Social and cultural bonds left to “the mercy of the winds:” an agricultural transition

Rebecca E. Shelton, Hallie Eakin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


In 2004, the agricultural economies of many rural communities in the United States were impacted by the cessation of a price-support and supply-control program for tobacco production. Tobacco was not only an important livelihood, but also was central to social and cultural life. Using a social–ecological systems lens and the adaptive cycle metaphor, we examine the reorganization of agriculture in communities that previously produced tobacco under the program. Specifically, we seek to understand how transitional policy that provided financial support to tobacco farmers interacted with other social, cultural, physical and human capitals to condition system reorganization. We conducted semi-structured interviews with farmers, extension agents, and policy makers in Kentucky as well as examined trends in income and number of farmers before and after the transition as indicators of reorganization. We determined that the financial support was perceived as helpful in supporting the transition and that tobacco farmers reorganized their livelihoods primarily around existing, remnant assets and endogenous capacities. In addition, we determined that though the agricultural system may be reorganizing economically, it is not necessarily supportive of the same social bonds and values that co-existed with tobacco economy. Understanding agricultural economies as part of complex social–ecological systems that consist of interconnected values, identities, ecology and social ties is important for developing policies to support systems and communities through economic transitions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)693-708
Number of pages16
JournalAgriculture and Human Values
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 2021


  • Adaptive cycle
  • Economic transition
  • Social–ecological systems
  • Tobacco

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Agronomy and Crop Science


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