Stanford Historians Revive an Agrarian Tradition: Walking the Farm





It is a custom well known among farmers and ranchers: Inspect the fences each year to ensure their soundness.

David M. Kennedy first heard of it in the 1960s from his roommate at Yale University, an Iowa farm kid. Two and a half years ago, as a distinguished historian at the former horse farm known as Stanford University, Mr. Kennedy approached Jon Christensen, a doctoral candidate and instructor in history. "You ever heard of walking the farm?"

Turns out that he had. "Check the fence, meet the neighbors" was a familiar concept to Mr. Christensen, who has spent 21 years exploring the West as a freelance environmental journalist. Mr. Kennedy proposed that the two of them take Mr. Christensen's environmental-history students and others on a 23.5-mile "moving seminar" around the perimeter of the 8,200-acre Stanford property.

The men selected a weekend in April, when the rains have tapered off and temperatures remain moderate on the San Francisco peninsula. Mr. Christensen envisioned a leisurely two-day walk, but Mr. Kennedy had other ideas. "No, no, no," the 67-year-old historian told his grad student. "I think we can do it all in one day. This is not going to be a stroll, this is going to be a hike."

Or to pampered undergrads, a death march.

"They start out like jack rabbits, and then they're pooped," Mr. Kennedy complains of the young. "They don't pace themselves."...


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Jon Kukla - 5/16/2009

In colonial Virginia, as in England, walking property lines annually was one of the community functions managed by the local parishes.

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