remember information about acreage, yields, prices received, and other potential

independent variables. In fact, this difficulty in informant recall was so acute that the

survey instrument did not even attempt to collect such data, as its validity would have

been highly suspect.

It could be argued that in research concerning decision-making, the accuracy of

the data (barring intentional misrepresentation) is less important than knowing on what

information informants are basing their decisions. Even if an estimate by a farmer that

10% of his or her household comes from farming is widely incorrect, that 10%/ figure is

what he or she believes is correct and is the information on which decisions are based. Of

course, it should be made explicit that the data collected in this research is based on

informant recall and opinions, rather than direct measurement.








Description of Sample

While specific data from the sample are incorporated into relevant portions of the

text of this work, a brief overview of some of the descriptive statistics collected will help

paint the picture of farming in the study region.

Production Data

Farmer access to various kinds of agricultural land, either by ownership or rental,

is portrayed in Table 2-1. In the 2000 crop year, 39.8% (n=45) of the farmers surveyed

rented at least some tobacco quota1 and land, 70.8% (n=80) owned at least some quota,

and 44.2% (n=50) leased at least some quota. Table 2-2 displays the number of pounds of

tobacco quota owned, rented, and leased for the 2000 crop year. For both Table 2-1 and

2-2, the high standard deviations of these means reflect the highly unequal land

distribution in the region. All of the data presented in Tables 2-1 and 2-2 are combined

for the two study counties; t-tests indicate no significant differences in these means, or

any other means calculated, for the two counties.

While all the farmers in the sample raise tobacco, hay and cattle production are

also common. Nearly half (47.8%, n=54) of the farmers sampled raise at least some hay,

and 26.5% (n=30) are involved in cattle production. Among those raising hay, the mean

number of acres raised is 46, with a large standard deviation of 71.6 acres and a median

of 20 acres. Among those raising cattle, the mean number of cattle owned is 32.6, with a

standard deviation of 27.2 and a median of 22.5 cattle. The number of cattle owned in

2000 may be lower than in a normal year; since 1999 was a year of severe drought in the


The tobacco production system will be fully explained in Chapter 5; briefly, tobacco
quota refers to the number of pounds of tobacco a farmer can grow under the federal
tobacco program. Farmers may own quota to grow on their own land, they may lease









region, many farmers sold a large portion of their cattle and many had not replaced them

yet due to high livestock prices.




Table 2-1: Land ownership and rental, 2000
Mean acreage Standard Deviation
Cropland owned 11.93 30.91

Cropland rented 6.74 14.09

Pasture owned 21.82 40.78

Pasture rented 15.49 47.54

Hayground owned 5.67 11.60

Hayground rented 17.32 45.69

Other land owned 47.58 124.97

Other land rented 7.68 37.52


_____________________________________________________________ I


Table 2-2: Average amounts of tobacco quota, by means of access, 2000
Median pounds of Mean pounds of Standard
________ tobacco quota tobacco quota Deviation
Owned 950 1457 1359
Rented 6600 10,281 10,586
Leased 1150 2829 3126


quota from others to grow on their own land, or they may rent quota and grow the
tobacco on the land of the quota owner.








Management Data

Several questions were included in the survey to gauge management skills and

practices of area farmers. One important management tool is soil testing, a low-cost

means for farmers to identify the types and amounts of fertilizer and lime that should be

applied for a specific crop. University of Kentucky Extension specialists recommend that

on high value crops, such as tobacco, soil tests should be conducted annually. For lower

value crops, soil tests are recommended at least every three to four years (Thorn et al.

1977). Farmers in the study region are not, in general, following these recommendations.

Over one-third (35.8%, n=39) have never tested their tobacco soil, and only 7.1% (n=8)

test tobacco soil annually. Other farmland is tested even less often; of those farmers

raising hay, 69%/o (n=40) have never had a soil test of their hay ground, and 77.6% (n=45)

of farmers with pasture have never tested their pasture soil.

One particularly valuable information resource to assist farmers in agricultural

management and production is the county extension service. Both of the study counties

have a full-time agricultural extension agent who acts as a intermediary between farmers

and the research conducted by University of Kentucky extension scientists. County

agricultural agents can offer assistance with disease and pest identification and mitigation

recommendations, crop variety selection, and a host of other information services. Yet

among the sample, 33% (n=37) of the farmers have never talked with their county

extension agent, and another 30.4% (n=34) speak with the extension agent once a year or

less.








Demographic Data

Table 2-3 displays the mean, median, and standard deviation of the age and

education level of farmers in the sample. The relatively high age of farmers in the region

is often raised as a concern by area farmers about the future of farming in the region.


Table 2-3: Age and education of respondents
Median Mean Standard
Deviation
Age 50 50.7 11.1
Years of formal education 11 9.8 3.1


Most of the farmers in the study region are part-time farmers who also have off-

farm employment. Table 2-4 divides the sample into those in which the principal farmer

does not work off-farm, those in which the principal farmer works between 1 and 20

hours per week off-farm, and those in which the principal farmer works more than 20

hours per week off-farm. Over 60% of farmers in the sample fall into this latter category,

indicating the importance of off-farm work in the region. In addition, 18.6% (n=21)

report that they are retired from off-farm jobs.




Table 2-4: Partici nation in off-farm work
Hours per week Number of farmers Percent
0 38 33.6
1 to 20 3 2.7
Over 20 68 60.2
Total 109 96.5


The importance of farm income as a proportion of total household income is

displayed in Table 2-5. Nearly half of all respondents indicated that 20% or less of their









total income is generated by the farm. For most farmers in the sample, then, agricultural

income can be seen as a supplement to, rather than a significant proportion of, total

income. Approximately one-quarter of all respondents earn more than half their total

household income from farm sources. Thus, while farm income is a relatively minor

portion of total income for the majority of farmers in the sample, many do rely heavily on

farm income.




Table 2-5: Percentage of total household income from farm
______Frequency Percent Cumulative Percent
10% or less 28 24.8 24.8
11%-20% 25 22.1 46.9
21%-30% 12 10.6 57.5
31%-40% 10 8.8 66.3
41%-50% 8 7.1 73.4
51%-60% 3 2.7 76.1
61%-70% 4 3.5 79.6
71%-80% 3 2.7 82.3
81%-90% 9 8.0 90.3
91%-100% 10 8.8 99.1
Missing 1 .9 100.0
Total 113 100.0 100.0


Finally, Table 2-6 displays the reported total household income of farmers in the

sample. Nearly one-third of the farm families earn less than $20,000 annually, while only

16% earn over $45,000 per year.

These data paint a picture of a region characterized by part-time farming,

commonly a mix of tobacco and hay production2. As will be shown in the next chapter,

the predominance of part-time farming in the region mirrors the agricultural structure of


2 Hay is often sowed on fields that would normally be planted to tobacco. In response to
cuts in the amount of tobacco that can be raised under the federal tobacco program, many
farmers sow these fields into hay, which they may or may not cut and bale.









the United States as a whole. Additionally, access to the means of production in the study

region, both land and the right to grow tobacco (tobacco quota), is highly variable. This

variability has led to important disputes within the counties between farmers with

differing access to the means of production, a situation that will be discussed later in this

work.




Table 2-6: Total household income
______Frequency Percent Cumulative percent
$5-10,000 5 4.7 4.7
$10-15,000 15 14.2 18.9
$15-20,000 11 10.4 29.3
$20-25,000 17 16.0 45.3
$25-30,000 19 17.9 63.2
$30-35,000 12 11.3 74.5
$35-40,000 2 1.9 76.4
$40-45,000 4 3.8 80.2
$45-50,000 4 3.8 84
$50-55,000 2 1.9 85.9
$55-60,000 5 4.7 90.6
$60-65,000 2 1.9 92.5
$65-70,000 4 3.8 96.3
over $70,000 4 3.8 100.1













CHAPTER 3
UNITED STATES AGRICULTURE: TRENDS AND THEORIES

Ongoing changes in U.S. agriculture have been studied extensively by agricultural

economists, rural sociologists, anthropologists, and other academics. The persistence of

non-capitalist forms of production in agriculture within the capitalist economy of the

United States has challenged economic theory for an explanation. The changes in the

OUnited States' agrarian structure that have been documented and the theories developed

to explain those changes are a logical starting point for an examination of agricultural

change in Kentucky.




Trends in United States Agriculture

For the first century of its existence, the United States was primarily an

agricultural country. By 1880, slightly less than a half (43.8%) of the total U.S.

population lived on farms. While land under cultivation and the total farm population

continued to grow through the early years of the 20th century, farm residents decreased

as a share of the total population; by 1930, less than a quarter of the U.S. population lived

on farms' (Albrecht and Murdock 1990).




1 The Agricultural Census currently relies on gross sales in its definition of what to count
as a farm. Starting in 1974, a farm was defined as "any place from which $1,000 or more
of agricultural products were sold, or normally would have been sold, during the census
year." (U.S.D.A. 1999). This replaced an earlier definition that combined minimum sales
with acreage in the definition of a farm. (U.S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of the
Census
1980).








Farm Population

Since 19400, the pace of change in American agriculture has increased

dramatically. The spread of labor saving machinery, particularly the tractor, has enabled

far fewer people to work the no longer expanding land base, and the development of

chemical fertilizers, pesticides, and hybrid seeds have led to significant increases in per

acre productivity. Fueled by these technological changes, farm population, both in actual

number and as a portion of the total U.S. population, plummeted in the last half of the

20th century. Table 3-1 displays the changes in farm population in the country as a

whole, within the state of Kentucky, and in the study counties. At its peak in 1940, U.S.

farm population was over 30.5 million (Albrecht and Murdock 1990), accounting for 23.2

% of the total U.S. population. By 1990, farm population had dropped to just under 3.9

million, representing less than 1.6% of the nation's population (U.S. Department of

Commerce 1990). Not surprisingly, as farm population has dropped, average farm

acreage has increased significantly, from 175 acres in 1940 (Albrecht and Murdock 1990)

to 487 acres in 1997 (U.S.D.A. 1999).

The Changing U.S. Agricultural Structure

While a nearly tripling of average farm size is dramatic, averages mask some

important changes taking place in the United States' agrarian structure. A number of

researchers (Albrecht and Murdock 1990; Bonanno 1987; Gladwin and Zulauf 1989;

Stockdale 1982) have noted the development of a bimodal distribution pattern in U.S.

farming, with relatively few large farms responsible for an increasing share of

agricultural production, sales, and farm assets. At the same time, small farms have been











Table 3-1: Farm Population, 1900-1990__________________________
Year United States Kentucky Morgan Co. Wolfe Co
farm % total farm % total farm % total farm % total
population population population population population population population population
1900 29,875,000 39% (a) (a) 12,233 96% 8092 92%
1930 30,529,000 25% 1,815,563 69% 13,361 88% 7249 86%
1960 15,635,000 9% 546868 18% 6280 57% 3489 53%
1990 3,871,583 2% 174,204 5% 1797 15% 939 14%
Sources: Data on U.S. population 1900-1960 drawn from Historical Statistics of the United States: Colonial Times to 1970 (U.S.
Department of Commerce, Bureau of the Census 1975). All other data from Census of the United States (U.S. Department of
Commerce, Bureau of the Census)
Note: (a) data not collected by Census








seen, particularly since the early 1970s, as "increasing in numbers and holding their own

in terms of acreage and aggregate production" (Buttel 1990:109). The development of

this bimodal distribution over time is evident in Table 3-2, which presents the distribution

of U.S. farms by acreage from 1900 through 1997. The categories showing the most

dramatic increases over time are the smallest and largest acreages, with the middle range

decreasing as a percentage of all farms. Figure 3-1 shows this bimodal distribution at the

present time across the United States using gross sales data from the 1997 Census of

Agriculture.




Table 3-2: U.S. farm distribution by acreage, 1900-1997
1900 1940 1969 1978 1987 1997
Under 10 acres 4.7% 8.3% 5.9% 8.7% 8.8% 7.9%
10-49 acres 29.0% 29.2% 17.3% 19.2% 19.8% 21.3%
50-99 acres 23.8% 21.2% 16.8% 15.6% 14.9% 15.3%
100-499 acres 39.9% 37.0% 46.4% 41.3% 38.9% 36.3%
500-999 acres 1.8% 2.7% 7.9% 8.7% 9.6% 9.1%
1000 or more acres 0.8% 1.7% 5.5% 6.5% 8.1% 10.2%
Total number of 5,740,000 6,102,000 2,730,000 2,478,642 2,087,759 1,932,261
farmsI
Sources: Data for 1900-1969 are from Historical Statistics of the United States: Colonial
Times to 1970, Part 1, U.S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of the Census 1975. Data
from 1978-1997 are from the Census of Agriculture for each year.


This bimodal distribution, however, is not uniform across the United States, but reflects

geographic differences within U.S. agriculture. Studies of agricultural structure have

found that the types of farm operation tend to cluster, with corporate-commercial farming

concentrated in the southwestern U.S., particularly California, large individually-operated

farms concentrated in the upper Midwest, and small farm agriculture widely spread

across the county (Thomas, Howell, Wang, and Albrecht 1996; Wimberley 1987).










