9 January 2013

One of my friends suggested to me today that I attend the annual MOSES conference in LaCrosse, WI this February. Though scholarships are offered, the deadline has passed. Her suggestion though, got me thinking about the relevance of my academic work to the organic food community, and I decided to write a hypothetical application essay for today’s words.

“I am applying for a scholarship to the MOSES conference because what I learn there will enhance my academic work. I study Midwestern intellectual and cultural history, and I am most interested in the period between the end of the Civil War and World War Two. It is during this time that America became an industrialized modern nation, and rose to prominence as a world super power. The Midwest was the center of this change. The industrialization of manufacturing and agriculture occurred simultaneously, and one could not have happened without the other. The industrialization of agriculture and manufacturing changed the culture of the Midwest in obvious ways. The Midwest is particularly interesting and unique because change occurred so rapidly after the Civil War. As an intellectual and cultural historian, I am interested in how thinkers in the Midwest came to terms with these changes. Our artists, writers, economists, and historians were directly exposed to these changes, and their work is largely an effort to understand what was going on around them.

As an academic, I’m interested in learning about and documenting the unique ways Midwesterners grappled with modernity. There seems to have arisen in the Midwest a uniquely native American modernism. Studying this phenomenon is worthwhile as an end in itself, but it also may provide practical lessons for the present. Just as the thinkers of the Midwest were considering how a society should respond to great economic change, so too is the organic food movement.

What was once the heart of industrial America, is now called the Rust Belt. The type of low skilled manufacturing that built the industrial Midwest will never return. The high input industrialized agriculture that fed the industrial Midwest is showing its faults, as it is proving to be not quite environmentally sustainable. I’m interested in how the organic movement is responding to these changes. At the conference, I’ll be able to learn about and engage with the solutions that are being proposed for a post-industrial Midwest. As I engage with the organic movement, I will be able to offer lessons from a previous era of economic change.”

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