The 80's Farm Crisis: losses loom large

If you grew up on or around a family farm, the 80's means something very specific. It's the sort of thing that is said in passing, but with gravity, and often meant to imply a need for cautious decision making, or a general sense of down and out. The 1980's Farm Crisis still looms large in the minds of land owners, farmers, and rural communities

Students of the agricultural landscapes in the Midwest United States should study this history - doubly so if the work intends to comment on, or suggest potential changes to, rural land use patterns.

The following post is a compilation of videos that provide a range of perspectives on what happened in the Midwest in the 1960's, 70's, and 80's, and the overall impact on farming and rural communities. Of course, these are in no way totalizing of all of the viewpoints.

The videos range from the USDA's 1965 videos on rural development initiatives and the advocacy against Reaganomics in Down and Out in America, to the nearly ethnographic approach of God's Country and the modern documentary style of Iowa Public Television. Each provides a window into this time period to be viewed critically and reflectively.

I have only linked to one video of many in each series. If it doesn't autoplay to the next, additional videos can be found on YouTube.

USDA's Rural Development Initiatives (1965)

The first video is a video from the USDA on Poverty in Rural America. This video provides a sense of the rural development policy (and the attitudes of it) that encouraged people to borrow money to modernize their farms. This comes from a long tradition in the US government, and obviously, development is not bad, but the questions surrounding how development can and should happen still requires research. In many respects, the pushes for "sustainable development" and "reflexive modernization" are extensions of this long-standing development tradition, rife with the same underlying ethical and practical challenges.

God's Country (1979 | 1985)

The second documentary is God's Country directed by Louis Malle that profiles Glencoe, Minnesota in 1979 and then again in 1985. A colleague made me aware of this recently. It provides an unsentimental look at small-town life and agriculture, which helps to cut through some of the dense cultural narratives of what it means to be "rural."

Down and Out in America (1986)

Lee Grant's Down and Out in America provides a vivid depiction of the individual price farmers paid and the resulting rural activism in response to the Farm Crisis of the 1980's. This film is unique in that it hits on not only rural American farming, but also manufacturing, and then looks at challenges of poverty and housing in the city.

Iowa Public Television Farm Crisis (1970-1990)

This PBS documentary, while at times dry and overly sentimental, tries to give a full perspective on what happened in the farm crisis. When combined with the more ethnographic story-telling approaches of Malle and Grant, I think a full picture begins emerge about how modernist culture in the USDA and across agricultural sector, combined with hard-line free-market policies, interacted with market dynamics, weather, and credit to create the Farm Crisis.

Concluding Remarks

Obviously, the full picture isn't told by these films, but they do provide a glimpse into the time period from multiple different perspectives. If you come across other multimedia that you find compelling and thinks adds additional complexity to these stories, by all means let me know and I'd be happy to add to this post or link to other resources in the list below.

Additional Resources

Weekly Weather and Crop Bulletin

The Weekly Weather and Crop Bulletin is a resource that compiles United States and global information on weather and crop production in the form of short writing blurbs and a lot of maps.

It is a collaboration between the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration of the U.S. Department of Commerce, the National Agricultural Statistics Service, and the World Agricultural Outlook Board.

The three following maps were pulled from the February 14, 2017 report that was just released. What I appreciate is that the report includes total precipitation, but then tries to put short term records into a larger context by making maps comparing the current state to historical averages.

In addition to the United States focused reports (including state crop progress reports that I didn't sample), there are maps that focus on summarizing current global crop production, as well as region specific maps like the one below of precipitation on Brazil.

The USDA has a significant number of resources that anyone can subscribe to (bottom of this page). They provide a synthesis of different information flows that would be time consuming to access regularly.

Resources for setting up Jupyter and linked lists

The following resources are for the first meeting of the algorithms and data structures study group. For a full list of the study group activities, see the main blog post.

Setting up Jupyter

  • Steps to install Jupyter notebook on your personal computer
  • Using the anaconda version is really easy because it installs all of the scientific computing libraries you need with it

Resources for Linked Lists


I selected the following video as our main prompt for two reasons: 1) the visuals are clear, 2) there is an example of a linked list being implemented in python, and - I lied, there are three reasons - 3) the video maker's name is Joe James

Other videos:

  • coursera video (which also summarizes an abstract data type well)
  • youtube query - if you find one you like better, let me know and I"ll add it to this post. If you make your own, let me know, I'll add it too.


Spark Notes

A linked list is a data structure. Unlike an array that has to have one block of memory that isn't cut up, a linked list contains pointers from each piece of data to the next in memory so it can be scattered around. The wikipedia link has a really nice overview.

