RE: Farmers and having unions, farmers (referring to people who own and operate an individual farm, not billionaires who own dozens and operate nothing,) as in those who own and operate farms, are much more small business owners than proletarians. There’s a complicated network of contracts with larger agricultural corporations that complicates that but fundamentally, they own their property, they probably inherited it, and they make their living selling their product, not from a wage. Many of the smaller ones employ help, I myself worked on a small industrial chicken farm where my job was to literally walk between the isles of feeders, pick up dead chickens, and put them in a bucket. Farmers will never have unions because they’re actively in competition with one another and are owners of capital, their path forward will always be, at it’s core, an expansion of profits. And anecdotally, they tend to be some of the most right wing people I’ve ever known, with the odd exception of the center-left all-organic hippy types, and I’ve spent my whole life in Virginia and North Carolina.
I remember when Hillary Clinton came to North Carolina (I believe it was Greensboro,) during presidential election season and gave a speech. I was in a McDonalds just outside Pittsboro and caught some of it, and she made some hilariously bad attempts to speak to “small farms,” and “small-time farmers,” which basically amounted to just repeating those two phrases over and over. I could’ve told her it was a waste of her time, not that I’m very invested in democrats getting elected, because at least of the quarter of the people she’s talking to more or less believe she’s a direct emissary of Satan and were gonna be with Trump no matter what because they despise Mexicans (they don’t bother figuring out where people are actually from,) as a core part of their identity. Lots of them view themselves as the last line of defense for good white folks, on account of how the towns themselves have been “taken over,” and all they’re the only ones left out in the countryside on this land their great great great whatever stole from the Cherokee. When I’d stay over Saturday night with my best friend from high school, I’d have to go to church with them Sunday if I couldn’t figure out how to get a ride home before then. This was one of the situations where they only went to church cuz their grandparents would be really upset if they didn’t, which is why we went to church when I was a kid. This church was like 75% farming families. It was an evangelical church, and one time the preacher, who was deeply homophobic and misogynist, gave a sermon about how interracial marriages were not sinful and were actually totally cool. Literally half the entire congregation left to go to another church after that, and about a quarter were threatening to do so unless the preacher apologized.
I’m kind of rambling but I’ve been exposed to farming culture a lot since I’ve lived in central NC and I’ve been thinking about it a lot more lately, it’s not really something you’re as likely to get intwined with in SW VA, at least my part of it, cuz there’s fewer farms and not as many jobs surrounding them, fewer slaughterhouses and chicken plants and stuff. I guess something else to talk about would be how a lot of these “Old South” small-town aristocrats, at least in rural central NC, are being replaced with “New South” aristocrats who are busy gentrifying said small towns by buying up abandoned or cheap property and putting trendy coffee shops and health food markets and stuff in them. Most of them live in houses that used to belong to farmers, but they make their living working over the phone and from the internet in corporations based out of Durham and Raleigh. It’s nice that they’re not as viciously racist, but property values have shot up around here and my mom was just getting close to finally being able to afford a house for the first time in her life, but not any more. People are already being forced to move, and it’s only going to get worse. Ironically the old guard are gonna get their wish, these towns are about to get very very white again.
EDIT: Something else I just wanted to mention: rural economies in the US are not necessarily farming economies. Plenty of rural places have historically had economies much more based around timber, coal mines, salt mines, fiberglass factories, paper mills, textile mills, gasoline, to name a few, and presently have economies based on “Does a highway or interstate run by/through your town yes/no, is there a McDonalds near said highway or interstate, yes/no.”
EDIT EDIT: Also furniture factories. How could I forget the ubiquitous 50+ year old southerner talking about a furniture factory they used to work at.