the farmer's wife

Discussion Guide

This section offers group leaders a closer look at some of the issues raised in the film, poses questions to stimulate discussion, and answers questions viewers may have.


As a discussion leader, it may be important for you to know who is participating and to understand in what ways individuals will contribute to the dialogue. Try asking:

Who is currently living on a farm?

Who grew up on a farm?

Do you have relatives or friends who farm?

Have you ever known anyone who had economic problems farming? What happened?


It is common for many of us to hold stereotypes about people in different professions or who live different ways of life. Did you have stereotypes about family farmers before seeing the film? If so, have any of them changed?

What challenges does your family have in common with the Buschkoetters? How are you different?

What are some issues the Buschkoetters face that are common for people living in rural areas? What do you see as the benefits and drawbacks of living in a close-knit rural community?

In the film, Juanita expresses her reluctance to use food stamps. Households in rural areas are less likely to use these types of benefits. If you were experiencing similar financial difficulties, and lived in a small-town rural area, would you use food stamps? Would your decision be different if you lived in an urban area? Why?

It is very hard for any family to reach out for help, especially farmers who are so independent. What are the dynamics of reaching out? Why is there stigma for accepting government and community help?

How do you define the term "family values"?

What are ways that Darrel and Juanita demonstrate that they value their family?

How has Darrel and Juanita's relationship changed over the years since they married? How have their relationships to their children and extended family changed? What role does faith play in their lives and in the lives of their children?

Recall a time when you experienced a period of difficulty. What strengths did you draw on? What strategies did you use? Where did you turn for help? Why? Did that experience change you in any way? What strengths do Darrel and Juanita exhibit in dealing with adversity? What kinds of resources might help them and others facing adversity to build on those strengths?

Have you had or do you know someone who's had serious financial problems in their lives? What impact did this have? What did it do to their mental health, their marriage, their family, their faith? What role can families, churches and the community play to help people who are undergoing this kind of crisis?

Throughout their struggles, how does the relationship between Darrel and Juanita change? During your life, have you changed your ideas about the roles of men and women/ husbands and wives in our society?

How is Juanita's life different from that of Darrel's mother? What aspects of their lives are similar? What pressures might Juanita feel trying to fulfill the societal expectations for a "farmer's wife"?

Some women are proud to call themselves a "farmer's wife." Others prefer to be called a "farmer," "woman farming partner," or "farm woman." Do you think the term "farmer's wife" is appropriate? Why or why not?

Juanita and Darrel work hard on the farm and at off-farm jobs, but still live in poverty. They maintain their own vehicles and equipment, cut their own hair, dry clothes outdoors, garden and preserve food, shop garage sales, and seek technical help as ways of saving money and maximizing income from off-farm employment. Can you think of other things you would do if you were in their situation?

What are some challenges Darrel and Juanita face that are common to family farmers? Why does a farm family fight so hard for the farming operation? Are family farms important to this country, and why or why not?

What other vocations or ways of life are people drawn to? Why would a family sacrifice so much for a way of life? If you had a similar passion for your chosen vocation, what sacrifices would you be willing to make? How many setbacks would you be willing to endure, for how long? Would you be willing to work as hard as Darrel and Juanita for so little financial reward? Why or why not?

Like many small businesses, virtually every farmer uses short-term credit to purchase seed, fertilizer, feed and the like, and then pays the debt from farm proceeds. Most farmers also have at least some real estate debt. What are some of the other challenges that farmers and other small businesses have in common? How are they different?

How do the challenges faced by small farmers compare with those of a small "mom and pop" video or corner grocery when the Blockbuster, Super K-Mart or Wal-Mart moves in? How are they different? How far is it appropriate to use government subsidies to deal with these situations? Why do we subsidize one type of small business and not the others?

Farm families are critical to the economic and social survival of America's rural communities: every time five to seven farms go out of business, one business in town also folds. If Juanita and Darrel were forced to leave the farm, what businesses and institutions in the community would be affected? What can small communities do to protect themselves against this kind of "domino effect"?

Where does your family's food come from? How far is the nearest farm from your home? What is produced there? Where does that product go when it's sold? Are there more or fewer farms near your home than there were ten years ago?

Most farmers face the uncertainties of weather, the need for credit, high in-put costs, poor prices, and the necessity of off-farm employment to supplement farm income. What additional challenges face young and beginning farmers? With the average age of farmers in their late 50s, what can we as a society do to help young people get started in farming?

In the film, Juanita reads a letter she wrote to Senator Kerrey. If you were an economically distressed family farmer writing to your elected representative, what would you say? What policy changes would you propose that would help sustain the family farm?

The Buschkoetters use several "sustainable agriculture" practices on their farm. If you were a family farmer, what incentives would you have for using sustainable agriculture practices? As a consumer, what concerns do you have about the availability of a safe, healthy food supply? Would you be willing to pay more for food you knew was raised in a way that supported the environment and the economic health of farm families and rural communities?


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).

home&nbsp. behind the film&nbsp. letters&nbsp. essays&nbsp. pictures&nbsp. david sutherland
guides&nbsp. synopsis&nbsp. resource list&nbsp. press&nbsp. tapes & credits

web site copyright 1995-2014 WGBH educational foundation