This book begins with the image of a lone tractor in a distant field, its trailing plume of dust marking the furrow as the farmer breaks the soil. This image, like that of the proverbial lonesome cowboy, leads many to regard the farmer as an individual working the land, self-reliant and independent. Scholars also fall into the trap of assuming that business decisions on a farm are made and implemented solely through the isolated farmer's individual effort. Nothing could be further from the truth: that farmer works that acreage by virtue of a family effort. Farming is rarely a solo occupation. Absent inheritance of or access to land through family ties, our farmer would most likely not be on that tractor. Each farm is in fact the product of a complex history of family processes, the result of which enables a farmer to work a particular tract at a particular stage of his life.
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