This Blessed Earth: A Year in the Life of an American Family Farm

Ted Genoways

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This Blessed Earth is the 2019 selection for the All Iowa Reads program by the Iowa Center for the Book.

Book Description

Is there still a place for the farm in today’s America?

The family farm lies at the heart of our national identity, yet its future is in peril. Rick Hammond grew up on a small ranch, and for forty years he has raised cattle and crops on his wife’s fifth-generation homestead in York County, Nebraska, in hopes of passing it on to their four children. But as the handoff nears, their small family farm―and their entire way of life―are under siege. Rising corporate ownership of land and livestock is forcing small farmers to get bigger and bigger, assuming more debt and more risk. At the same time, after nearly a decade of record-high corn and soybean prices, the bottom has dropped out of the markets, making it ever harder for small farmers to shoulder their loans.

All the while, the Hammonds are confronted by encroaching pipelines, groundwater depletion, climate change, and shifting trade policies. Far from an isolated refuge beyond the reach of global events, the family farm is increasingly at the crossroads of emerging technologies and international detente. Following the Hammonds from harvest to harvest,

Ted Genoways explores this rapidly changing landscape of small, traditional farming operations, mapping as it unfolds day to day. This Blessed Earth is both a concise exploration of the history of the American small farm and a vivid, nuanced portrait of one family’s fight to preserve their legacy and the life they love.

My Thoughts

What a hefty dose of agriculture history, along with following a family with the mind-boggling corporate rules and paranoia those in central Nebraska deal with. “Soybeans are weird,” one farmer said, but their history and growing properties are also fascinating.

I grew up on an Iowa farm. Dad grew corn and soybeans, but also legumes, and we young sisters “walked beans” to get rid of weeds. I remember Nikita Khrushchev’s 1959 visit to Iowa. My first job was detasseling seedcorn for Garst and Thomas, riding to the fields with a crew in a hosed-out stock truck. I soon determined never to marry a farmer.

Adding to the stress of unpredictable weather, plant and livestock diseases, farmers also need to keep up with the latest technology and hope to outguess the markets. A fascinating look at modern agribusiness and a wise choice as the All Iowa Reads book for 2019.

 

4 comments

  1. As the daughter of a small-scale farmer, I am sure I would find this an interesting read. Our lovely farm has now been covered (house and all!) by a pecan nut orchard – NOT ours.

    • Farming in the midwest has changed so much during the decades! I’m not sure I’d like being surrounded by crops sprayed with Glysophate herbicide, but it certainly made for an interesting childhood.

  2. This book review is so timely. It’s kind of weird when the thought crosses your mind about modern agriculture practices and you have the impression that they are crappy as a whole – but you realize that you may not know both sides of the story and you probably need more information about modern farming operations to come to a conclusion – and you wonder how you might learn more about what a farmer faces day to day without actually moving in with your farmer neighbor. Seriously – my thoughts just this morning.

    I see its available on Audible – I’m going to check it out.

    I’m pretty sure I will still keep my opinions about the spraying – especially when it’s coming out of an airplane.

    • Someone alerted me that he was going to be interviewed on Talk of Iowa Monday, so I ordered the book and got it read over the weekend. I’m suspicious of everything dealing with modern farming since dealing with health issues (gluten is only part of it), and think about my sister surrounded by crops sprayed with Glysophate, and was stunned by the rules and restrictions farmers put up with to grow GM seeds, and all the technology those monster harvesters and planters contain. But I was surprised at how much I enjoyed learning about ag history, and how fascinating soybeans are–history and characteristics. You’ll probably still be ambivalent at the end, but you will have enjoyed the ride. The author is to be part of this weekend’s Des Moines Book Festival.

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