3 0 % .-
& ;. : .. .* . ,:* :*",:,':** ^ "^
0 25%
20% ,....
,. .., : .: ,, ...... . ., Less than $2,500
20% n 8$2,500 to $4,999
15 o "$5, 000 to $9,999
JE 15% ..C"
3 ,$10,000 to $19,999
S10% -*$20,000 to $99,999
U$100,000 and over
2 5%
0.
0% ---
Size of farm by gross sales

Figure 3-1: Distribution of U.S. farms by gross sales, 1997



Source: 1997 Census of Agriculture, U.S.D.A.


Figure 3-2 demonstrates that the bimodal distribution of farms characterizing the

U.S. as a whole is not predominant in Kentucky. For simplification, Figures 3-1 and 3-2

combine the largest gross sales categories from the Census of Agriculture ($100,000 to

$249,000, $250 to $499,999, and $500,000 or more), masking the fact that only 3% of

Kentucky farms, and no farms in the study counties, registered gross sales in the two

highest categories while 9% of farms nationally fall into those groupings. The

geographical regions are more similar on the smaller end of gross sales; in the U.S.,

Kentucky, and both study counties, from 20 to 25% of all farms had gross sales under

$2500 in 1997.

























Figure 3-2: Distribution of Kentucky farms by gross sales, 1997



Source: 1997 Census of Agriculture, U.S.D.A.


Between these relatively few large and highly productive farms and the numerous

but low-production farms is what has been called "disappearing middle"-medium-sized

family owned and operated farms. The alleged disappearance of the "traditional" family

farm, in which the family provides the bulk of the labor resources and the farm, in turn,

supports the family, has received a significant amount of attention from politicians, social

commentators, and researchers. Barlett, for example, argues that conclusions about the

disappearing middle are based on static definitions of mid-sized farms based on gross

sales data. She suggests that family farms are getting larger, but are still remaining family

farms-the middle isn't disappearing, but it is getting bigger (Barlett 1986). To

compensate for this "moving target" of the mid-sized farms, Gladwin and Zulauf defined

a mid-sized farm as one that can provide a standard of living comparable to the national

average. Using this definition, based on a comparison of net farm income and national


30%
25% : i "=;,:. "i :"

m Less than $2,500
20% .. $2,500 to $4,999
o $5,000 to $9,999
[a $10,000 to $19,999
10%0 $20,000 to $99,999
m $100,000 and over
5%
0%-- ---


Morgan Co.


Kentucky








household median income, they concluded that mid-sized farms did indeed decline in

terms of number, output, and profit (Gladwin and Zulauf 1989).

Concurrent with this decline in mid-sized farms, the small farm sector has

emerged as a persistent, rather than transitory, type of agricultural unit. In fact, small

part-time farms are the norm in the study counties, as will be discussed in Chapter 4.

Small farms, family farms, and part-time farms have received significant attention in the

context of U.S. agriculture, and while there is clearly significant overlap between these

types of farms, the overlap is not complete.

Definitions

Studies of agriculture in advanced capitalist countries tend to define farms based

on the use of hired and family labor, land area, and financial data such as gross sales and

net income. In the United States, the selection of variables is largely shaped by the type

of data collected by the Census of Agriculture conducted every five years. Acreage and

sales data are the most commonly used, in part, because these are "the only measures of

size consistently collected by the Agricultural Census, and thus the only measures

available on a national scope for an extended period" (Gladwin and Zulauf 1989).

Family farms

Peterson, Dickson, and Bowker (1989) discuss both emic and etic definitions of

the term "family farm" and how those definitions vary according to the uses being made

of the term. Based on a survey of anthropology and agricultural economics students, they

developed an emic definition of a family farm as one using the family as the primary

labor source, producing primarily for the market, and providing the main source of

income for the family. According to this emic definition, family farms are generally









passed down through generations and tend to have a high level of concern with

conservation in land management.

Etic definitions of the family farm developed by USDA officials and agricultural

economists tend to focus on the quantifiable elements of the emic definitions, particularly

the role of family labor sources and the amount of income generated by the farm. Gross

sales data is the type most commonly used by agricultural economists, with definitions

excluding both the very large and very small farms. According to Peterson (1989), most

agricultural economists define family farms as those with annual gross sales between

$40,000 and $250,000. As Table 3-3 shows, however, using this definition would exclude

the vast majority of farms in the country, and even more so in Kentucky and the study

region, from the category of family farms.




Table 3-3: Farms by annual gross sales
Annual gross sales U.S. Kentucky Morgan Co. Wolfe Co.
Under $40,000 71% 85% 93% 95%
$40,000 $249,999 21% 13% 6% 5%
Over $250,000 8% 3% 0% 0%
Source: 1997 Census of Agriculture, U.S.D.A.,


From a policy perspective that seeks to influence the level of agricultural

production, exclusion of farms generating low levels of gross sales makes sense, given

the low percentage of the marketed food in this country they produce. But from a

theoretical perspective examining the process of transformation of the agricultural sector

from domination by family farms to domination by capitalist farms, these low-income

farms should be included with other family farms. Fuller (Fuller 1984) suggests a

classification system differentiating between full-time farming households, in which no








members have off-farm employment, and multiple job-holding households, which can be

divided into those whose total off-farm income exceeds farm income and those where

farm income exceeds off-farm income.

Simple commodity production (SCP) is a more precise, theoretical term than

family farm, although the two terms are largely denoting the same phenomena in the

United States (Deere 1987). Simple commodity producers produce for the capitalist

market and depend on the sale of those commodities for access to the means of

production (land, labor, credit) rather than accessing the means of production through

direct, non-market means, such as kinship or communal labor-sharing arrangements

(Ennew, Hirst, and Tribe 1977; Friedmann 1980; Friedmann 1978).

Reinhardt and Barlett (1989) argue that the most important distinguishing feature

of a family farm is its dual role as a unit of both production and consumption, a feature

shared by part-time and full-time farms. Although the part-time farm relies on non-

household production in addition to on-farm work, the farming is still carried out

primarily by family members. If understanding why family farms have persisted under

capitalism is the analytical goal, part-time farms are an important part of the picture.

Part-time farms

Although part-time farms have been an increasingly common form of agricultural

enterprise in the United States, exactly what is meant by this term is not clear. Fuller

(1984) notes that studies commonly don't provide an explicit definition of a part-time

farm. Instead, most rely on a combination of the number of days spent involved in off-

farm work and the amount of income derived from off-farm sources, particularly

measured as a proportion of total farm revenue. He notes, however, that the difficulty in

effectively calculating farm income creates problems with this method. Fuller concludes








that differentiating between a part-time farmer and a part-time farm helps to clarify the

issue. A part-time farmer is one who works only part-time on the farm. A part-time farm

"is one for which, with the current level of resources, the labor demand is less than a full

year's work" (Fuller 1984:209). Unfortunately, the Census of Agriculture does not

collect data on the level of off-farm income or the labor "demand" of a given farm. The

collection of such data would be extremely difficult, as the level of capital investment in

agriculture can significantly decrease the number of human labor hours required

(Bonanno 1987). Labor data from the Census are limited to wage labor hired by farms

and days of off-farm labor performed by farm operators. Perhaps the best indicator of

part-time farming is self-characterization by farm operators. Table 3-4 shows that a

strong majority of farmers in the study counties consider farming their secondary

occupation. Similarly, Table 3-5 shows Kentucky farmers are more likely than farmers

elsewhere to work off-farm.




Table 3-4: Principal Occupation, as reported by farm operators
Principal occupation U.S. Kentucky Morgan Co. Wolfe Co.
of operator
Farming 50% 41% 35% 34%
Other 50% 59% 65% 66%
Source: 1997 Census of Agriculture


Small farms

Not surprisingly, there is significant overlap between part-time farms and small

farms. Within advanced capitalist societies, however, part-time farming exists among

family-operated farms from small to quite large. Conversely, many small farms are full-








time operations with little or no off-farm income, and these small farmers are historically

"overrepresented among rural poverty groups in the United States and elsewhere" (Buttel

1990:107). Clearly, the opportunities, needs, and constraints are significantly different

between full time and part time operators of small farms.




Table 3-5: Days worked off-farm by principal operator, 1997
U.S. Kentucky Morgan Co. Wolfe Co.
None 42% 37% 32% 37%
Less than 100 days 9% 8% 9% 7%
100 days or more 49% 55% 58% 56%
Source: 1997 Census of Agriculture


The most obvious criteria by which to measure farm size is acreage. However,

acreage requirements can differ vastly depending upon the type of farming operation.

Thus, while studies of upper Midwest grain farms have defined small farms as those with

50 acres or less (Harper, Fliegel, and Es 1980; Schroeder, Fliegel, and van Es 1985), a 50

acre tobacco farm could produce well over 100,000 pounds with a net income of

$100,000 or more. Even within the same type of farm, the quality of land can vary

greatly. A livestock producer, for example, can raise far more animals per acre in the

higher rainfall regions of the Midwest or south than in the desert southwest. Figure 3-3

displays farm acreage from the 1997 Agricultural Census for the U.S., Kentucky, and the

study counties. As with the gross sales data, the striking feature of Figure 3-3 is the

extremely small proportion of Kentucky farms in the largest size category. Interestingly,

Kentucky and the study counties have a considerably higher percentage of farms in the

middle range (50-179 acres) compared with the U.S. as a whole, even though gross sales

from Kentucky and study county farms are skewed towards the smallest categories. This








discrepancy reveals a limitation in using acreage to define small farms; without

understanding land use, absolute acreage can mean little. In the study counties, for

example, many farms include significant amounts of wooded, mountainous, and other

non-cultivable land. Thus, while the total land area may be large, the useable land area

may be considerably smaller.



50%
45% ....
a0 40% -> ......^' .j *-i; ......, .,;; -----*" "- "i~ff
40% ar
x~z. m1-9 acres
...................; 10-49acres
S30%
w 50-179 acres
25% ...
20% 180-499 acres
F m 500-999 acres
15%l B 1000 or more
5%
0%
U.S. Kentucky Morgan Co. Wolfe Co.



Figure 3-3: Distribution of farms by acreage, 1997.


Source: 1997 Census of Agriculture, U.S.D.A.


In addition to overestimating the amount of productive land, a reliance on

measures of land area ignores the importance of the type of farming operation. A twenty

or thirty acre vegetable farm, for example, is a considerably more substantial operation

than a similarly sized wheat or corn farm. For this reason, farm sales data has been the

most commonly used means of measuring farm size.








Because of the problems with using land area-based definitions, studies of small

farms tend to rely on gross sales (Albrecht 1992; Carlin and Crecink 1979; Schulman,

Garrett, and Luginbuhl 1985; Tweeten and Amponsah 1996). Gross sales have the

advantage of not being subject to such factors as intensity of agricultural operations, the

level of capital investment in labor saving technology, and other variables related to farm

management, focussing instead solely on output. Although there is no agreed upon cutoff

level for small farms, studies generally include those with $20,000 to $25,000 or less in

annual gross sales. Table 3-6 utilizes that dichotomy in presenting national, state and

county level gross sales data. By this definition of small farms, both Kentucky and the

study counties have a significantly higher percentage of small farms than the U.S. as a

whole.



Table 3-6: Small farms by gross sales, 1997
U.S. Kentucky Morgan Co. Wolfe Co.
Under $20,000 61% 73% 81% 88%
$20,000 and over 139% 27% 19% 12%
Source: 1997 Census of Agriculture, U.S.D.A.

Despite the utility of gross sales data in suggesting the scale of farming

operations, they provide little information on the relationship between these sales and the

well-being of farm operators. Several researchers have compared net farm income to

median household income in an effort to define farm size based on profitability. For

example, a U.S.D.A. definition of small farms includes

all farm families (a) whose family net income from all sources (farm and
nonfarm) is below the median non-metropolitan income of the state, (b)
who depend on farming for a significant though not necessarily a majority
of their income, and (c) whose family members provide most of the labor
and management (Carlin and Crecink 1979: 933).








Following these criteria, small farms are, by definition, low-income farms. There are

several problems with this sort of definition. First, it equates small farms with low

incomes. A very large farm, as delineated by definitions of gross sales or acreage, would

be classified as a small farm if its margin of profit is small. Second, substantially similar

farms could be classified differently solely due to differing levels of off-farm income. In

short, this definition is of a low-income farm household, rather than of a small farm. As

Carlin and Crecink note, proponentsns of this type definition generally are more

concerned about issues of limited resource farms and farm poverty than about other types

of issues" (Carlin and Crecink 1979:933).

Another effort to link definitions of farm size to external measures of well-being

was developed by Gladwin and Zulauf(1989). They looked at mid-sized, rather than

small, farms, and defined mid-sized farms as those providing a farm income equal to the

median U.S. household income, plus or minus 50 %. Thus to them, a mid-sized farm is

one that can provide its operators with a standard of living comparable to non-farm

households. This definition explicitly excludes off-farm income, focussing on the farm,

rather than the farm household. Presumably, any farm that provides its operators with less

than this level of farm income would be considered a small farm.

