Beyond the ‘Predatory System’: Agricultural Politics and Farmer Values
by Shelley Grostefon
Arden Ramseyer of Smithville, Ohio, was born into a family of farmers. His great-great-grandparents moved by Stark County by canal in 1835 to begin farming, later moving the family to Wayne County in 1880.1 Mr. Ramseyer's father, Alvin, was a dairy farmer not unlike many of Wayne County's farmers, but after losing all of his cows to a barn fire in 1932, he began to farm potatoes successfully. Arden chose to go into potato farming himself after college, and he later noted that he was happy with his decision to farm—it's hard work that requires learning and adapting to challenges. In the 1990s, the Ramseyers adapted to economic difficulties by adding family activities to their farm and by growing and selling pumpkins. Through their business, they encourage family values and a large farming community. With almost two-hundred years of farming in Ohio, the Ramseyer family has experienced changes in farming, including increased governmental influence in agriculture. The Ramseyer family exemplifies Wayne County farmers and their values—the importance of community and family, the continuation of the profession that allows them to be close to nature and God, and the distrust of big government.
Similar to the Ramseyer family, most of Ohio's new settlers were farmers, excited at the prospect of fertile land. Most new settlers acquired land through the federal government, but other than this interaction, Ohioan farmers initially paid little attention to the "predatory system of politics."2 Over time, farmers' and society's needs and values transitions, causing agriculture and politics to become more closely entwined. This exhibition analyzes the interactions between farmers and politicians in order to understand the values and the motivations of farmers in Wayne County as well as four major trends in political thought: values of the Wayne County farmer when Ohio became a state in 1803, how representation developed by 1846, how governmental legislation of agriculture increased and was widespread in 1930, and recent grassroots efforts of Wayne County farmers.
1 Diana R. Fisher, Activism, Inc. : How the Outsourcing of Grassroots Campaigns Is Strangling Progressive Politics in America (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2006), 112.
2 Arden Ramseyer. “In Our Own Words: Residents of Smithville and the Smithville Area Tell Their Stories Interview Summary,” interview by William Burton and Margaux Day on June 15, 2006; “About Ramseyer Farms,” Ramseyer Farms, accessed June 30, 2017, https://ramseyerfarms.com/about/.
Photograph of Arden Ramseyer circa 1934 is courtesy of ramseyerfarms.com.