Together and Apart: Stories of a Patchwork Farming Community in Southwest Wisconsin

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Karen Hebert
Essay Abstract: 
The agricultural community of Vernon County, located in the Driftless region of Wisconsin, is seemingly defined by difference. The multiplicity of definitions of ‘good farming’ that exists in the Driftless has produced a patchwork landscape¬¬—a patchwork of agricultural practices and agricultural narratives. For decades the only thing that defined this region was its dramatic topography and its dairies. But now, faced with the growing alternative food movement, rural gentrification, and the threat of agricultural consolidation, Vernon County is tethered a far more diverse rural identity. The geographically situated narrative of “Together and Apart” gestures to a far more universal story of how to see community amid a rapidly changing agricultural landscape. If the country is in fact beginning to cultivate a greater diversity of farms in its rural regions, we have to consider the social and cultural implications of this shift. For the Driftless, this means unraveling the material and immaterial threads of this rural landscape, understanding how community members perceive themselves and each other and how that understanding is imprinted upon the land. The story of farming in the Driftless is a story of a community grappling with its contemporary identity. It is a story not of fragmentation but of resilience.