One fundamental definitional question about part-time farms and small farms has

to do with the primary focus of analysis. In the Census of Agriculture, emphasis is placed

on the principle operator, or the farmer. The section of the census form collecting

demographic data asks only about the residence, principal occupation, off-farm work,

age, race, gender, and ethnicity of the operator (senior partner or person in charge) of the








farm (U.S.D.A. 1999:D-12). Many researchers, however, have stressed the importance of

focussing on the farm family, rather than just the principal operator.




Theories of Agricultural Change

The changes taking place in U.S. agriculture have, in many respects, been

paralleled by changes in eastern Kentucky agriculture. While eastern Kentucky has seen

few of the large farms making up part of the national bimodal distribution of farm sizes,

the challenges facing family farms in the region are much like those facing family farms

across the nation. Agricultural economists, rural sociologists, anthropologists, and others

have debated the theoretical aspects of the changes in U.S. agriculture, and those

theoretical discussions can shed light on the eastern Kentucky agricultural structure and

economy as well.

Family Farms in a Capitalist Economy

The presence of family farms within an advanced capitalist economy such as that

of the United States has posed an intriguing challenge to agricultural theorists. Why has a

fundamentally non-capitalist form of production-one based on family rather than wage

labor-continued to persist rather than being subsumed by capitalist farms?

The single most important distinguishing characteristic of capitalist enterprises is

the separation of labor from the means of production and the consequent sale of labor as a

commodity (Roseberry 1989; Wolf 1982). Put more simply, capitalists hire labor, rather

than doing the majority of the work themselves. On family farms, the resident kin group

provides the bulk of the labor needed to work the farm, while on capitalist farms, hired

labor (and often management) carry out the work in return for a wage (Reinhardt and








Barlett 1989). Related to this distinction are differences in the objectives of the family

farm and the capitalist farm. In the latter, the farm is seen as an investment, and the

success of that investment is seen in the ability to earn a rate of profit comparable to that

which could be obtained in other investments. In contrast, while family farmers are also

vitally interested in the ability to make money from the farm, they may also have other

objectives, such as maintaining a rural lifestyle (Reinhardt and Barlett 1989) or passing

the farm on to the next generation (Salamon 1989; Salamon 1992). These kinds of

subjective orientations have encouraged the persistence of family farms even when the

family's investment of capital and labor could earn a higher return outside of agriculture.

The Future of the Family Farm

The future of the family farm in advanced capitalist economies has been

approached from a variety of perspectives by researchers. Neo-classical economists have

argued that capitalist growth combined with relatively inelastic demand for food has

allowed consumers to spend a decreasing proportion of their rising incomes on food. At

the same time, technological advances have resulted in an increased supply of food,

leading to a drop in farm prices. Together with government commodity pricing programs

which favor increasingly larger farm operations, these decreasing prices are pushing mid-

sized farmers to either expand production, cut back and become part-time farmers, or

leave the agricultural sector altogether. As a result of these forces, the number and

contribution of mid-sized farms decreased dramatically even prior to the farm crisis of

the 1980s. However, during the decade prior to the farm crisis, the number of part-time,

small farms remained fairly constant while their share of the total number of farms has

increased (Gladwin and Zulauf 1989). This suggests that while not producing significant

amounts of produce for the market, part-time farming has proven a viable means for








many farmers to stay in agriculture. Neo-classical economics does not, however, provide

a compelling explanation for why part-time farmers have remained in agriculture. That

has been the subject of considerable debate among Marxist and neo-Marxist scholars of

U.S. agriculture.

Marxist Perspectives on the Family Farm

Buttel (1990) notes that the persistence of family farms in an otherwise

predominately capitalist economy led most North American rural sociologists to discount

the validity of Marxist models, which were seen as predicting the displacement of family

farms by capitalist farms. Marxist and neo-Marxist scholars, however, have taken two

major routes to explain the seeming persistence of family farms under capitalism. The

first school, represented by de Janvry and Deere (de Janvry 1981; Deere 1987; Deere and

de Janvry 1979), sees the development of capitalist relations within agriculture as

inevitable and looks at the ways the state encourages a shift from simple commodity

production to larger capitalist farms. The second school, represented by Mann and

Dickinson (1978), seeks to explain the persistence of non-capitalist forms of agrarian

production. The broad theoretical debates between and within these schools of thought

can inform studies of agricultural change on the local level, helping place that change

into a larger context.

The inevitability of capitalist agriculture

While recognizing that noncapitalist forms of agricultural production have

persisted far longer than many had expected, one group of theorists emphasizes how,

regardless of the pace, U.S. and other Western agriculture is moving inexorably towards

capitalist development and proletarianization (de Janvry 1981; Deere 1987; Deere and de

Janvry 1979). This perspective emphasizes the role of the state in promoting capitalist








development through state-sponsored research aimed at reducing some of the risks and

conditions that make investments in agriculture less attractive to capital. Examples of

such government actions promoting capitalist agriculture include the development of crop

varieties that mature faster or are less susceptible to pests, promotion of capital-intensive

technology appropriate to larger-scale farming, investment in irrigation which has

facilitated large-scale capitalist farming in the American Southwest, and commodity

programs that can make the agricultural sector more conducive to capitalist investment'

(Buttel 1990). Empirically, there is some evidence that the differentiation of farms into

part-time, semi-proletarianized farmers and large-scale capitalist farms is occurring in the

United States. In areas such as California where agricultural production can go on nearly

year round, capitalist farms proliferate (Thomas et al. 1996; Wimberley 1987).

Nationwide, the disappearance of mid-sized farms demonstrated by Gladwin and Zulauf

(1987) is resulting in an increasing part-time farm sector, in which dependence on off-

farm work is growing. While this clearly demonstrates the process of the

proletarianization of many farmers that goes hand-in-hand with farm consolidation, the

evidence indicating that larger farms are becoming capitalist is less convincing. Since

labor requirements on large farms can be and often are fulfilled by increasing investment

in technology, the separation of labor and ownership of the means of production which

signifies the transition to capitalism is not a given.

The persistence of non-capitalist agriculture

In contrast to this emphasis on the ways capitalism is penetrating the agricultural

sector of the United States and other capitalist economies, other theorists have explored


1 As will be discussed in Chapter 5, government actions can have the opposite effect. The
federal tobacco program has served to maintain simple commodity production in the








the reasons for the persistence of non-capitalist forms of agricultural production,

particularly family farms. This school of thought, represented by Mann and Dickinson

and Friedmann (1980; 1978), looked to elaborate Marxist explanations for the slow and

uneven penetration of capitalism into the agricultural sector. According to Mann and

Dickinson (1978), the seasonal and high risk nature of agricultural production make it

relatively unprofitable and thus a less desirable arena for investment of capital. The

seasonality of temperate agriculture means that productive resources (such as land and

machinery) are left unused for relatively long periods, while the vagaries of weather,

pests, and other natural risks have been more difficult to control than risks in industries

such as manufacturing. These barriers to capitalist penetration of agriculture are not,

Mann and Dickinson (1987b) stress, immutable, but do help explain the persistence of

noncapitalist forms of production in agriculture. Netting (1989) elaborates on some of the

advantages family farms have over capitalist farms that hire labor, including higher labor

reliability and productivity and greater ease of management in small farm operations.

This analysis of advantages family farms have over capitalist firms is largely held by

neoclassical analysts as well as Marxists (Gladwin and Zulauf 1989). Mann and

Dickinson go beyond this description of family farm advantages, however, to discuss

some of the actions of the state designed to facilitate capitalist agriculture, actions which

will be discussed below.

Another competitive advantage family farms hold over capitalist agriculture

relates to the objectives of the enterprise discussed above. Many family farmers have

proven willing to operate even with incomes below that which would be needed to make



study region, making capitalist penetration of this type of farming difficult.








the profit capitalist farms require (Deere 1987; Friedmann 1980; Friedmann 1978;

Reinhardt and Barlett 1989), particularly considering the relatively large capital

investment in land and machinery common in farming. Non-economic objectives of

family farmers focus on farming as a lifestyle, rather than just an occupation, and may

include such lifestyle issues as working together as a team, raising children in an

agricultural setting, and love of the land (Garkovich, Bokemeier, and Foote 1995). It

should be noted that family farmers differ in their objectives and how satisfied they are

with low rates of return in agriculture (Garkovich, Bokemeier, and Foote 1995); Salamon

(1989; 1992) has distinguished two groups of farmers in the Corn Belt of Illinois, groups

which generally reflect ethnic background and are differentiated by the importance of

entrepreneurial profit in their farming objectives. Barlett (1993) describes different

management styles among Georgia farmers that vary by the importance of rapid growth

and short-term profit, noting that the more ambitious managers (those focused on growth

and high profits) were the farmers most likely to go out of business during the farm crisis.

In sum, the differing objectives and the biological and managerial advantages held by

smaller family farms have slowed the rate of capitalist penetration into the agricultural

sector, but the trend is towards an increasingly important role for capitalist farms.

A modification of this second school of thought, advanced by Mooney (1983;

1987), suggests that capitalism has already significantly penetrated the agrarian sector of

advanced capitalist economies such as the United States. Central to his argument is the

proposition that the complete separation of labor and the ownership of the means of

production is not a prerequisite to capitalism in all cases. Specifically, he argues that

simple commodity production can persist within capitalism because of the development








of "more efficient, less risky means by which capital may appropriate the surplus value of

direct producers in agriculture" (Mooney 1983). He suggests that tenancy, debt, contract

production, and off-farm work are all mechanisms by which farmers can retain control

over the means of production and thus resist proletarianization. Through each of these

mechanisms, surplus value is extracted from simple commodity producers by non-

agrarian capitalists-landlords, financiers, agribusiness, and employers, respectively.

These mechanisms by which capitalism indirectly penetrates simple commodity

production all exist in the study region, as will be discussed in later chapters.

Mooney continues his analysis by criticizing structural Marxist explanations for

the uneven penetration of agriculture by capitalism. He argues that the reliance on

structural factors, such as those used by Mann and Dickinson to explain why capital has

not been attracted to agriculture, ignores more subjective reasons why farmers are willing

to go to extreme lengths to remain in farming. As discussed above, the objectives of the

farm family have been seen by many as an important difference between simple

commodity producers and capitalist farms (Friedmann 1980; Friedmann 1978; Reinhardt

and Barlett 1989; Salamon 1989). Indeed, farmers in this research repeatedly stressed

such motivations as a desire to work outdoors and to be one's own boss when explaining

their continued participation in farming. Accused of over-reliance on such subjective

factors (Mann and Dickinson 1987b), Mooney stresses that he is interested in the

interaction of such subjective reasons with the objective conditions focused on by neo-

Marxist analyses (Mooney 1987).

Precursors to the disappearing family farm debate

This debate over the fate of family farms in capitalist economies is not a new one,

nor is the debate over the relative importance of structural and subjective factors. An








initial version of the debate took place in the works of A.V Chayanov and Lenin over the

future of the Russian peasantry, and a later version centered on the future of the peasantry

in Latin America, particularly Mexico, in the 1970s. Much of the Chayanov-Lenin debate

centered around the level of integration of the family farm sector with the market

economy. Chayanov argued that peasant or family farm in Russia and much of the rest of

the non-European world was not tightly connected to the market economy and that

production decisions were made based on family needs and resources at various stages of

the demographic cycle. The separation of the peasantry from the larger society also

shielded them from the infinite wants which keep people in a market economy working

beyond that needed for minimum levels of subsistence. Lenin, on the other hand, felt

Russian peasant was closely integrated into the national market economy. This

connection to the capitalist economy, he argued, was leading to differentiation (and

eventual elimination) of the Russian peasant population into capitalists and proletarians.

While some of this debate foreshadowed the current debate over the future of the family

farm in industrialized countries, in particular the role ascribed to subjective factors

affecting the growth of capitalist agriculture, there are important differences. Most

importantly, family farmers in the U.S. and other industrialized countries are not

separated from the market economy, as Chayanov argued the Russian peasantry was.

Most family farmers today consume little of their own production and rely on sales of

commodities to support the household.