Potentially the most important concept to get here (for going forward at a conceptual level) is the "node." Each node consists of one data element and a pointer to the next data element. The node is a fundamental concept because it is built on to get to trees and graphs. Both abstract data types are important for geographic information science. Trees are used across various data access methods (see R-Tree for example), and graphs and their respective algorithms are the basis of all road networks, among other things.

The diagram below shows how a linked list stores data and a pointer to the next piece of data.

from Wikimedia Commons

from Wikimedia Commons

Note: the developers (Newell, Shaw, Simon) were all big time names in CS and artificial intelligence. Simon in particular is widely known across the cognitive sciences and won a Nobel Prize in Economics.

 [02-15-17] Meeting Recap

More resources we discovered:

  • Python documentation on classes
  • Very clearly laid out blog post from Code Fellows (thanks Josh!)
  • Code Fellows also referenced the book Problem Solving with Algorithms and Data Structures by Miller and Ranum

We met in Social Sciences 423 for a little over an hour. We watched the above video, and then implemented the node class, broke it, and discussed it. Then we started implementing the list class and started breaking it, but ran out of time to discuss it.

In addition to discussion the data structure, we also talked about general object oriented programming skills. Some of the things that we discussed were

  1. Classes (documentation)
  2. Constructors in classes >> def __init__(self, x, y)
  3. Why the linked list adds new nodes to beginning and not the end (From Josh: "hint: much more efficient... which is what our discussion was getting at")

[02-23-17] Meeting Recap

We met in the Brown Room in Social sciences. We completed implementing the linked lists from scratch and then started to implement the integrate function.

Implementation in Python

Jupyter notebook implementation. The following provides the node class and the linked list class

Node Class

The following node class is a an object that holds (1) data and (2) a pointer to the next node. 

class Node(object):
    ## Constructor: see [1] 
    ## specifies the components of an object 
    ## (the stuff to put in a box)
    def __init__(self, d, n = None):
        ## single underscore v double underscore in Python
        ## double = only used in this class 
        ## (totally private variable or function) = d
        self.next_node = n
    def get_next(self):
        ## great stackoverflow explaining use of "self" [2]
        return self.next_node
    def set_next(self, n):
        self.next_node = n
    def get_data(self):
    def set_data(self, d): = d
    def __str__(self):
        print self.next_node


Linked List

The linked list uses the node class, and connects a group of nodes with methods.

class LinkedList(object):
    def __init__(self, r = None):
        self.root = r
        self.size = 0
    def get_size(self):
        return self.size
    def get_root(self):
        return self.root
    def add(self, d): 
        ## the add function takes in data;
        ## it creates a new node;
        ## it then puts this data into a node;
        ## and appends the node to end of the linked list
        new_node = Node(d, self.root)
        self.root = new_node
        self.size += 1
        ## the way this list works is it adds itself to the beginning
        ## and makes itself the root
        ## and adds itself as the root
        ## then it increments the list's size by 1
    def remove(self, d):
        ## start by setting the root node as the first placeholder
        ## set the previous node to node because presumably the root is #1
        this_node = self.root
        prev_node = None
        ## while this_node is true
        ## evaluate this_nodes data, if it matches
        ## and there is a previous node, set the previous node's
        ## next node to this_node's next node
        ## otherwise, just change the root if there isn't a previous node
        while this_node:
            if this_node.get_data() == d:
                if prev_node:
                    self.root = this_node
                ## if this conditional was met, then the size
                ## will be one less and an object was found; return true
                self.size -= 1
                return True
                ## if the previous conditional wasn't met, grab the next node
                ## and repeat the process
                prev_node = this_node
                this_node = this_node.get_next()
        ## if the while loop breaks with this_node = FALSE,
        ## then the data element did not exist in the list
        return false
    def find(self, d):
        this_node = self.root
        while this_node:
            if this_node.get_data() == d:
                ## if it matches, return data
                return d
                ## if nothing found, move onto the next node
                this_node = this_node.get_next()
        return None
    def reverse(self):
        #reverses the order of the linked list
        this_node = self.root
        reverse = LinkedList()
        while this_node:
            #starts with last node added (adds to front of list)
            this_node = this_node.get_next()
        return reverse
    def integrate(self):
        ## returns the integral of the linked list
        this_node = self.root
        integrated = LinkedList()
        value = 0
        while this_node:
            value = value + this_node.get_data()
            this_node = this_node.get_next()
        return integrated
    def print_data(self):
        this_node = self.root
        while this_node:
            print this_node.get_data() 
            this_node = this_node.get_next()