Weekend Review: Deeply Rooted by Lisa M. Hamilton

Deeply Rooted: Unconventional Farmers in the Age of Agribusiness
The great cities rest upon our broad and fertile prairies. Burn down your cities and leave our farms, and your cities will spring up again as if by magic; but destroy our farms, and grass will grow in the streets of every city in the country. (Nebraska Congressman William Jennings Bryan, speaking at the Democratic National Convention of 1896)

Lisa M. Hamilton uses the above quote to introduce us to the first of three individuals whom she profiles in Deeply Rooted: Unconventional Farmers in the Age of Agribusiness (2009) and it is apt. These three men are so very different in their backgrounds, the work that they do, and their vision for the future, but all of them have a deep and profound love for the specific place where they reside and carve out a living. The land is important to them. It signifies their history, their family, their very being. All of these farmers know that in order to stay on their land and to save their way of farming they have to find alternatives to the conventional market. And they do.

We begin in Sulphur Springs, Texas with small dairy farmer Harry Lewis, who talks endlessly and engagingly and who lives in the remnants of the freedom colony his ancestors settled when they were freed after the Civil War. As a member of the farming co-op that provides milk for Organic Valley brand products, he is an anomaly in his area by feeding his cows exclusively on pasture. Pasture, for Lewis, is the equivalent of godliness. It is the definition of farming and the saving grace of the food system.

In Abiquiu, New Mexico--Georgia O'Keefe country--we read the story of Virgil Trujillo a rancher who continues to work as a hired hand on the ranch that his ancestors once owned, but lost in the Depression. His sole dream is to have just over 100 head of cattle and for one of his grandchildren to share his passion and to want to fill his shoes one day.

Finally, in LaMoure, North Dakota we meet the Podoll family, who converted to organic farming in the late 1970s in a time before organic was mainstream, they were the only ones in their area doing it, and they stumbled along because there was no one to teach them how. Having obsessively recorded the weather on their little patch of earth for the past 30 years there is no question in their minds that climate change is here and they work tirelessly to develop open pollinated, non-patented seeds that can thrive in the changing climate.

Not only does Hamilton share with us the intimate stories of these three men and their families, she does a wonderful job of couching it all in a historical background. From the geographic shifts in the dairy industry, to the settling of New Mexico and the class of people known as genizaro, to genetic engineering and frankenfoods, she fleshes out these stories, helping us to understand why these men are so passionate about their land and why they fight--and work--so hard to stay on it, despite pressure to do otherwise. Just as snapshots of three families, this book is very engaging, but as a document that celebrates innovation of the small family farmer over enormous agribusiness, it is inspiring.


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1 comment:

  1. What a fascinating book! Thanks for the great review. :-)