Farming the Home Place – Book Review

The author of Farming the Home Place attempted to provide a broad survey of the work of farm women, impact on agriculture, adoption of technology, social ideology about farm women’s role, government agricultural policy and farm women’s labor in the Midwest. The book illustrated the major changes of the time period as well as defining significant difference and similarities in the lives of urban and farm women. Farming the Home Place is accessible and sophisticated but contributes significant information in the field of history. Farming the Home Place is a book with wide range than what the title suggest. The author used the small Japanese-American farming area in California’s Central Valley to expand the concept of community. Initially, the author highlighted how the minority group was integrated into the mainstream of American society regardless of the extreme trauma of confinement during World War II.

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Matsumoto systematically illustrated the early years of struggle in the Cortez Colony, where the first farm families fought to overcome legal barriers and racism to establish small fruits and vegetable farming in a harsh environment. The author demonstrated how immigrant farmers registered land using the names of their children born in America to circumvent discriminatory land ownership laws; how good business practices that brought together colony to form a Cortez Growers Association, which was driven by well-organized marketing structures that were the basis of California’s agribusiness formation during the first half of the century; how Anglo business agent cared for Cortez growers farms and how they broke the web of community after being released despite the brutal vigilantism and adopted the modernization practices such as mechanization and farming of orchard crops such as almond.

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According to the author, Japanese Americans resorted to the agriculture because urban occupation was curtailed in the early twentieth century. The Japanese Americans discovered that farming was the only means to achieve success and earn respect by the foreign-born citizens. This move saw other minority ethnic communities adopted agriculture in other regions outside California for the same reasons. For example, the Croatians engaged in grape farming, Punjabis in cotton and Portuguese in dairy farming. All these foreign-born farmers became successful in these different agricultural practices after World War II. These communities were respected by Anglo landowners and they preferred them to be their tenants due to strong work ethics. However, it is the Japanese Americans who experienced the worst humiliation experience and tragic internship more than the Croatians, Portuguese, and other immigrants before the World War II. The author argued that the revival of Cortez Colony after internment and the continued production of crops by Japanese Americans was attributed to hard-bitten resilience.

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The use of family labor by all the ethnic farmers in the Central Valley significantly contributed to their success since it was practical. This was one of the major secrets that make ethnic farmers to succeed. At one time Japanese farmer came under criticism from nativists for using their older daughters and wives as labors in the farms. These criticism was driven by the fact that nativists feared stiff competition from the Japanese who were hard-working. As a result, the nativists opted to disregard the fact that the Japanese were organized in the society since they produced bountiful crops, settled their bills on time, founded and supported the development of institutions such as schools, sports and churches, thus their children thrived in school. Nativists though that by raising the issue of older and Japanese wives toiling in the farmland would reduce the competition from the Japanese.

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Out of their hard work, the Sansei who was the Japanese third-generation made their ethnic identity known. However, in the late twentieth-century the rural life of Sansei was threatened by the postmodern world. Nonetheless, their education achievement made the Japanese to be competitively advantage and marry outward. Despite Sansei being attracted to the slower pace of life on the rural areas and giving up lucrative career in the urban centers so that they continue to farm, mechanization and capital intensive operations as well as the increasing competition made the small-scale Japanese American fruit farm redundant. These development in the postmodern world made the Japanese third-generation to take up lucrative career and slowly withdraw from entirely depending on the farming.

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The review of this book indicated that Farming the Home Place provide the important methodological model for the researchers and scholar that are interested in exploring  ethnic, community and family history. The author managed to incorporate oral evidence in her writing which is a valuable aspect in making the reader to comprehend the reality of that time. In addition, the book used the latest theories of assimilation to enhance sophisticated understanding and explication of the subject matter. In conclusion, Farming the Home Place serves as a model for community and family history in the 20th century.

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