The campesanista-decampesanista debate in Latin American studies also

examined the future of peasant/family farmers but did so in the context of dependent,

peripheral economies. A number of researchers have suggested Appalachia is an "internal








periphery", with much the same relation to the larger U.S. economy as other peripheral

regions have (Lewis, Johnson, and Askins 1978; Lohmann 1990; Walls 1978). The

campesanistas, led by Roger Bartra, argued that the peasantry serves important functions

for the capitalist sector, providing capital with both cheap food and cheap semi-

proletarian labor (Deere 1987; Harris 1978). The campesanistas saw, however, the

process of depeasantization/proletarianization advancing (Harris 1978), but argued its

pace was limited because a peripheral capitalist economy would be unable to absorb a

fully proletarianized peasantry. The campesanista position, then, focuses on the structural

conditions that shape inevitable rural proletarianization and the penetration of agriculture

by capitalism. The decampesanistas, on the other hand, focused on the subjective role of

the peasants in actively resisting full proletarianization, through collective efforts to stay

tied to the land. They called attention to efforts by peasant groups throughout Mexico

(and Latin America in general) to strengthen consciousness of peasants as a class with

common interests and to advance those interests through local and national politics

(Deere 1987; Harris 1978). Much of this debate is not central to the U.S. situation

because the number of U.S. farmers pushed off the family farm is quite small, relative to

the size of the total national labor force. In some regions, such as Appalachia, the

campesanista/decampesanista debate is more relevant, since there are not adequate full-

time wage labor jobs for farmers struggling to maintain the family farm. Collective action

of the type described by the decampanistas were important in the development of the

tobacco program in the early 20th century, as discussed in the previous chapter. However,

there seems little evidence today of collective action or consciousness on the part of small

farmers, either in the U.S. as a whole or in Appalachian Kentucky.








Implications of U.S. Agrarian Change

This examination of change in the agricultural structure of the United States

reveals several key facts. First, farm size, measured by acreage or gross sales, has taken

on a bimodal distribution. Relatively few very large farms produce the bulk of

agricultural products in the U.S., while small farms have grown in numbers, if not in

share of agricultural output. Second, part-time farming has proliferated, as smaller farms

turn to off-farm labor to supplement farm income. Third, the family farm, characterized

by a reliance on family sources of labor, has not been replaced by capitalist agricultural

firms.

The persistence of small, part-time, and family farms in the advanced capitalist

economies of the world has posed intriguing theoretical questions. Is this persistence just

a bump in the road to a more fully capitalist agricultural sector, or are there fundamental

structural reasons for the slow and limited penetration of agriculture by capitalist

economic relations? What is the role of subjective factors, such as a desire to remain in

farming and to pass the farm along to future generations, in the ability of family farms to

operate under conditions that make agriculture an undesirable arena for capital

investment?

While recognizing the dominance of structural factors in the development of the

U.S. agricultural economy, I agree with Mooney and the decampanistas that non-material

factors can shape that development. As will be seen in the next chapter, this debate over

the relative importance of structural and other factors has been prominent in non-

agricultural studies as well. This research consistently found that when asked about their

reasons for farming, the objective criteria of economic return was far less important to

Appalachian farmers than non-economic factors such as a love of farming. Incorporating






43


such subjective motivations does not alter the long-term trend towards the penetration of

capitalist relations in agriculture, as the discussion of changes in the tobacco economy in

Chapter 5 will reveal. Subjective factors can, I will argue, shape the form and pace of the
development oa capitalist agricultural system.
development of a capitalist agricultural system.













CHAPTER 4
APPALACHIAN CULTURE AND AGRICULTURE

What is Appalachia? Is it a geophysical region, a subculture, a political creation,

an internal colony, or a figment of overactive imaginations? Various scholars have

characterized the region in each of these ways, and each is a partial, but only partial,

answer to the question. In the nearly four decades of the field of Appalachian studies,

defining the entity being studied has proven to be an elusive goal. It is an important goal,

however, as many have attributed the economic and social problems facing the region as

a result of its special circumstances. Debates within Appalachian studies offer competing

explanations for the social and economic realities in the region, including the shape of

agricultural change in Appalachia.

As Chapter 3 demonstrated, the changes in agriculture in eastern Kentucky are

part of a larger trend in the U.S. agricultural sector. While eastern Kentucky lacks the

large farms responsible for most agricultural production in the United States, the

predominance of the small-farm sector in eastern Kentucky is similar to that found across

the country. The question then arises about how similar tobacco farming in eastern

Kentucky is to small-scale farming elsewhere in the United States. Do Appalachian

farmers make the decisions they do because of their shared Appalachian cultural values,

or are their motivations similar to those of small-scale farmers in other regions of the

United States?








Appalachian Natural, Social, and Economic History

Understanding of a region begins with an understanding of the environmental and

historical forces that have shaped that region. Environment, particularly in the case of

Appalachia, has been used as an explanation for its (supposedly) unique cultural

attributes and its economic situation, including the persistent poverty that characterizes a

significant portion of the region. The social and economic history of Appalachia has also

had a major impact on the cultural and economic development of the region.

The Environment

Mountains, trees and coal are the fundamental environmental features that have

shaped human development of the region. The Appalachian mountains are composed of

three parallel belts running from northeastern Alabama to southern New York. The

easternmost belt, known as the Blue Ridge Belt, ranges from ten to sixteen miles wide in

Virginia and Maryland to seventy miles wide in North Carolina. The eastern slopes of the

Blue Ridge are rugged and steep, with altitudes ranging over 6000 feet. The western

slopes of the Blue Ridge, in contrast, are more gradual, giving way to broad valleys. The

Great Smoky mountains form the northwestern boundary of the Blue Ridge Belt, in

eastern Tennessee and northwestern North Carolina (Campbell 1969).

The central belt of the Appalachians is the Great Valley, or Appalachian Valley.

The Valley encompasses Pennsylvania's Cumberland Valley, the Shenandoah Valley of

Virginia, and the Coosa River Valley of Georgia and Alabama, and served as a major

migration route for European settlers moving into the southern United States (Beaver

1984).

The westernmost belt is the Allegheny-Cumberland Belt or Cumberland Plateau,

the region in which this research was conducted. John C. Campbell, who with his wife









Olive Dame Campell conducted the first scholarly study of the region they coined "the

Southern Highlands," described the Cumberland Plateau "as a great wall facing the

Greater Appalachian Valley and sloping gradually to the northwest toward the Interior

Lowlands" (Campbell 1969:15). As another writer puts it, after passing over the ridges

and valleys of the eastern belt, "you will reach a wooded ridge that fails to descend into

any valley" (Salstrom 1995:76-77). The Plateau is an ancient mesa with thousands of

narrow, twisting hollows formed by erosion. Most of the resulting landscape is hilly and

wooded, with only narrow valleys around streams and relatively wide ridges providing

the level and rich land needed for crop production. Peaks in the Cumberland Plateau

reach altitudes of four thousand feet in Kentucky and Virginia, and the region

encompasses all of West Virginia, the eastern third of Kentucky, and eastern Tennessee.

The Cumberland Plateau is where the richest coal deposits in the eastern United States

have been mined for over a century (Beaver 1984).

Scholars utilize varied terminology to refer to different parts of Appalachia. In

addition to the geophysical regions discussed above, reference is commonly made to

southern Appalachia and central Appalachia. Southern Appalachia generally refers to that

part of the region below the Mason-Dixon line, i.e., all of West Virginia, Kentucky,

Virginia, and other Appalachian states to the south. The term central Appalachia denotes

the Appalachian counties of West Virginia, Kentucky, and Tennessee. Accordingly,

central Appalachia and the Cumberland Plateau refer to roughly the same region.

Northern Appalachia has received considerably less attention; it refers to the Appalachian

counties in Maryland, Pennsylvania, New York, and Ohio. This terminology is not hard

and fast, and some of it conflicts with the regional designations used by the Appalachian









Regional Commission, the federal agency charged with economic development of the

region.

The mountains and valleys of Appalachia are blanketed by deciduous forest,

including oak, hickory, maple, walnut, and-until blight devastated the population by the

1930s-American chestnut. As late as 1900, over 75% of the southern portion of

Appalachia, including all of Appalachian Kentucky, remained in woodland. The forests

supported, and continue to support, varied wildlife, including the now prominent deer and

wild turkey.

Within the mountains of central Appalachia lie vast deposits of coal, formed over

300 million years ago from decaying plants and other organic matter. Appalachia has

long been a primary source for bituminous coal, a type of coal historically in high

demand due to its heating potential. While a considerable portion of the region's coal has

already been mined, and Appalachia's share of national coal production has dropped with

the development of coal strip mines in the American west, Appalachia retains over one-

fourth of the underground and one-eighth of the surface reserves of coal in the U.S.

(Harvey 1986).

The environment of eastern Kentucky offers an important clue for some of the

differences in the shape of agricultural change in Appalachia compared to the nationwide

agricultural changes discussed in the previous chapter. The rugged topography of the

region limits farming to relatively small fields in the valleys and hollows among the

mountains. These small, non-contiguous fields present a barrier to the efficiencies of

scale that can give large farms a competitive advantage over their smaller counterparts.








Human History

Prior to European settlement, Native Americans-ultimately the Cherokee-

utilized central and southern Appalachia for hunting and gathering wild food sources.

The Cherokee population was concentrated in settlements along river banks in the Blue

Ridge region, particularly eastern Tennessee, western North Carolina, northern Georgia,

and northwestern South Carolina, where they practiced horticulture based on corn, beans,

and squash. While horticulture and permanent settlements were concentrated in the Blue

Ridge, a wide expanse of Appalachia was used for hunting grounds, including most of

Kentucky (Goodwin 1977). In Kentucky, the last known Indian town was in present day

Clark County, on the western edge of Appalachian Kentucky. That town, however, was

abandoned during the 1750s, and

when European explorers and then pioneers began to appear in greater
numbers [after 1750], the area that became Kentucky had no permanent
Indian settlements, with one or two possible minor exceptions. A number
of tribes continued to use the land, however, sometimes setting up hunting
camps that might remain fixed for months at a time, sometimes hunting in
the area for shorter periods, sometimes waging tribal warfare, sometimes
using the land as a passageway between northern and southern tribes
(Harrison and Klotter 1997).



The settlement of Appalachia by whites did not take place in a uniform fashion or

simultaneously across the entire region. Salstrom posits three economic subregions of

southern Appalachia, each with its own pattern of settlement and economic development.

What Salstrom calls "older Appalachia" was the first of southern Appalachia's regions to

be settled by whites. It encompasses the Appalachian Valley, from northwestern

Virginia's Shenandoah Valley to northeastern Alabama, over 600 miles away. Salstrom

describes the settlement period of older Appalachia as being rife with entrepreneurship








and land speculation, rather than the subsistence agriculture often associated with

Appalachia. Agriculture primarily focused on livestock, taking advantage of plentiful

land, "and relatively little effort often sufficed to guarantee everyone's subsistence,

leaving people with time to seek income beyond their actual needs" (Salstrom 1995:81).

Salt deposits led to thriving businesses based on long distance trade, and the salt industry

stimulated the iron industry, due to demand for kettles to boil down brine to make dry

salt. The economy of the region was vibrant, with barter often more important than cash

exchange. Growth was rapid through the 1830s, when growth in the region slowed

considerably. Older Appalachia, according to Salstrom, was spared the population

pressures that later plagued other regions of Appalachia because there remained vast

unsettled spaces to the west, providing an outlet for the growing population.

Intermediate Appalachia, according to Salstrom's typology, developed to the

south and east of older Appalachia in the mountains and valleys of North Carolina and

Georgia. The western highlands of this region remained in Cherokee control until the

1830s, delaying settlement by whites until the Appalachian Valley to the northwest was

heavily populated. Although settlement began much earlier, the rate of population growth

peaked from the 1820s through the 1840s, with growth continuing through the end of the

century. As the frontier of intermediate Appalachia pressed west, a lively extraction

economy based on furs, ginseng, and gold, developed along with farming and raising

livestock.

As the last of Appalachia's three subregions to be settled, newer Appalachia

developed in the Cumberland Plateau portions of eastern Kentucky, southwestern West

Virginia and east-central Tennessee. According to Salstrom,








It constituted the last extensive frontier in the eastern United States. Not
until the 1880s did its frontier conditions show signs of ending, and some
of it remained wilderness into the twentieth century. Thus this last-settled
subregion was still partly frontier during the rapid industrialization that
began here in the late nineteenth century.(Salstrom 1995)



Settlers of European descent entered the Cumberland Plateau of Kentucky from

two directions. The northern parts of the Plateau, what is now east central Kentucky,

were settled from the west, with settlers entering from the Bluegrass region of Kentucky

around Lexington. The part of the Plateau that is now southeastern Kentucky was settled

from the east, with pioneers passing through the Cumberland and other gaps from the

Appalachian Valley. Groups of settlers would seek out valleys, preferably with fresh-

water springs and/or salt licks, where they would establish homesteads (Collins, Eller,

and Taul 1996). The development of this Appalachian frontier followed a regular pattern:

During the early settlement period, hunting and gathering were
commercially more important than agriculture. Generally, within the first
year, the frontier family had harvested enough to meet its immediate
needs. By the end of the second year, there was sufficient food to feed the
additional livestock. A surplus sometimes remained at the end of the third
year. When the harvests of field and forest exceeded the needs of the
family, the farmer began to consider ways to turn the surplus into needed
goods and services. (Collins, Eller, and Taul 1996:3)



As the Cumberland Plateau accommodated more and more people, newer

Appalachia faced a problem not encountered in the earlier epochs of Appalachian

settlement. While U.S. territorial expansion provided an escape valve for earlier

population pressures, by the time the Cumberland Plateau began to reach the end of its

frontier period, most of the western frontier lands had also been claimed. As a result,

newer Appalachia saw average farm size decrease by nearly two-thirds from 1850 to









1890, a higher rate of decrease than in either of the earlier settled parts of Appalachia

(Salstrom 1995). Nonetheless, self-sufficient farming remained a goal; in the late 1800s

and early 1900s, as capitalist firms were beginning to develop resource extraction

industries in the region, Appalachia had the greatest proportion of self-sufficient farms in

the nation, and even as late as 1930, there were over 150,000 self-sufficient farms in the

region (Eller 1979; Precourt 1983). The ethnographic studies of Beech Creek beginning

in the 1940s have provided a glimpse into the family-based subsistence farms of

Appalachia in the more isolated parts of the Plateau. Beech Creek is the pseudonym for

an eastern Kentucky community that was extremely isolated and still roadless when

sociologist James Brown first studied the area. While we should be careful not to assume

that this was a timeless, unchanging community exactly parallel to Appalachian

communities of a century earlier (Lewis and Billings 1997; Wolf 1982), the high level of

subsistence agriculture as late as the 1940s does demonstrate the potential for agricultural

self-sufficiency in this environment. As Billings, Blee and Swanson relate, "In the 1940s,

eighty-nine percent of all farm production was consumed at home, and only a small

surplus (principally tobacco) was marketed commercially. Despite some part-time wage

labor and the influx of government monies through pensions and farm subsidies, cash

levels in the neighborhood were exceedingly low. Annual expenditures averaged $84 per

capital in 1942" (Billings, Blee, and Swanson 1986:155). Furthermore, this high level of

farm self-sufficiency was recorded when population pressures had led to small

landholdings and less ability to supplement farm products with hunting.

