Date of Award

8-2013

Level of Access

Campus-Only Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

Department

History

Advisor

Richard W. Judd

Second Committee Member

Howard P. Segal

Third Committee Member

Ngo Vinh-Long

Abstract

When urban transplants went back to the land seeking a refuge from modernity and a sense of place rooted in the Maine soil, most found it difficult to “put down roots.” The state’s landscape was harsh and unforgiving despite its stark beauty and its affordability, and the newcomers were inexperienced. Few would have stayed had they not received support from elderly neighbors, many of whom still practiced low-input farming and freely shared their knowledge and skills. In return, locals benefited from assistance with laborious on-farm tasks and the satisfaction of knowing that their way of life might continue.

Though most back-to-the-landers farmed organically, they experienced the same hardships as other small producers in their communities, e.g. isolation from markets and a lack of support from state agricultural institutions. Straddling the line between environmental and economic imperatives, they met these challenges by forming organic and small farming organizations to share knowledge and coordinate cooperative marketing efforts. In doing so, they created a decentralized network of small-scale producers, distributors, retailers, and consumers. The gravitational pull this movement exerted as it grew allowed for a diverse group of agents pursuing a multiplicity of projects along the food chain to find common cause. In these efforts, many back-to-the- landers included their neighbors and other small farmers regardless of whether they were certified organic.

Occasionally, out of concern for their livelihoods and a sense of responsibility toward their adopted communities, newcomers clashed with large chemical growers and development interests. However, their commitment to farming in Maine earned them a growing number of allies within the state Department of Agriculture, Cooperative Extension, and the University of Maine’s agricultural school. Upon the scaffolding of neighborly mutual aid, and with increasing institutional support, back-to-the-landers initiated a rebuilding of Maine’s local food economy and a reversing of its small farm population decline.

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