Agriculture, Food, and Rural Stories Project

How are people in rural areas and small towns experiencing COVID-19? What are the effects on agriculture? What are the effects on communities? What are the effects on families? 

This crisis is having a massive affect on food and farm workers and their families. As meatpacking plants become coronavirus hot spots, workers and their families become exposed.

The coronavirus is changing how people relate to agriculture and food on a day-to-day basis. With restaurants dining rooms closed, many people are gardening for the first time, membership in CSAs (Community Supported Agriculture) is at an all-time high, and people are doing a lot more cooking from home. 

ISU’s Special Collections Department asks you to share your experiences with us regarding one or more of the following areas: 

  • Rural and small-town life 
  • Gardening and local food systems 
  • Cooking during COVID-19 

Your stories matter and will be of interest to historians and scholars for generations to come. 

Who can participate?

Anyone living in rural or small-town Iowa or the Midwest. Or, anyone who has found their relation to food, agriculture, and local food systems impacted by COVID-19. 

What should I record? 

Small town/rural life: 

Feel free to capture any aspects of your experience that you wish. The following are suggestions if you need something to get you started.

  • Day-to-day thoughts and experiences. Where do you live? How is the coronavirus impacting your day-to-day experience? When did it start to affect your experience? What are your fears and frustrations? As government-imposed restrictions lift, how do you feel about these changes? How are you adapting to social distancing in your day-to-day? If you aren't (or can't) practicing social distancing, what has your experience been like?

  • Working life. Are you a farmer, or is your family involved in farming? Has the coronavirus affected your farming work? How so? Do you own or work for a small business? How is the coronavirus affecting that? Are you working from home? Lost your job or been furloughed? Are you an essential worker? Whatever your experience, what has it been like? How have things changed? Do you own a rural or small town business? How has that been impacted? Are you a worker in a meatpacking plant or other type of food or farm laborer? Do you fear for your health? How has this affected your livelihood and families?

  • School experience. Are you a student at home? Are you continuing to do classes? How? What challenges have you experienced?  

  • Health. Have you or someone you know been sick?  How have you dealt with that experience?

  • Home life. Do you live alone? Have a spouse? Children? Do you care for older relatives in your home? What is your family life like? Do you have kids at home? Far away? How do you stay in touch? Have you visited with family or friends, or are you self-isolating? How do you spend your free time?  

  • Experiences with technology. Do you have internet access? Is it fast or slow? How has that affected your ability to do business, go to school, keep in touch with family and friends? 

  • Race and ethnicity. Are you from a marginalized racial or ethnic group living in a rural area or small town? Has this affected your experience of the COVID-19 crisis in a particular way? 

Gardening and local food systems: 

  • Relation to food and agriculture. Have you done something new this year, such as started a garden or joined a CSA because of the coronavirus? What have your experiences been? Are you a regular farmers market shopper? How have delayed market openings or new social distancing guidelines affected your experiences this year?

  • Gardening experience. You might like to keep a gardening journal. Are you creating a garden for the first time? Why did you decide to start? How is it going? What are your frustrations and successes? How has gardening in the time of the coronavirus changed your relationship to food? If you are a long-time gardener, is this year different? What impact has COVID-19 had on your gardening?  

Cooking during COVID-19 

You might like to keep a cooking or recipe journal. What new recipes are you trying? Are you sharing recipes with friends and family? How is panic buying and food shortages affecting your cooking? Are you experimenting with substitutions? Are you trying adventurous new recipes or keeping to old favorite? 

Frequently Asked Questions: 

  • How long should I engage in this project? 
    • This situation is ongoing with an uncertain end date. Please feel free to record your experiences for as long as you are interested. 
  • When/how often should I submit? 
    • You may submit a series of entries over time, or you may submit all at once at the end of your project. 
  • How do you define rural or small town? 
    • We are loosely following the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) definition of nonmetropolitan (nonmetro) areas to encompass both rural areas and small towns. (For more information see https://www.ers.usda.gov/topics/rural-economy-population/rural-classifications/what-is-rural/.)  
    • How does this apply to me?
      • Basically, if you don’t live in a city or metropolitan area with a population of 50,000 or more, and you believe your location and living experience captures rural or small town life, count yourself in! We aren’t splitting hairs here. 
  • If I live in a metropolitan area can I participate? 
    • If you in a metropolitan area, you can still participate in our Gardening and Local Food Systems and/or our Cooking During COVID-19 documentation projects. 
  • Can I participate in more than one project? 
    • Yes. Your documentation project can capture either rural or small town life, your experiences with gardening or local food systems, or your cooking experiences during the crisis—or a combination of two or three of those categories.
  • Can I restrict materials? 
    • Yes, you may restrict your materials for 1 year, 3 years, or another period of time from date of deposit. You may specify the period of time for restricting materials on the submission form for digital submissions, or deed of gift for physical submissions. We reserve the right to refuse materials for unreasonable restrictions, including restricted indefinitely. If you have concerns, please contact Special Collections at aebishop@iastate.edu.  
  • Can I submit anonymously?
    • Yes, if you feel your submission would endanger your well-being, you may choose to submit anonymously using our submission form.

Questions or concerns

For any other questions or concerns, please contact Amy Bishop directly at aebishop@iastate.edu.