Since ecological farming is very much about sense of place — and the long-term working relationship each farmer, grower, homesteader and backyard gardener has cultivated with her particular patch of earth — our project combines “sit-down,” memory-driven oral histories with interviews triggered by walking around the farmstead/environment itself. We’ve found that place, as a trigger, (as compared to oral history’s compulsion towards beginning-to-now chronology) lends itself to a different structure to narrative — one deeply infused with attention to habitual practice, and one that often also allows comparison of practice and habit across time.
Walking interviews, as a method, also align well with folklife documentation’s traditional focus on processes and practices (as compared to “life story.”) These walking interviews allow us to document and share out a fuller sense of the material dimensions of some of Ohio’s founding ecological farms and food places; and of the imbrication of human practice with the push-back of landscape and local ecology.
We’ll soon be posting select walking interviews from our two summers of project fieldwork. These interviews, in most cases, came after a sit-down oral history interview, and might presume background knowledge that was explained there. Others, however, were recorded first, and life story and “origins of the farm and movement” narrative are often blended in with descriptions of historic and of-the-moment on-farm practices, soil conditions, ecological zones, and changes on the land.
Walking interviews are also a testament to the power of the farm tour — historically and now, one of the most significant grassroots educational modes for Ohio’s ecological food and farm movement. Without the support of major land-grant universities and the Extension Service in the early years, the movement relied on direct, place-based peer-to-peer and popular education as a way for farmers, growers, homesteaders and activists to teach each other techniques for living and growing food in better balance with the environment. Farm tours became a staple educational offering of early OEFFA, and they continue to this day. (Our Growing Right pop-up tour is proud to be a part of OEFFA’s Summer 2017 Ohio Sustainable Farm Tour series!) While these walking interviews aren’t, in most cases, recordings of public farm tours, they are a nod to a genre that’s been a significant mode in the furtherance and survival of a resilient ecological food and farm movement in the heartland.
We encourage you to explore these walking interviews alongside our sit-down interviews and non-narratives soundscapes as a way to maybe just get at the wider and more complex local ecologies that have launched a state-wide movement for ecological food and farming.