This essay examines the dynamic tension between the memory of lived experience and the formal discipline of history as it applies to the value of farm life and the importance of the agrarian ideal in American society. It analyzes the author’s memories about growing up in rural New Jersey, their critical place in her development as a scholar, and their embeddedness in her moral valuation of rural experience. Simultaneously it conveys the limits of those memories when held against critical analysis, especially in relation to the lenses of gender and race. It suggests that the longstanding appeal of the agrarian ideal—“the garden state”—remains so strong in our American collective memory that it can discourage appreciation for contingency and difference.

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