This extended case study of Edward Hubert Faulkner, one-time extension agent turned overnight agricultural sensation, and Walter Thomas Jack, a former Quaker schoolteacher and self-professed Iowa “dirt farmer,” and their respective, point/counterpoint soil conservation classics, Plowman’s Folly (1943) and The Furrow and Us (1946), illuminates key tensions within the fields of rural sociology and agricultural history: namely subject versus object, inside versus outside, and “peasant” versus “professional” practice as they were played out in the American popular and agricultural press from 1943 to 1948. While it is true that Plowman’s Folly, as its title implies, goads the American farmer for his close-minded traditionalism, and The Furrow and Us largely defends the “peasant” class, the reality is more complicated, as the self- and media-constructed identities of Faulkner and Jack forever altered their respective historical legacies: Faulkner was not a pure academic, as Walter Jack made him out to be, and Jack was not, as he presented himself, a simple Iowa dirt farmer “putting experience against titles.” Such rurally-inscribed tensions, examined in light of the Faulkner-Jack no-till debate that Time magazine called in 1944 the “hottest farming argument since the tractor first challenged the horse,” occupied the nation during wartime and exposed many dichotomies, false and real, between “professor” and “plowman,” between agricultural “faddists” and agricultural “scientists.” Though their differences were exaggerated, Faulkner and Jack both offer what Oregon State University’s B. P. Warkentin labels “subjective” portrayals of the soil and soil-derived sociology. Such subjective yet scientifically-informed accounts, often drawing their legitimacy from rural cultures subscribing to implicit notions of agrarian superiority and the artificiality of urban life, frequently problematize “outside” (academic and popular press) examination, as the case of Faulkner and Jack makes clear.
Jack, Zachary. 2007. ""Dirt Farmer" vs. "Soil Scientist": Representative Tensions in the Constructed Identities of Farmer-Writers Walter Thomas Jack and Edward H. Faulkner." Journal of Rural Social Sciences, 22(1): Article 4. Available at: https://egrove.olemiss.edu/jrss/vol22/iss1/4