Despite the ability of farmers in more isolated regions such as Beech Creek to

sustain a subsistence agricultural economy, the picture was not the same in more








accessible parts of Appalachia. The rapid decrease in farm size, coupled with increasing

competition from newly mechanized Midwestern farms, facilitated the industrial

development of the Cumberland Plateau. With decreasing landholdings and less

opportunity to sell agricultural surplus, Appalachian farmers became a ready pool of

wage labor for the capitalist enterprises that were beginning to take an interest in the

natural and human resources of the region.

Industrial Development in Appalachia

After the Civil War, industrial expansion accelerated rapidly in the United States.

By the late 1880s, timber resources in the northeastern U.S. began to diminish, and

eastern industrialists turned to Appalachia for new sources of virgin timber. Initially,

logging was selective, with farm families cutting the most highly desired trees in the

agricultural slack season. These logs were then transported, usually via creeks and rivers,

to large lumber mills in Nashville, Frankfort, Cincinnati, and other cities. This initial

stage of timber exploitation did not significantly alter agrarian life in Appalachia; logging

was done by families, rather than logging crews, and provided some much needed cash

income to farm families (Eller 1982).

While such a system benefited farmers, it did not provide lumber mills with the

needed steady supply of raw materials. By the 1890s, railroads had been built through

much of Appalachia, and timber companies began to buy large tracts of timberland, hire

logging crews, and ship the logs to mills by branch rail lines. As Eller describes it:

between 1890 and 1920 the lumber barons purchased and cut over huge
tracts of mountain timberland, devastating the region's forests in one of
the most frenzied timber booms in American history. For thousands of
mountaineers, the coming of the timber industry not only meant the loss of
valuable woodland, but it meant the first major form of nonagricultural
work as well (Eller 1982:87).










As the timber resources became increasingly depleted, development of

Appalachia's extensive coal resources accelerated. Linked to the national economic

recovery from the economic panic of 1893, coal production in Appalachia skyrocketed;

by 1930, Appalachian coal accounted for nearly 80% of all U.S. coal production (Collins,

Eller, and Taul 1996). This rapid growth was facilitated by the historical settlement

pattern of the Cumberland Plateau region and the concurrent disappearance of the frontier

elsewhere in the United States. As Salstrom explains,

the sequence of settlement does not, of course, explain why rich seams of
bituminous coal underlay the plateau, but the plateau's late settlement
does help explain why so much of its coal was mined. Coal extraction
came to dominate newer Appalachia's economy not only "because it was
there" but also because a subsistence crisis began to threaten this
subregion, motivating many of its people to work for wages so low that
numerous coal operators were attracted to the plateau from perfectly good
coalfields elsewhere in the United States. (Salstrom 1995:90)

Agriculture remained important, as subsistence farming effectively subsidized the low

wages paid to miners. By the early part of the 20th century, some coal operators had even

started to encourage their employees to plant large gardens by providing free fencing and

plowing, and seeds and fertilizer at cost (Salstrom 1995). This function of agriculture in

subsidizing industrial development is a common pattern globally and is often cited as one

reason for the persistence of family-based agriculture in industrializing regions (de

Janvry 1981; Deere and de Janvry 1979).

The region known commonly known as Appalachia, then, has a unique social and

economic history as a result of its position as the last frontier region in the eastern United

States. But does that history make Appalachia a distinct subcultural entity within the








larger United States culture? While many casual observers would accept the notion that

Appalachia has a distinct culture, Appalachian scholars are far from agreed on that point.




Does Appalachia Really Exist?

Appalachia, as a region, has been the subject of extensive public and private

endeavors to enhance development-economic, social, and educational-over the last

forty years. Many of these programs, administered by groups such as the Christian

Appalachian Project, are specifically targeted at Appalachia as a distinct and unique

region. The agricultural programs affecting Appalachian farmers, however, are generally

not specific to the region but are state- or nation-wide in scope. If Appalachia is a truly

distinct and unique cultural region, a strong case could be made that agricultural

programs there need to be tailored to the region. A review of the Appalachian studies

literature suggests that the evidence for the existence of Appalachia as a separate

subculture is tenuous, at best.

The Invention of Appalachia

During most of the period of its settlement, Appalachia was not viewed as a

distinctive cultural region, but instead as one of a number of frontier regions in the United

States. Starting in the last quarter of the nineteenth century, however, the term

Appalachia began to take on cultural, instead of just geophysical, connotations. One of

the first characterizations of Appalachia as a cultural region distinct from the rest of the

U.S. was the travel account of Will Wallace Harney, a doctor who wrote about his

experiences in an 1873 article in Lippincott's Magazine called "A Strange Land and

Peculiar People" (Shapiro 1978). This title, which has become infamous in Appalachian








studies, helps demonstrate how the region is defined as "other" than the larger American

culture. A number of Appalachian scholars have suggested, in fact, that the entire

designation of Appalachia has been created, promoted, and maintained by outsiders.

These scholars trace the grouping of the mountain south under the label Appalachia to

writers in popular magazines on the East Coast, such as Lippincott's, during the post

Civil War era. These "local-color" writers described several parts of the United States,

including Appalachia, as being distinct from and out of step with urban America. Local

color writings included travelogues, such as Harney's, and short fiction placed in

locations new to the Eastern readership of the literary magazines that published the work.

Much of the fiction was placed in "olden times," the pre-Civil War period before

America became industrialized, modernized, even civilized. The local color

writers sought to describe to their readers different ways of life from the accepted norm,

drawing comparisons between the lives of the (normal) readers and the exotic subjects.

While the local color movement wrote about many parts of America, their focus on

Appalachia was unique, as Shapiro (1978:17) describes it.

Unlike most of the areas described by the local colorists, Appalachia was
not in fact separated from America by ethnic, geographic, or chronological
distance. The mountaineers were native-born, white, Anglo-Saxon,
Protestant. The mountain region was not only in America, but in that part
of America which had been settled by the first generation of frontiersmen,
hence where the rude conditions of the frontier ought long ago to have
given way to the more sophisticated and "civilized" conditions of modem
life. It was indeed the perception of the "otherness" of Appalachia despite
this similarity and proximity which had seemed most intriguing to the first
group of writers who followed Harney's lead in using the southern
mountains as subject or setting for literature.

This characterization of Appalachia as the other was the fundamental product of

the "invention of Appalachia" as Batteau (1990) calls it. The region was presented not as

it was, but as outsiders wished it to be. The impact of the local color movement on the








nation's perception of the Appalachian region was significant. No longer was Appalachia

just another frontier region, complete with the problems and opportunities common to all

frontiers. The local color writers played a major role in defining Appalachia to the rest of

the country, and the solidifying image of Appalachia they advanced incorporated and

perpetuated many of the negative stereotypes now commonly held about the region,

including sensationalist subjects such as moonshining, feuding, and random violence.

Furthermore, the popular perception that Appalachians were a group apart from the rest

of the country helped direct, and was reinforced by, political focus on the region.

The Politics of Appalachia

The image of Appalachia as the other was reinforced by its discovery by

American politicians, particularly following John F. Kennedy's presidential primary

campaign in West Virginia. The report of the President's Appalachian Regional

Commission, which led to the creation of the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC),

stressed the distinctiveness of the region as separate from the country as a whole and the

need to bring Appalachia and its people into full membership in American society

(Isserman 1997; Roosevelt 1964). By 1967, there were 397 counties in 13 states officially

designated as Appalachia by the ARC (Wood and Bischak 2000). Nine more counties

have since been added by Congress, bringing the total number to 406 counties. The

designation of a county as part of Appalachia has often been due to political, as much as

any other reasons (Bradshaw 1992). Official designation of a county as part of

Appalachia opens the door to significant federal resources, and the resulting range of

counties considered Appalachia is vast.

Since 1965, over $15 billion has been spent by the ARC, along with state and

local governments, on economic and social development programs in Appalachia. The








majority of these funds have gone to highway development, with additional support for

programs to promote business and community development, better housing and health

care, and educational improvement (Wood and Bischak 2000). Funds for Appalachian

development were severely slashed during the 1980s, and while funding for highway

programs have since risen, appropriations for other programs remains severely limited,

and overall funds remain well below levels attained in the 1970s (Wood and Bischak

2000).

Self-definition in Appalachia

After more than a century of outsiders' labeling the mountains of Kentucky, West

Virginia, Tennessee and neighboring states as "Appalachia", it is interesting to note that

the label is little used by the people of the region. People involved in the economic

development and handicraft industries have reason to use the term Appalachia; in the

former case Appalachian identity opens doors to funding sources, and in the latter case it

provides a coherent image around which a myriad of crafts can be identified and sold.

Outside of these groups, however, I have not heard the term "Appalachia" used in nearly

two years of fieldwork in the region. Instead, people generally identify themselves by

their county of origin or residence or, more rarely, as residents of "the mountains." The

farmers I have worked with acknowledge some shared problems created by topography

(small field size) and distance to population centers, but do not express any regional

commonality due to shared values or customs. Indeed, the evidence for the existence of

Appalachia would not seem to justify tailoring agricultural programs specifically to the

culture of the region, as opposed to focusing on problems common to farmers throughout

the country. However, Appalachia does exist as a region in the minds of most Americans,








and central Appalachia in particular shares a legacy of poverty, low educational levels,

and physical distance from major population centers.




Appalachian Kentucky Today

The primary image of Appalachia that comes to mind for most in the United

States is poverty. By any of a number of different measures, much of Appalachia has

presented the United States with some of its most persistent pockets of poverty (Brown

and Warner 1991; Duncan 1996). Despite decades of concerted federal, state, and local

efforts directed towards economic and social development, many parts of central

Appalachia, in particular, remain mired in poverty. Poverty rates in central Appalachia

remain nearly twice the national average (Tickamyer and Tickamyer 1987). Yet as large

and diverse as Appalachia is, it is not surprising that the distribution of poverty is not

uniform across the region.

Eastern Kentucky: The Heart of Appalachian Poverty

Although pockets of poverty exist throughout the region officially defined as

Appalachia, the greatest concentration of poverty is in eastern Kentucky and southern

West Virginia. Despite considerable improvement in the economic situation of most

Appalachian residents, residents of this area continue to face high poverty and

unemployment rates and low levels of educational attainment.

ARC's Distressed Counties Program

The Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) developed its Distressed

Counties program to target funding and track changes in regional poverty. To identify

distressed counties, the ARC created a composite measure based on the unemployment








and poverty rates, the per capital market income (income excluding transfer payments),

and the infant mortality rate'. In 1960, 54% of the 399 Appalachian counties were

classified as distressed; by 1990, that figure dropped by half to 27%. The progress,

however, has not been uniform. Eastern Kentucky has consistently been over-represented

in the distressed category; in 1960, 90% of Appalachian Kentucky's counties were

distressed, and that figure had only dropped to 76% by 1990. Figure 4-1 dramatically

displays the disproportionate incidence of poverty in eastern Kentucky as compared to

other parts of Appalachia.

In an assessment of the Distressed Counties Program, Wood and Bischak (2000)

identify some of the characteristics which have hindered economic development in the

persistently distressed counties. In comparison with more successful counties,

Appalachian counties that remained mired in the distressed category tended to 1) start

more distressed (in 1960) than other counties; 2) be more isolated from urban areas; 3)

have more rugged terrain, affecting the accessibility to jobs and the ability to attract new

industry; and 4) have high reliance for jobs in mining and government. It is worthwhile to

note that the first three of these four characteristics cannot be altered by government or

other programs. In general, counties in southern states, such as Georgia and Alabama, did

better economically than did counties from border states, such as Kentucky.

