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