Meeting the Expectations of People and the Land: Enacting Sustainable Agriculture

Project Overview

Project Type: Graduate Student
Funds awarded in 2006: $9,998.70
Projected End Date: 12/31/2008
Grant Recipient: U. of Wisconsin
Region: North Central
State: Wisconsin
Graduate Student:
Faculty Advisor:
Michael Bell
Dept. of Community and Environmental Sociology, U. of Wisconsin-Madison

Annual Reports


Not commodity specific


  • Sustainable Communities: analysis of personal/family life, quality of life, social networks, social psychological indicators


    In 1948 William H. Sewell surveyed high school students in rural Wisconsin about their occupational aspirations. In Richland County 58% of students reported that their fathers were farmers, and 92% had as least one grandfather that was a farmer. Fifty-three percent of the male respondents listed farming as one of the occupations they had thought about pursuing after graduation, but only 30% foresaw that they would be farming 10 years into the future. What did these post-World War II high school students expect agriculture to provide for them and their community? This report details research following up with Sewell’s 1948 Richland County respondents to develop a sociology of expectations, including human-land relationships. Expectations of agriculture are formed by a number of factors including; governmental policy, ideology, technology, the economy, family and community, and nature or “the land.” Understanding expectations, including “the expectations of the land” will aid in the development of sustainable agriculture for farmers, families, and communities.


    Poet and farmer Wendell Berry defines sustainable agriculture as an agriculture that does not “deplete soils or people” and meets “the expectations of the land.” Enacting sustainable agriculture requires an understanding of the motivations of those involved. What do farmers expect agriculture to provide for them? And what does the larger society expect agriculture to provide? If we can understand the mechanisms that form and guide expectations we may be better able to maintain and sustain economic, ecological, and social spheres of agriculture.

    Project objectives:

    The research was intended to gain a deeper understanding of the sociology of expectations from within the context of farming as an occupation in Wisconsin. The research examines the questions of what farmers expect agriculture to provide for them, for their family and their community. Farmer expectations are placed within the system of “the expectations of the land” and the expectations of the larger society that buys and consumes agricultural products. The research will inform ongoing and future initiatives and policy focused on keeping agricultural land in production, with attempts to ensure that economic, ecological, and social issues are equally considered in policy and decision making. A long-term outcome of this project is to enact a vibrant, sustainable agriculture that, as Wendell Berry puts it, does not “deplete soils or people.”

    This research set out to engage with current initiatives in the state and region to maintain farming as a viable livelihood - ecologically, economically, and socially. This engagement has the goal of highlighting the social aspects of farming, incorporating what can be learned from a sociology of expectations, to inform present and future policy and action.

    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.