the farmer's wife

Ecumenical Discussion Guide

The PBS series "The Farmer's Wife" features the lives of Juanita and Darrel Buschkoetter struggling to save their farm and their marriage. Because of its veracity and its undeniable emotional power, this documentary is more than entertainment or a love story; it can also lead to a deeper understanding of the nature of family farming. What happens to Darrel and Juanita in the threatened loss of their farming operation is happening to a devastatingly large number of family farmers today. If we do nothing about this exodus from the land, we will enter into a future dominated by a few huge landowners; family farms will be nothing but a memory, and corporate ownership of the food chain will be complete.

So, what can be done? A modest beginning would be for parishes or congregations to organize simple discussion groups, or for families to do so for family members and friends, to talk about what they felt and observed in "The Farmer's Wife". It is also an opportunity to look at how and where our food is grown and what our relationship is to that food system.


In the film, Juanita and Darrel have strong ties to their families of origin.

What is Juanita's relationship with her family?

What is Darrel's relationship with his in-laws? Juanita's relationship to her in-laws? How does this relationship affect Darrel and Juanita's marriage?

How does Darrel's working without pay for his mother and father affect the marriage relationship?

What are the positive and negative aspects of the family relationships?

Juanita and Darrel struggle in their marriage just as they struggle with their farming operation.

What was their relationship like when they first married? What were Darrel's expectations of Juanita when they married? Juanita's expectations of Darrel?

How did their relationship change? How did their respective roles in the relationship change? How did their roles change in terms of parenting the girls?

What, if any, could be the long-term effects on children when living with this kind of stress?

How does exhaustion affect the way we respond to family members?

Self-doubt has become pervasive with Darrel and Juanita. How is this manifested in their decision-making and their relationships?


Several times during the film, Juanita and Darrel refer to their lives on the farm as a "vocation."

What does this mean? How does your "work" differ if you see it as a vocation?

From what you know about them from the film, in what ways do they contribute to their community? If you see your work as a vocation, in what ways would you contribute to your community?

Does your church or denomination lift up the vocation of farming? If so, in what ways? Does farming carry with it responsibilities that are different from other vocations?


Faith and religion play an important role in the lives of Darrel and Juanita.

How is this shown in the series: in what cinematic ways is faith portrayed?

How is faith discussed by the couple?

When was the first time that Darrel and Juanita prayed together? Why?

Where is God in the lives of the Buschkoetters, the community, family farming, and society?

How would financial and marital troubles be handled in a family whose faith was not a large part of their lives?

Throughout the film, Juanita and Darrel share their faith with their three daughters.

How does the family pray together?

What do the girls pray about?

What types of prayers are used?

The parish priest responded to Juanita's request with the offer of free marriage counseling.

In what other ways could the church respond to family farming operations that are in financial difficulty?

How did the community respond to Juanita and Darrel? What could the community do for family farming operations that are in trouble?

What denominational resources exist that could help family farmers, whether they are in trouble or not?

Does your church offer prayers for farmers that are in financial trouble? For farmers that are forced from farming? Does your church help those forced from farming grieve their loss?

Does your church have discretionary funds that could help with medical bills? If not, would this be something that your church, congregation, or denomination would be able to provide?

Others in your parish have experienced loss. How did you as an individual respond? How did the church respond?


In Matthew 19:4-6, Jesus is answering the Pharisees and addressing the role of husbands and wives to their families.

Does Jesus' admonition that a husband and wife leave their mother and father and be joined with each other still have relevance in today's complex society?

How do we balance the Scriptural charge to husbands and wives to be joined with the fourth commandment to "honor your father and mother that your days may be long upon the land that the Lord your God is giving you"?

What does it mean to "leave mother and father" when land or a family business is involved? How does this change family dynamics?

In 1 Corinthians 13:4-8a, St. Paul addresses what love is. Love is what held and motivated Darrel and Juanita and what bound them in their marriage covenant.

What actions of the Buschkoetters were motivated by love?

Do they live their faith as a result of their marital love?

In what ways do they show their Christian love as well as their parental love for their daughters?

In Genesis 1:28, God told Adam and Eve to "have dominion over the earth." This has profound applications to family farming and the environment.

What does having dominion mean? Is the environment God's gift to us? If so, how is this shown in the film?


A landmark study of two towns in California by Walter Goldschmidt found that the community based upon a family farming economy had more educational services, community services, churches and other amenities like parks and recreation opportunities than did the town based on corporate- type agriculture.

How does your church support family farming? How does your community support family farming? In what other ways could it be supported?

What would your town, community or county look like if it did not have family farmers?

Are sons and daughters treated equally in taking over the farming operation or a small family business?

What kinds of stress do others experience in dealing with the Buschkoetters' efforts to save their farm? (e.g., bankers, small business owners, grocers, childcare operators, etc.)

Did Darrel and Juanita have choices in terms of their farming operation? Were choices made for them by government agencies and financiers?

Were the Buschkoetters sustainable farmers concerned about stewardship of the land? What responsibilities do land owners have to the land or their tenants?

Juanita quit her job at the nursing home because she found that childcare was taking a substantial part of her paycheck.

What is the childcare situation like in your community?

Rural communities often have low-paying jobs. What effect does that have on childcare responsibilities and opportunities?

What role does your church play in supporting parents or working mothers? What role could churches play in supporting parents or working mothers?


Each of us has a responsibility to our God and to our neighbor to live in a certain way.

Where we buy food and how we buy food can be a political act. Where does your food come from? Do you support local businesses, markets or farmers?

In what ways do we defile God's creation? Is the responsibility "out there," or what can each person do to respect God's creation?

What could an individual or a community do to help farmers that are struggling to stay on the land? What first steps could be taken? What political advocacy could be done?

Do you try to purchase food locally? If not where do you purchase food and who benefits as the result of where you purchase food?

Do you know how workers in the food system are treated, what kind of pay and benefits they receive? For instance, migrant workers often work in low-paying seasonal jobs without benefits and basic amenities like toilet facilities. Packing plant workers have high worker compensation claims due to the risk of working in a packing plant.

What is your "stake" in the food system? What is your responsibility in the food system?


This guide was created for use with the program "The Farmer's Wife," a
co-production of David Sutherland Productions,Inc. and FRONTLINE in association
with the Independent Television Service (ITVS).
Special thanks to Joan Allsup and Sandra LaBlanc of the National Catholic Rural Life Conference,
and to conference participants at the Churches' Center for Land and People in Sinsinawa, WI.

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