The Takeover
Chicken Farming and the Roots of American Agribusiness

Monica R. Gisolfi
Foreword by Paul S. Sutter

Tracing the revolutionary shift from small- to industrial-scale poultry farming in the South


The Takeover tells us the story of a revolutionary transformation in agriculture’s business model that drove tens of thousands of farmers off the land and rendered others dependent on large agribusiness firms. It is a complicated story, and Gisolfi tells it well. She has put a human face on what, in the hands of another writer, would essentially be a business and institutional history. The Takeover offers poignant testimony of how independent landowners became, in essence, sharecroppers and shows the impact of that metamorphosis on them and their families.”
—Melissa Walker, author of Southern Farmers and Their Stories: Memory and Meaning in Oral History

“How did the modern poultry industry emerge from a region of cotton farms? What business model can explain why aspiring farmers ended up as powerless, as processed, and as exploited as their chickens? The Takeover deftly examines the agricultural and social history of Upcountry Georgia and reveals the matrix of contract growing, government subsidy, and rural impoverishment that enriched agribusiness integrators and freed these firms from financial and environmental risk. This is a big story about a small place.”
—Sarah T. Phillips, author of This Land, This Nation: Conservation, Rural America, and the New Deal

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Economists have described the upcountry Georgia poultry industry as the quintessential agribusiness. Following a trajectory from Reconstruction through the Great Depression to the present day, Monica R. Gisolfi shows how the poultry farming model of semivertical integration perfected a number of practices that had first underpinned the cotton-growing crop-lien system, ultimately transforming the poultry industry in ways that drove tens of thousands of farmers off the land and rendered those who remained dependent on large agribusiness firms.

Gisolfi argues that the inequalities inherent in the structure of modern poultry farming have led to steep human and environmental costs. Agribusiness firms—many of them descended from the cotton-era South’s furnishing merchants—brought farmers into a system of feed-conversion contracts that placed all production decisions in the hands of the poultry corporations but at least half of the capital risks on the farmers. Along the way, the federal government aided and abetted—sometimes unwittingly—the consolidation of power by poultry firms through direct and indirect subsidies and favorable policies. Drawing on USDA files, oral history, congressional records, and poultry publications, Gisolfi puts a local face on one of the twentieth century’s silent agribusiness revolutions.

Environmental History and the American South

Page count: 128 pp.
Trim size: 6 x 9

Read more about Poultry at the New Georgia Encyclopedia.


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Monica R. Gisolfi is an associate professor of history at the University of North Carolina, Wilmington.