Farm size and job quality: mixed-methods studies of hired farm work in California and Wisconsin

Agriculture and Human Values 32 (4):617-634 (2015)


Agrifood scholars have long investigated the relationship between farm size and a wide variety of social and ecological outcomes. Yet neither this scholarship nor the extensive research on farmworkers has addressed the relationship between farm size and job quality for hired workers. Moreover, although this question has not been systematically investigated, many advocates, popular food writers, and documentaries appear to have the answer—portraying precarious work as common on large farms and nonexistent on small farms. In this paper, we take on this question by describing and explaining the relationship between farm size and job quality for hired farm workers. To do so, we draw on data from two independently conducted, mixed-methods case studies—organic fruit and vegetable production in California, and dairy farming in Wisconsin—each of which offers a different set of insights into the farm size-job quality relationship. In both cases, larger farms fared better than or no worse than their smaller-scale counterparts for most job quality metrics investigated, though many of the advantages of working on large farms accrue disproportionately to white, U.S.-born workers. We explain that these patterns stem from economies of scale, industrialization, firm size itself, the dominant class identities and aspirations of farmers and their peers, as well as farmers’ and immigrant workers’ fears of immigration enforcement

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