Saturday, June 24, 2017

Building a Sociological Atlas: Interviews and Surveys

           After a week of learning everything ranging from how to analyze data using statistical software to how to conduct interviews with farmers to get the most authentic responses, it seems as if my head is practically bursting with unexpected knowledge of all sorts.  That being said, the most startling of all these developing new insights seems to be concentrated in the form of maps.  By “maps”, not only do I mean as in physical roadmaps of land (as there has been plenty of that in the past few days with Sadie partnering with me to navigate through multiple Wisconsin counties in order to survey farmers), but also “maps” of all the interconnected pieces that are building my own growing knowledge about farmers’ livelihoods and the daily realities they face.

            Around 6 AM this past Friday morning, I had the pleasure of meeting with one farmer, who is actively involved in promoting conservation agriculture practices such as no-till farming in his town.  I had the opportunity to ask him some very broad over-arching questions regarding what he perceived to be some of the biggest challenges in farming today, as well as who he typically trusts for discussing these issues that affect his personal livelihood so significantly.  In our conversations, he shared with me how everything from changing climate patterns—this spring had been a very wet one for farmers in Wisconsin overall—to the ever-increasing tightness of economic margins today, all have enormous effects on how he manages his daily decisions as a large-scale corn and soybean producer.  He also commented on the interconnectedness of his trusted advisors that he often consults on these struggles—everyone from real estate agents to agronomy experts to equipment dealers to county conservationists and risk-management specialists.  The morning of my interview that day, it became clear to me just how complicated his social and economic web must be, as with many of his contemporaries, in the face of the concerns coming from the multiple aspects of farming in Wisconsin today.

            In terms of how these developing mental “maps” of mine fit into the larger context of the research that my team is charged with this summer, the knowledge that I am gaining conversations with farmers like the one mentioned above are becoming more than applicable and quite critical for our project.  Our job is to use the data we are collecting from surveying and interviewing farmers to devise a sociological atlas of farmers’ relationships with one another—as well as outside agents—in order to see how the problem of phosphorus pollution has developed (and can be mitigated) in the Red Cedar watershed.  Every detail that I can manage to collect from the volume of firsthand information that these farmers have to share with me will only provide a more accurate and complete picture of how to begin to approach solving their problems and that of the larger Red Cedar watershed community beyond.  Moving into the future to accomplish my research goal effectively, I am quite excited to enrich my own mental “maps” with even greater detail, color, scale, and symbols (just as any decent, dog-eared, and well-loved road atlas might be).  Considering the willingness and openness to share that the farmers I have met this week alone have had, I have no doubts that my “sociological atlas” on farmer social networks can only grow from here.

Learning how to drive Dan Prestebok's heirloom tractor this past Tuesday evening.  Dan, otherwise known as the county conservationist for Dunn County, affectionately calls his farming operation his "full-time hobby". 

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