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University Relations

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April 5, 2005
Contact: Karl Brooks, history department, (785) 864-9464.

Kansas farmers, agricultural historian to discuss family farms, rural economies

LAWRENCE -- For the first time in recent history, the history department at the University of Kansas and the Kansas Farmers Union are combining efforts to bring a panel of Kansas farmers and an award-winning historian of American agriculture to campus. On Thursday, April 14, the panel will hold a public discussion of the health of family farms and rural communities in Kansas.

Six Kansas farmers will discuss "Farmers, Food and Rural Communities in the 21st Century" at 3:30 p.m. Thursday, April 14, in Alderson Auditorium of the Kansas Union.

The farmers' panel will be followed with a public lecture, "Every Farm a Factory: the Industrial Ideal in American Agriculture," by Deborah Fitzgerald, president of the Agricultural History Society at 7:30 p.m., also in Alderson Auditorium. Fitzgerald is an associate professor in the history of technology program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and author of the award-winning book with the same the title as her lecture.

Fitzgerald's research focuses on the industrialization of agriculture, particularly in 20th-century America. She is working on the industrial history of food. Her book "Every Farm a Factory" won the 2003 Theodore Saloutos Memorial Book Award, given by the Agricultural History Society. In her book, Fitzgerald argues that farms became modernized in the 1920s because they adopted not only new machinery but also the financial, cultural and ideological apparatus of industrialism.

Both events are free to the public through a grant provided by the CHS Foundation and are sponsored by KU's history department and the Kansas Farmers Union. Based in Inver Grove Heights, Minn., the CHS Foundation was created in 1998, when two foundations, Cenex and the Harvest States, both formed in 1946, were combined. CHS is committed to investing in the future of rural America, agriculture and cooperative business through education and leadership development.

KU environmental historians Donald Worster, the Joyce and Elizabeth Hall professor of U.S. history, and Karl Brooks, assistant professor of history, are coordinating the events.

The concept for a public discussion of topics in agriculture grew out of a course on the history of world agriculture, beginning with its origins to modern global farming, taught by Worster. Brooks and Worster, who both teach environmental history, proposed using KU's outreach to help stimulate public discussions about rural life. The panelists are farmers and ranchers who have served as resources for teaching and research for Brooks and Worster. The Kansas Farmers Union is underwriting the events because of their interest in stimulating community discussion and scholarly research about food, farming and rural communities.

Six representatives of family farming in Kansas will discuss the past, present and future of family farms and rural communities in Kansas and will lead a discussion moderated by Brooks.

- Pete Farrell, cattle rancher, near Beaumont in Greenwood County
- Laura Fortmeyer, farms and ranches near Fairview in Brown County
- Jim French, family farmer near Partridge in Reno County
- Tom Giessel, farms in partnership with his brother, Jay, near Larned in Pawnee County
- Dan Nagengast of Lawrence, executive director of Kansas Rural Council and organic grower
- Nancy Vogelsburg-Busch, sheep farmer near Home City in Marshall County

Ruth Ann French-Hodson, Partridge senior and a Rhodes scholar from KU, who has worked as a research assistant with Worster for the history of world agriculture course, will introduce the panel. She is the daughter of Lisa and Jim French, one of the panelists.


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