From the Earth: The History, Stories, and Social Justice of Farming in the U.S.

Fall 2019
Winter 2020
Class Size: 55
50% Reserved for Freshmen
Credits per quarter

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Taught by

Kris Coffey
creative writing, historical fiction, ethnic american literature
Lal, Prita
food justice, social movements, urban agriculture, social inequalities
Bradley Proctor
U.S. history, African American history, American studies

“We want land, bread, housing, education, clothing, justice and peace.” ~The Black Panther Party Platform, 1966

“Justice is important, but dinner is essential.” ~ Anonymous

Farming has been the root of the development and sustainability of human civilization. But this is not often the story we tell. Today for many Americans, farming seems to happen at a physical or emotional distance: either large scale corporations produce food that is easy to buy in supermarkets, or, as social media and satirical popular cultural narratives (such as Portlandia) suggest occurs in the Pacific Northwest, farming is often superficially performed as a road to virtue. The saturation of these problematic narratives means that, now more than ever, we need to center on stories of what farming has been, is, and can be.

This program interrogates the stories we tell about our use of--and connection to--the land in the United States in order to reach deeper understandings about the problems and possibilities of farming as an opportunity for social justice. We will take a broad, interdisciplinary approach to stories of the land through historical narratives, sociological/oral history narratives, and creative narratives.

Movements by agricultural workers have generated some of the most radical visions of cooperation and justice in U.S. history. This program bridges the fields of creative writing, history, and sociology by exploring the histories of multiracial food justice-related social movements, how elder farmers have remembered and written stories of food justice, and how communities today use food to create a more equitable world. Alongside historicizing food justice related issues, program content will seek to address the trendy, ahistorical, gentrified, new approaches of going back to the land that contrast the perpetuating stigmas of agricultural work as dirty, less than, unskilled poor people’s work.


Fall Quarter: We will begin in the colonial period and examine rebellions among enslaved and indentured workers, followed by studies of cooperative alliances between black and white tenant farmers, such as the Populist Movement and the Agricultural Wheel of the late 19th century as well as the Southern Tenant Farmers Union of the early 20th century.

Winter Quarter: Continuing the work of fall quarter, students enrolled in the winter quarter of From the Earth can expect to look deeper into 20th century literature, history, and social movements that altered the context of farming in the U.S. Examining the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, alongside the Black Panther Party, Poor People’s Campaign, and Coaltion of Immokalee Workers, we will seek a broad view of historicizing food related issues. Through in-class creative writing exercises, we will further consider the ways elder farmers have remembered and communicated their struggles, triumphs, and resiliency against systemic social problems.


Classroom activities will include lectures, workshops, and seminars. Student work will include weekly readings, reflective writing, and a substantial independent research project. This project will be the centerpiece of the program, with students undertaking original research on a topic of their choosing related to farming and agricultural practice and complete scaffolded assignments including a revised draft. This program will offer students the ability to earn credits for foundations in literary arts. This program will also provide a strong background and context for students interested in the Practice of Organic Farming program.


Readings include both novels and excerpts of: John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath, James Still’s River of Earth, Natalie Baszile’s Queen Sugar, John Williams’ Stoner and Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, as well as other texts. Final credits may differ based on the area of concentration of the major writing project.


Credits to be offered include:

  • Literary Arts: Writing and Researching I (4)
  • Introduction to Literature (4)
  • Agricultural History of the United States since 1900 (3)
  • Social Movements & Food Justice (3)
  • Greener Foundations (2)

Greener Foundations:  This program will incorporate Greener Foundations, a holistic course designed for first-time, first-year students. Faculty and staff collaborate to bring study skills, academic planning, health and wellness education, advising, and more into the classroom. More information at Greener Foundations

This offering will prepare you for careers and advanced study in:

Social justice, agriculture, creative writing, history, law, politics


Credits per quarter

Online learning:
  • Enhanced Online Learning - This offering requires access to web-based tools, but use of these tools does not displace any face-to-face instruction.

$275 fee in Fall for overnight and day field trips.

Class Standing: Freshman–Sophomore
Class Size: 55
50% Reserved for Freshmen

Scheduled for: Day

Final schedule and room assignments:

First meeting:

Monday, January 6, 2020 - 11:00 am
SEM 2 C2105 - Workshop

Located in: Olympia

2019-03-25$275 fee added to Fall for overnight and day field trips.