Great Plains Studies, Center for


Date of this Version

Fall 2007


Great Plains Quarterly Vol. 27, No. 4, Fall 2007, pp. 308-09.


Copyright 2005 by the Center for Great Plains Studies, University of Nebraska-Lincoln


Students of agricultural history should be familiar with the works of Roy Scott (railroads, extension) and Dennis Nordin (the Grange). Similarly, students of agricultural history will find no immediate challenges to the familiar narrative of twentieth-century American agriculture in From Prairie Farmer to Entrepreneur. Indeed, chapters devoted to the story of the Great Depression and the rise of agricultural technology provide few if any challenges to the traditional canon.

No reader should lay this book aside, however, before arriving at its conclusion. For, according to Nordin and Scott, "Painful as the tragedies of failure were for individuals, their net effect was the Midwest agricultural miracle, a blessing that continues to provide an evergrowing population of consumers with abundant food at low prices." Not quite so daring is their assertion that "the past should no more be forgotten than it should be distorted. The good old days of agriculture were not so good."

Those farmers who did survive through the difficult years of the nation's agricultural past (the crisis of the 1920s, the Great Depression and drought, the financially difficult 1980s) were no ordinary men according to Nordin and Scott. By their reckoning, those farmers who were successful could be recognized by their "knowing when and how to invest in land and equipment," while "adopting new and better ways to farm."

And while they pay scarce heed to those who failed, they do note that the experience of "the mostly forced involuntary displacements and migrations". was "sorrowful." Those discomforts, however, have made it possible for skillful, entrepreneurial, business-oriented farmers to take their places with modern technology and seeds, along with the finest livestock in the world.

The impact of involuntary displacements on homes and families is not delved into, nor are the damages to humanity: suicides, murders, severe emotional depression. Also left out of the picture, for the most part, are women, not only as helpmeets, but also as farmers in their own right. Also missing from Nordin and Scott's endeavor is the impact of the entrepreneurial farmer upon the natural environment.