Eastern Kentucky Poverty Indicators

The economic boom of the late 1990s has resulted in some improvement of

economic indicators for eastern Kentucky counties, although these counties continue to




In FY 1988, Appalachia's infant mortality rate had dropped to the national rate, and the
ARC stopped using infant mortality in the determination of distressed status.



















* Persistently Distressed (98 counties)


GCOg.


Figure 4-1: Persistently Distressed Counties in Appalachia, 1960 and 1990
Source: Woods and Bischak (2000). Reprinted with permission of Appalachian Regional
Commission.








lag behind the state as a whole. In the study counties of Morgan and Wolfe, for example,

the number of people in poverty dropped 7.5% and 4.0%, respectively, in the period

1989-1997. This contrasts with a statewide drop in the number of people in poverty

of8.4% (Zimmerman and Breazeale 2001). Employment data for Morgan and Wolfe

counties is even more encouraging; from 1990 to 1998, the total number of people

employed increased by 21% in Morgan County and 30.7% in Wolfe County2, compared

with a 17.4% increase in the state as a whole. Nevertheless, the study region still falls far

behind the state as a whole in most key indicators. Median household income figures

from 1989-1997 are presented in Table 4-1, demonstrating that the study counties remain

considerably behind the state and national figures.




Table 4-1: Median Household Income
1989 1993 1995 1997

United States $34,213 $36,959 $40,611 $44,568

Kentucky $22,534 $25,222 $28,929 $31,730

Morgan $13,229 $16,450 $18,842 $20,627

Wolfe $11,000 $12,925 $16,745 $16,323

Sources: Data for the U.S. drawn from Statistical Abstract of the United States, Census
Bureau, U.S. Department of Commerce. Data for Kentucky and counties are from Census
Bureau's Small Area Income and Poverty Estimates, U.S. Department of Commerce.


Similarly, Table 4-2 shows the dramatically higher poverty rates in the study counties, as

compared with the rest of the state and the nation. Wolfe County's 1997 poverty rate is


2 The employment figures in Wolfe County have worsened considerably since this data
was collected. Over the summer of 2000, the county's largest private employer, a








one of the highest in the nation; although slightly lower, it is statistically

indistinguishable from the highest county poverty rate in the United States (U.S.

Department of Commerce 2001).





Table 4-2: Percentage of people living in poverty
1989 1993 1995 1997

United States 12.8% 15.1% 13.8% 13.3%

Kentucky 19.0% 19.7% 17.9% 16.0%

Morgan 38.8% 37.4% 36.3% 32.3%

Wolfe 44.3% 40.0% 38.9% 36.6%

Sources: Data for the U.S. drawn from Statistical Abstract of the United States, Census
Bureau, U.S. Department of Commerce. Data for Kentucky and counties are from Census
Bureau's Small Area Income and Poverty Estimates, U.S. Department of Commerce.


Another commonly used indicator of development is educational level. Low

levels of formal education are strongly linked to regions of persistent poverty (Brown and

Warner 1991). Kentucky as a whole, and eastern Kentucky specifically, has traditionally

had low educational levels compared to the nation as a whole. While a significant effort

is underway across the state and in the study area to increase educational attainment,

Table 4-3 shows that in 1990, educational attainment levels for Kentucky, and

particularly the study counties, remained considerably below national levels.


computer parts manufacturer, closed down costing the county 200 to 250 jobs, about 8%
of all the jobs in the county (Butters 2000).








Table 4-3: Educational attainment, 1990
Percent completing Percent completing Percent completing 4
less than 9 years high school or more years of
college
U.S. 10.4 75.2 20.3
Kentucky 19.0 64.6 13.6
Morgan Co. 39.1 44.1 6.7
Wolfe Co. 38.8 42.8 7.7
Source: 1990 Census of Population, Census Bureau, U.S. Department of Commerce.


Explanations for Appalachian Poverty

The most vexing questions in Appalachian studies involve the search for

explanations for the persistently high levels of poverty in Appalachia. While most

scholars have utilized elements of more than one explanatory approach in their work, four

key approaches in the literature will be discussed here.

The Culturalist Approach

One influential school of thought identifies Appalachian culture, as personified in

the personalities and behaviors of individual Appalachians, as the underlying cause of

Appalachian poverty. This approach is best known in Appalachia through the work of

Jack Weller. A more general application of the same explanatory approach to poverty is

anthropologist Oscar Lewis' work on the culture of poverty.

Yesterday's People

One of the most influential works on Appalachia is Jack Weller's (1965)

Yesterday's People: Life in Contemporary Appalachia. Weller, a Presbyterian minister

and missionary who moved to Appalachia in the early 1950s, wrote an impressionistic

account of Appalachian culture that closely follows the culture of poverty concept of

anthropologist Oscar Lewis (1965; 1966). In his introduction, Weller describes the

process which led him to write Yesterday's People as "the realization that perhaps I was








faced with a different way of life, a separate subculture based upon premises I was not

aware of' (Weller 1965:1). Weller outlines what he sees as the major traits represented in

Appalachian culture: individualism, traditionalism, fatalism, action seeking, the

psychology of fear, and person orientation. Some of these, such as individualism and

fatalism, he views as consequences of a history of frontier life in the rugged mountains.

Rural families, those "isolated by distance, by lack of roads, and by choice (Weller

1965:88)" are the most extreme examples of the Appalachian individualism, but the lack

of civic commitment is noted in all residence patterns. Other traits, particularly

traditionalism and action seeking, he describes but offers no explanations of origin.

Weller portrays Appalachian social life as fragmented, with little sense of community.

Children are raised to be highly dependent on the family, making them reluctant to move

away in search of better opportunity. Politics and the associated corruption and nepotism

become an important way to advance individual, rather than community interests. Weller

explicitly argues that these traits taken together make up an Appalachian personality

resistant to change, cooperative development efforts, risk taking and, in general,

incorporation into the modern life of America. He identifies as primary obstacles to

change the unwillingness of the mountaineer to change, the pressure of family and friends

against change, and the importance of interpersonal ties that discourage changes in roles,

along with the structural reasons of limited opportunity and outmigration of those most

amenable to change. In an oft-quoted phrase, Weller asserts that "The greatest challenge

of Appalachia, and the most difficult, is its people" (1965:7).

Weller provides us with a self-admitted non-academic perspective, drawing

generalizations based on his experiences living in the region. The intent and effect is to








set Appalachia apart from the rest of the country, akin to the 19th century characterization

of Appalachia as "a strange land and peculiar people." His work provides little of the

economic and structural context which could help explain the origins and prevalence of

the attitudes he describes. Because of this shortcoming, academics have been dismissive

of Weller's work, despite its public popularity (Lewis and Billings 1997).

Weller's Yesterday's People was not a significant departure from earlier

explanations of Appalachian poverty. From the "local-color" writers of eastern popular

magazines in the late 1800s to television's Beverly Hillbillies, Appalachians have been

portrayed as different from and inferior to the rest of America. Weller was writing during

a period of American belief in progress, largely measured by acquisition of material

goods. He proclaims that "Most Americans are 'progressive'; that is, we look ahead with

at least some expectation of joy and encouragement... We expect our children to have

more than we have of the things that make life enjoyable and comfortable. They will have

better education, better jobs" (Weller 1965:34). Being confronted with people who didn't

share those expectations convinced him, and most Americans, of the otherness of

Appalachians. People who don't want the things we want, don't share the same values,

don't actively work for a better future for their children must be different, in a negative

way, from the rest of us. Weller's understanding of Appalachia also fits well with the

modernization theory which was a dominant paradigm of the time-if people wish to

advance, they need to become more like us.3




3 Interestingly, Weller changed his views on the adaptive nature of traits such as
fatalism; after over a decade more of work in the region, "seeing his own bright hopes
dashed by the rapacious demands of an extractive industry, and watching agency funds
dry up, he notes that the people are realistic in accepting those things that powerful








The culture of poverty

While Weller's work is not academic in nature, anthropologist Oscar Lewis's

concept of a culture of poverty is based on many of the same precepts. The culture of

poverty thesis emerging from Oscar Lewis' work in Mexico, Puerto Rico and the urban

United States has been highly controversial, both in the academic and popular arenas.

Lewis proposes that, under certain conditions, a subculture of Western societies can

develop among the poor, with attitudes and values that serve to perpetuate poverty in

succeeding generations. This subculture of poverty, he suggests, can develop in capitalist

economies with persistently high rates of unemployment and underemployment, in which

upward social mobility is seen as possible and poverty viewed as the result of individual

failure. Lewis identified some 70 traits characterizing the culture of poverty, a list

including attitudinal, behavioral, social and material aspects of life. Among the most

debilitating of these traits are disengagement from social institutions, minimal

community organization, a sense of fatalism and helplessness, and a lack of deferred

gratification and planning for the future (Lewis 1966).

When Lewis advanced his theory of the culture of poverty, the United States was

involved in a public debate about poverty, with the focus on Appalachian poverty

triggered in part by John F. Kennedy's West Virginia primary campaign in 1960. Lewis

suggested his theory could help tie together "a number of phenomena hitherto viewed as

peculiar to certain racial, national or regional groups" (Lewis 1966:25). Thus, the same

sorts of cultural factors are seen as perpetuating poverty in rural Appalachia, urban


political, economic, and environmental circumstances have proven cannot be changed"
(Beaver 1982).








African-American slums, Native American reservations, the shantytowns of Mexico City,

and other regions of persistent poverty in the Western world.

Critiques of the culture of poverty

The culture of poverty theory has been sharply criticized, both in academic

literature and in debates over public policy. Valentine (1971: 211) notes that the anti-

poverty programs in the United States starting in the 1960s were "justified and

rationalized" by culture of poverty theories advanced by academics. Yet academic

criticism of poverty culture theory was extensive, and the critiques of Lewis' theory can

be grouped into three major categories: 1) the inappropriate use of the culture concept; 2)

disagreements with Lewis' ideas about cause and effect; and 3) concerns about the

research methods upon which Lewis based his theory.

1. Inappropriate use of culture concept. Lewis' use of the term culture has

been sharply criticized by several anthropologists, who suggest that whatever Lewis' list

of 70 traits is, it does not constitute a culture. While there is significant debate within the

discipline about what culture is, Valentine (1968:3) suggests a broad consensus, at least

among cultural anthropologists, that culture is "the entire way of life followed by a

people", the rules which generate and guide behavior, the organization of experience

shared by members of a community. Lewis claims that the culture of poverty "is a culture

in the traditional anthropological sense in that it provides human beings with a design for

living, with a ready-made set of solutions for human problems, and so serves a significant

adaptive function" (1966:19). He uses the terms "culture of poverty" and "subculture of

poverty" somewhat interchangeably, although he suggests that the more accurate term is

"subculture" and explains he used the term "culture" instead in order to avoid confusing

the popular audience that he intended to reach with his books (Lewis 1969). However, the








use of the term "subculture" does not avoid the problem of a fundamental misapplication

of the culture concept. Lewis is struck by how similar a certain segment of the poor is in

various ethnic, regional, and national groups, but this trans-ethnic, trans-national quality

of the culture of poverty prevents it from properly being called a culture. As Leeds puts

it:

If, however, standard uses of the term 'culture' are maintained, then the
culture of poverty-which, according to Lewis, can occur in all kinds of
different traditions and social systems---cannot be a culture, though it may
be some other kind of system, subsystem, or trait complex. It is not
unique; it is not specific to a time and place and tradition; it has no
particular or unique meaning structure; it is not sociogeographically
isolable. (1971:232)

The problem is more than one of just semantics. Lewis strongly emphasizes that

not all poor people exhibit the culture of poverty and estimates (on what basis is unclear)

that only about 20 percent of the people living below the poverty line in the US live in a

culture of poverty (Lewis 1966:25). These particular poor people are not congregated in

geographically-defined neighborhoods separate from the poor who do not live in the

culture of poverty, they don't interact only or even primarily with each other, and even a

members of a single family display differing amounts of the culture of poverty (Lewis

1969). This is particularly true in central Appalachia, where conspicuous wealth and

abject poverty are often completely intermingled (Duncan 1996; Duncan and

Lamborghini 1994). As Leeds (1971:233) notes, "Lewis is unable conceptually to specify

... the distinction between those who are poor but not living in the culture of poverty"

and those who are poor but "living in it," let alone provide a systemic analysis of how

poor people dynamically are sorted out into the one category or the other."

If Lewis is not describing a culture or subculture, what is he describing? He does

not suggest that the traits of the culture of poverty are diffused from one nation or ethnic








group to another, but is instead describing how different types of people in different

places adapt in a similar manner to similar constellations of economic and social

conditions, conditions limited to Western capitalist societies. These adaptations to an

environment of poverty may well be passed down along family lines, as children learn

coping strategies from their parents.

Closer examination of the traits Lewis ascribes to the culture of poverty makes

clearer their link to Western capitalism. In fact, many of the traits aren't adaptations to

poverty, but are instead indicators or correlates of poverty-unemployment,

underemployment, unskilled work, low-status occupations, meager wages, lack of

education, crowded living quarters, and deteriorated housing. As Valentine (1968:116)

asks "Are these phenomena not better understood as conditions or symptoms of being

poor rather than as inculcated patterns of social tradition?" Similarly, Leeds concludes

that

the behavioral characteristics, residential conditions, etc., that stimulated
Oscar Lewis to posit a culture of poverty are largely interpretable as direct
consequences of the operation of some specific aspect of capitalist societal
systems ... One does not have to postulate a social state of mind, or
culture, carried by structured social systems by means of characteristic
sociocultural processes, to account for them. The structural-functional
interpretation is simpler, involves fewer assumptions, and consistently
corresponds more closely to the statistical data and to the variations found
in the qualitative data. (1971:277-278)



Many of the other traits Lewis says characterize the culture of poverty are

negative behavioral and attitudinal attributes (including lack of family solidarity, low

levels of community organization, and a sense of hopelessness). These traits can, as

Lewis himself (Lewis 1966:21) suggests, be seen as "an adaptation and a reaction of the

poor to their marginal position in a class-stratified, highly individuated, capitalistic







society." However, Lewis goes a step further and suggests that these behavioral and

attitudinal attributes are not just reactions to, but become factors perpetuating poverty.

2. Disagreements with Lewis' ideas about cause and effect. Accepting, for

now, that these behavioral and attitudinal attributes do, indeed, characterize the poor in a

way that distinguishes them from the rest of society, Lewis asserts, rather than

demonstrates, that these attributes become causes rather than simply effects of, or

reactions to, poverty. Lewis recognizes the material basis for the attitudes he describes,

but argues that "[o]nce the culture of poverty has come into existence it tends to

perpetuate itself By the time slum children are six or seven they have usually absorbed

the basic attitudes and values of their subculture. Thereafter they are psychologically

unready to take full advantage of changing conditions or improving opportunities that

may develop in their lifetime" (Lewis 1966:21). It is through this psychological

incorporation of the values and attitudes, asserts Lewis, that the culture of poverty shifts

from effect to cause. Leacock (1971:13) argues, however, that "to say or imply that

values and motivations are set by six or seven flies in the face of findings in

developmental psychology."

Not only does Lewis argue that these learned and transmitted attitudes and

behaviors contribute to keeping people in poverty, but he also suggests that they are

deeply entrenched in the children of the culture of poverty. In fact, he sees them as so

entrenched that he makes the rather bold claim, again with no evidence, that "it is much

more difficult to undo the culture of poverty than to cure poverty itself' (Lewis 1966:25).

3. Concerns about research methods. Lewis' methods in studying poverty may

account for some of the problems with the culture of poverty theory discussed above. His







studies focused on families, rather than the more traditional community study approach in

complex societies. He describes his method in studying Puerto Rican families, in which

he and his research team assembled data on 100 "representative" families in urban Puerto

Rico and 50 families of their relatives in New York City. Utilizing questionnaires, open-

ended interviews and psychological tests, he establishes the context for an intensive

study, essentially participant observation and the elicitation of life histories, of a selected

few families (Lewis 1966).

Critics of Lewis have pointed out a number of limitations of using the family and

the unit of study. First, the initial 150 "representative" families were selected in a manner

that most certainly did not ensure their representativeness. Rather than any attempt at

drawing a random sample, Lewis utilized social workers and barrio-level political leaders

in San Juan to recruit participants, selected in a purposive sample to include a wide range

of characteristics in which the researchers were interested (Lewis 1965). While this

sample apparently laid the groundwork for La Vida, the book is focused on the Rios

family, a family he notes is far from typical (Valentine 1968). In fact, Lewis says that

"the Rios family is closer to the expression of an unbridled id than any other people I

have studied" (1965:xxvi). Finally, even if the Rios family and the rest of the sample are

in some way representative of a particular segment of Puerto Rican culture in San Juan

and New York, the extrapolation of characteristics of a relatively few families drawn in a

purposive sample to an entire culture is questionable, to say the least (Bernard 1995;

Valentine 1968).

Lewis' family study approach is also partially responsible for problems with the

culture concept discussed above. In part because of his reliance on family studies and







histories, he emphasizes the role of families in transmitting the culture of poverty from

generation to generation. He talks about the culture of poverty as transmitted through

families "a way of life handed on from generation to generation along family lines"

(Lewis 1966:19). As Leeds (1971:233) points out, however, cultures are held by

societies, not families, and "[e]xtrapolations from family histories to an alleged "culture"

simply fail to deal with the majority of institutional and social frameworks in which

families are embedded."

These methodological problems are not unique to Lewis; they are widespread in

anthropological research. Indeed, ethnographic work often generates results that are more

hypotheses to be tested than cross-cultural truths to be accepted. And although Lewis's

defense of the culture of poverty theory is vigorous, he agrees that his "formulation of a

subculture of poverty is simply a challenging hypothesis which should be widely tested

by empirical research" (1969:191).

Empirical tests of the culture of poverty theory

There are several aspects of the theory that can be tested, although the critical

question of cause and effect does not easily lend itself to such a process. Short of lifting

one group out of poverty and comparing the incidence of the traits postulated by Lewis

with that of a control group, it is difficult to see how such a hypothesis could be tested.

A cornerstone of the culture of poverty theory is that poor people, or at least some

segment of the poor, exhibit the traits of the culture of poverty at a higher rate than do the

nonpoor. Although Valentine (1968) argues that these traits are equally prevalent among

the middle class, neither he nor Lewis offers any data to support their respective

positions. Of course, even if the poor do exhibit these traits at higher rates, that would

settle little since both Valentine and Lewis agree that the traits are the result of poverty.







At the very least, however, it would behoove culture of poverty theorists to determine if

the traits in question do appear at higher rates among poor people.

Two empirical tests of parts of Lewis' theory that have been conducted were

carried out on rural populations in the southern U.S. Although Lewis developed the

theory based on research in urban settings, he did suggest that blacks and Southern whites

were two populations exhibiting the traits of the culture of poverty. David Miller (1976)

tested the relationship between one central trait discussed by Lewis, the level of social

participation, and a series of dependent variables. Miller found no significant

relationships between social participation and the income, education, sex, home

ownership and potential geographic mobility of household heads. However, the research

did reveal that the children of parents with high levels of social participation were

significantly more likely to be better educated and to move greater distances from home,

two variables which presumably enhance the possibility of climbing out of poverty.

Miller concludes that there is at least some support for the idea that some of the poor

transmit low esteem for formal education and fear of moving away from home to their

children. These are traits often attributed to people in eastern Kentucky and elsewhere in

Appalachia.

Another empirical test of the culture of poverty was conducted by Billings, who

compared Appalachian and non-Appalachian poor on some of the traits most closely

associated with the culture of poverty. If the culture of poverty were a valid explanation

for higher levels of Appalachian poverty, Appalachians would be expected to exhibit the

traits at higher levels. Billings (1974) constructed a four-item scale based on fifteen

attitudinal questions from a survey of rural and urban residents of North Carolina.







Billings considers the scale a measure of "Middle-Class Orientation", based on levels of

fatalism, achievement orientation, and pessimism. He compared the degree of middle

class orientation of rural Appalachian, urban, and non-Appalachian rural North

Carolinians, finding no significant differences between the groups. While the

Appalachians were somewhat less likely to express high agreement with middle class

values than the other two groups, he found that region predicts middle-class orientation

less well than any other variable considered, including ethnicity, occupation, rurality, age,

and education. Billings concludes that the differences in development and poverty in the

three regions are better explained by structural economic differences-principally the

dependence of mountain counties on the coal industry-than by attitudinal characteristics

of rural Appalachians.

While describing a pattern of ideals and behaviors that have perplexed many

observers, culturalist explanations for poverty in Appalachia and elsewhere, such as those

advanced by Jack Weller and Oscar Lewis,fail to give adequate attention to the material

conditions that have created the mindsets and related behaviors they describe. The

conditions creating this "culture" of the poor have not been removed; and until they are,

the evidence suggests that attributing poverty to culture is not warranted.

Bureaucratic Realism

Another influential explanatory model of the causes of Appalachian poverty is

characterized by a focus on technical rather than attitudinal barriers to development.

Bureaucratic realism is the term use by Lohmann (1990) to describe the neoclassical

perspective of the federal and state agencies, including the Appalachian Regional

Commission, that are promoting economic development programs in Appalachia. This

perspective views the problem of poverty as one of economic underdevelopment, rather







than anything distinctive to a particular place or people (Brown and Warner 1991). The

solution to poverty is jobs, and federal and state efforts to combat Appalachian poverty

has centered on creating more jobs through infrastructure development, industrial

recruitment, and the development of regional growth centers. The regional growth center

was at the core of the ARC efforts from the inception of the Commission. The majority of

funds disbursed through the ARC in its early years went to a limited number of urban

centers. According to growth center theory, development in these urban areas would

trickle down to the Appalachia's more rural and disadvantaged areas (Wood and Bischak

2000). While the regional growth strategy has resulted in improvements to these limited

urban areas, the trickle down effect has been less successful than anticipated. This lack of

success with the regional growth center strategy led to the ARC's development of the

Distressed Counties Program discussed above. The bureaucratic realism perspective on

Appalachian poverty differs from the other perspectives discussed here in the assumption

that poverty is the same wherever it occurs -- a straightforward economic problem with

technical solutions such as roads, industrial parks, tax incentives, and job training.

Appalachian poverty is viewed as, at its core, not different than poverty anywhere else,

and its solutions will be the same in Appalachia as elsewhere. While poverty in many

parts of Appalachia has decreased dramatically under policies of bureaucratic realism,

much of that improvement can be attributed to urbanization (Wood and Bischak 2000)

rather than any specific government programs. The failure of the programs of the ARC to

address poverty in the persistently distressed regions of the Cumberland Plateau suggests

an alternative framework for understanding Appalachian poverty is warranted.







The Structuralist Approach

In a clear reaction to culturalist explanations, as well as in an implicit rejection of

the bureaucratic realism approach, a generation of scholars turned to structural factors to

explain Appalachian poverty. David Walls' 1978 "Internal Colony or Internal Periphery?

A Critique of Current Models and an Alternative Formulation" is representative of this

approach. After briefly rejecting the culturalist and regional development models as

explanations for and solutions to poverty, Wall goes into a more extensive discussion of

models that look to basic economic structures of power as the causes of poverty.

Although sympathetic to the model of internal colonialism, which suggests that outside

industrial capital has colonized the region using low paid local labor and extracting

wealth from Appalachia, Wall suggests that the standard models of internal capitalism are

overly strained in their application to the Appalachian case. His solution is to analyze

Appalachia "in the context of advanced capitalism in the United States" (Walls 1978:331)

with an understanding of class structure and the role of the state in promoting capitalist

interests. Walls argues that Wallerstein's world systems theory, and particularly the

related concept of internal periphery, is a good explanatory model for Appalachia. Walls

pays special attention to Wallerstein's concept of a semi-periphery, an intermediary

between core and peripheral regions that serves to blunt the polarization into rich and

poor, thus avoiding provoking alliances between poor regions or countries. This strategy

has been successful in the case of Appalachia, Walls suggests, as Northern and Southern

Appalachia have moved to semi-peripheral status in the U.S., while Central Appalachia

languishes in the periphery.

The scale on which structuralists such as Walls and Wallerstein write is far

removed from the local-level perspectives central to anthropology (Batteau 1983;







Roseberry 1989; Wolf 1982). There is no clear place, for example, for local ethnography

in an analysis of national and global economic forces bending local and regional

economies to their purposes and needs. What local-level factors have shaped the form

that these larger structural pressures have created?

A New Synthesis?

The structuralist explanations of poverty exemplified by Walls have been seen by

a number of Appalachian scholars as paying too little attention to the role of local culture

in regional, national, and international processes of capitalism. Rural sociologist Cynthia

Duncan (1992; 1996; 1994) studied multiple rural communities to explore the ways social

relations, class conflict, and ideology interact with economic conditions to perpetuate

poverty. In her comparison of poverty in rural Appalachia and rural New England,

Duncan starts with an understanding of the differing economic and employment bases of

the two regions. The more diverse New England economy fostered a large middle class

which bridge the gap between rich and poor. In contrast, the bust of the Appalachian coal

economy has resulted in a stark division between haves and have-nots. A small handful

of elite residents control community affairs through their ownership of the most

important businesses, their influence over local politicians who control the public sector

jobs (the primary source of employment in many communities), and manipulation of

public services such as schools to meet their, rather than the broader community's, needs.

Duncan utilizes Swidler's (1986) concept of culture as a toolkit, where the tools are

"habits, skills, symbols, and ways of seeing and acting," and suggests the contents of the

toolkits vary by social class and community (Duncan and Lamborghini 1994:439). Lewis

and Billings argue the toolkit concept is a useful one in that cultureue is now presumed to

exert a significant influence upon its holders not because of how it shapes the goals they







pursue, but rather through the repertoire of knowledge, skills, and memories actively

negotiated, reinterpreted, and applied in ever-changing situations to achieve those goals"

(Lewis and Billings 1997:32). These efforts by Appalachian scholars to understand the

way local culture can shape and reform the impact of large-scale structural forces are

similar to the approaches taken by other social scientists, including anthropologists

including Eric Wolf (1982) and William Roseberry (1989).

Comparing the Approaches to Appalachian Poverty

The primary difference between these four approaches to the study of Appalachia

is the differing conception of the underlying causes of persistent poverty. Weller

addressed in the Appalachian context what Oscar Lewis did from a cross-cultural

perspective, attributing Appalachia's economic problems to deficiencies in the

personalities and attitudes of Appalachians. Bureaucratic realism sees poverty as a

technical, economic problem without significant cultural influences. Walls represents

scholars who have sought explanations for regional problems in national and

international economic systems and the periphery status of Appalachia within those

systems. Duncan is one of a growing group of researchers who examine the cultural

ramifications of differential access to power, manifested in social class distinctions and

varying abilities to operate effectively in society. This approach is one being developed in

several social science disciplines; anthropologist William Roseberry has advocated a

comparable view of culture, although he expresses it in a different manner. Roseberry

calls for a materialist conception of culture that sees ideas and symbols as products of

material and social life that are used in situations "characterized by differential access to

political and economic power" (1989:37).







It is this approach that acknowledges the dominant nature of structural forces

while recognizing the ability of local culture to shape the outcome of those forces that

offers the best explanatory model. Duncan's work on rural poverty in the U.S. is part of a

larger movement in the social sciences to understand how local-level, cultural processes

respond to and interact with structural economic forces on an everyday basis. Although

she starts with a discussion of the underlying economic situation, her work is necessarily

based on ethnographic fieldwork; only by understanding how people perceive and use

such things as class, values, and power can we comprehend the social context of

community interactions.

This examination of Appalachian poverty and culture helps set the stage for a

clearer understanding of agricultural decision making in the region. For example, very

few farms in the study counties are diversifying their farm operations away from an

extremely high dependence on tobacco. Each of these four approaches would look to

different causes for this situation. The culturalists, such as Weller and Lewis, would

argue that it is a result of Appalachian worldview, with Appalachian farmers taking a

fatalistic approach to the changing agricultural economy, resistant to any group-oriented

solutions because of their high degree of individualism and disengagement from social

institutions and community organizations. The neoclassical bureaucratic realists, in

contrast, would suggest that Appalachian farmers are stymied by the lack of roads and

other infrastructure that could make more options available to them. The structuralist

approach would look to Appalachia's position as a peripheral region from which

international capital extracts wealth and would suggest that the economic difficulties







facing Appalachian farmers serve to depress wages in the area and increase the level of

exploitation.

The final approach, the one taken by this researcher, acknowledges the dominant

influence of such structural forces as international markets in tobacco and the increasing

concentration of U.S. agriculture while recognizing that local realities, such as a love of

tobacco farming and mistrust of authority figures, also help shape the decisions available

to Appalachian farmers. The historical and present day agricultural economy is best

understood, I would argue, using this type of theoretical framework.




Traditional Appalachian Agriculture and Economy

Like U.S. agriculture in general, agriculture in central Appalachia has changed

significantly in its century and a half history. The changes in Appalachian agriculture

developed in the context of the larger Appalachian economy, and in many ways it

provides a textbook example of the interplay of capitalism and simple commodity

production or family farming debated by Mann and Dickinson (1978; 1987a; 1987b) and

Mooney (1983; 1987).

The case of Appalachia provides us with stark contrasts between differing

economic strategies and types. One the one hand, its economy has been dominated for the

last century by large-scale capitalist industry, most notably coal mining, with a long

history of violent struggles between the proletarian labor force and owners of industry

(Eller 1982; Scott 1995; Whisnant 1981). On the other hand, it is home to what has been

called the "American Peasantry" (Vogeler 1975). As such, Appalachia offers an excellent







opportunity to see how advanced industrial capitalism and petty commodity producers or

family farmers have interacted in the past and today.

Unlike the overall economy, the agricultural economy of Appalachia, both

historically and presently, can not be properly described as capitalist. As discussed in

Chapter 3, the defining feature of capitalism is the separation of labor from the means of

production and the consequent sale of labor as a commodity (Roseberry 1989; Wolf

1982). While there is not a clear rule about what proportion of labor being hired qualifies

a firm as capitalist, the vast majority of farms in Appalachia come nowhere near that

threshold. Historically, Appalachia's agriculture has been primarily subsistence-oriented,

with varying levels of petty commodity production. Even today, most Appalachian

farmers rely primarily on family labor sources for the production of cash crops, most

notably tobacco. There are some tobacco farmers who hire a substantial portion of their

labor and who are therefore capitalist farmers, but that is the exception rather than the

rule.

Capitalist agriculture, in which owners of land and other means of production hire

workers and profit from the excess value created by those workers, has been slow to

penetrate the agricultural sector in many parts of the world, even in industrialized

countries. In Appalachia, capitalist enterprises drastically transformed the social and

physical landscape with development of timber and coal resources starting in the late

1800s (Eller 1982). While economic, ecological, and demographic changes precipitated

by this capitalist expansion greatly affected the agricultural sector, these changes did not

result in a capitalist agricultural economy.







Instead of an economy in which labor is sold as a commodity and utilized by

property owners to generate profits, Appalachian agriculture has traditionally been

family-based subsistence agriculture, supplemented by petty commodity production

(Precourt 1983). Family-based agriculture, whether subsistence or petty commodity

production, operates in distinctly non-capitalistic ways. Production on these subsistence

farms was geared towards use rather than exchange. Billings et al. describe how "family

ownership of the means of production and non-wage family labor were not rationalized to

produce a 'surplus' beyond family needs.... This way of life contrasts sharply with

market-oriented agriculture oriented toward exchange" (Billings, Blee, and Swanson

1986:158).4 Additionally, in such a non-market economy, people exhibited a relatively

low level of motivation for the acquisition of personal property, a motivation

misinterpreted by many outsiders. Some of the pejorative comments by ethnographers of

the 1940s through 1960s about the character of mountain residents are rooted in a

misunderstanding of a set of values

distinct from those of more advanced capitalist societies but nonetheless
shaped by economic rationality. The mountain people's indifference to the
rituals and desires of an industrial society was consistent with their life of
self-sufficient production and local networks for consumption. The muted
hierarchies of worth and achievement were reflective of a social
stratification system still shaped as much by mutual exchange as by
competitive gain. (Billings, Blee, and Swanson 1986:156)

While Appalachian families produced the majority of the products on their own farms,

there was extensive local exchange between households. However, this exchange was

personal and carried out on the basis of reciprocity rather than profit (Billings, Blee, and

Swanson 1986; Precourt 1983).


4 One should be careful not to equate market-oriented agriculture with capitalist










Conclusions

The spread of capitalist economic relations since the late 1800s has been dramatic

in Appalachia. The relative isolation of the region from the national capitalist economy

meant that the rapid expansion of logging and mining, followed in many areas by

manufacturing, represented a sudden transition from a family-based economy to a

capitalist economy for many Appalachians. As self-sufficient subsistence farming

became increasingly difficult, agriculturalists began to supplement farm work with wage

labor in the coal mines, timber industry, manufacturing sector and, more recently, the

service economy.

The changes in Appalachian agriculture discussed here are not substantially

different than the changes in U.S. agriculture described in Chapter 3. The increasing

numerical dominance of small farms seen nationally is even more pronounced in

Kentucky, although the terrain in eastern Kentucky has limited the development of the

large farms that predominate agricultural production on the national level. The

uniqueness of small-farm agriculture in Appalachian Kentucky is not attributable to

Appalachian culture or a culture of poverty, but to the federal tobacco program.

As Appalachian agriculture has moved away from subsistence farming and to an

increased reliance on cash cropping combined with off-farm work, tobacco has taken on

an increasing importance. The nature of the crop itself combined with provisions of the

federal tobacco program have conditioned Appalachian farmers to expect certain things

from potential crops. Tobacco is a low risk crop with a minimum guaranteed price that


agriculture. Petty commodity producers, or family farmers, produce for the market but do







will give very high returns to the farmer. Yet farmers realize that the amount of tobacco

they can grow under the federal tobacco program is very unlikely to return to the high

levels prior to the beginning of quota cuts in 1998. How they react to that realization is

the subject of this research.


so using primarily family labor resources rather than hiring wage labor.












CHAPTER 5
TOBACCO: THE CORNERSTONE OF APPALACHIAN AGRICULTURE

A prerequisite to an understanding of Appalachian agriculture is an understanding

of tobacco, both the crop itself and the federal tobacco program. As a critically important

cash crop in Appalachian Kentucky for over a century, tobacco has had an extraordinary

impact on the face of the region's agriculture. Tobacco accounts for half of Kentucky's

crop receipts, while using less than 1% of the state's farmland (Snell and Goetz 1997).

Kentucky has the fourth largest number of farms in the United States, while the state only

ranks 20th in harvested cropland, suggesting the importance of small farms in the state's

agricultural landscape. Tobacco is the driving force behind the survival of small farms in

Kentucky; in the 1997 Census of Agriculture, over half of all farms in the state reported

raising tobacco. In the study counties, that figure is considerably higher; in 1997, 88% of

Morgan County farms and 89% of Wolfe County farms raised tobacco (U.S.D.A. 1999).

Both the crop itself and the tobacco program administered by the federal

government have unique characteristics that have shaped agriculture in Kentucky and

created special challenges for the development of alternative agricultural crops. Tobacco

is an extremely labor-intensive crop, which has helped to limit farm concentration and

keep tobacco farms relatively small. The tobacco program has reinforced this, restricting

the shift of tobacco production from the small farms of eastern Kentucky to larger farms

in the central or western parts of the state.







The Tobacco Production Process

As a land- and labor-intensive crop, tobacco is well-suited for the small farms

characteristic of eastern Kentucky. Most farmers in the region have small holdings, rarely

growing more than five acres of tobacco, and often considerably less'. Other than field

preparation and cultivation, virtually all of the work is done by hand. Seeding,

transplanting, cutting, housing, and stripping all are tasks requiring significant amounts of

manual labor. Traditionally, the source of labor has been family members, but most

farmers today hire at least a portion of the labor needed for some or all of these tasks. A

look at the tobacco production cycle will help to portray the environment in which

agricultural diversification decisions are (or are not) being made.

Land Preparation

As the most important, and often the only, crop on eastern Kentucky farms,

tobacco is grown on the flattest, most fertile fields available to the farmer. Typically, this

means that the same ground is used repeatedly for tobacco, although disease problems

may encourage crop rotation. After the tobacco is harvested in the fall, a cover crop is

planted to protect the soil from wind and water erosion and to build soil organic matter.

The most common cover crop used is winter wheat. In some cases, the wheat is cut in the

spring and fed to livestock prior to incorporating the crop residue into the soil.

Land preparation is the least labor-intensive portion of the entire tobacco

production process, but also requires even landless farmers to make a substantial


SBecause the tobacco program regulates poundage, rather than acreage, most farmers
express the size of their operation in pounds, rather than acreage. In general, tobacco
produces about 2000 pounds per acre, although that varies with management practices
and growing conditions. The average number of pounds produced by farmers in the
sample for the 2000 crop year was just over 9000 pounds, suggesting an average tobacco







investment of capital for the purchase of a tractor. While tractors are most important for

their use in field preparation (plowing and disking) and setting of transplants, they are

also used in cultivation of fields and pulling of wagons during harvest and on-farm

processing of tobacco.

Seeding

The selection of tobacco seed variety is one of the most important ways farmers

can combat disease problems. Some of the most common and serious diseases that can

affect tobacco, including black root rot, black shank, and blue mold, are very difficult to

control once they develop, so breeding programs at the University of Kentucky, the

University of Tennessee and elsewhere have focused on incorporating disease resistance

into new tobacco varieties. Farmers learn about new seed varieties in several ways,

particularly from Cooperative Extension Service field trials and informational meetings

and from farm store dealers who sell tobacco seed. The best-attended Extension meeting

during the study period was, by far, the annual tobacco meeting at which University of

Kentucky experts discussed tobacco variety trials.

Traditionally, tobacco has been hand-seeded in nursery beds prepared the

previous fall. Beds are covered with plastic and treated with methyl bromide gas for

several days in the fall to sterilize the soil and destroy any weed seeds (van Willigen and

Eastwood 1998). Beds are planted in early spring and covered with fabric row covers to

protect from frosts. Tobacco plants are ready for transplanting about six weeks after

seeding; if field conditions prevent transplanting at that time, the plants can be held in the


acreage of approximately four and a half acres. The largest tobacco farmer in the sample
raised just under 61,000 pounds, which would require about 30 acres.