Following a Nebraska farmer and his family over the course of a year, Genoways examines the obstacles farmers face today, including climate change, dwindling underground water supplies, oil and gas pipeline encroachment, market price fluctuations and the always unpredictable weather.
Genoways lucked into finding subjects who are extraordinarily frank, who let him into their personal lives with a clear trust, but perhaps also with a sense that trusting him is among their few hopes. As Meghan, making the case for small farmers, tersely asks: 'Are you ready to go raise your own food?' This book is bigger than the Hammonds. They are a thread through which Genoways recounts generations of agricultural history. Earl Butz, the Russian grain deal, Cargill, Monsanto, the Homestead Act, the Keystone pipeline, climate change — they all are put in context with their impact on farming, which then has an impact on the price of our potato chips. Frankly, it’s difficult to imagine many who’ll read this book without a personal link to farming to draw them in. But The Blessed Earth is a history book, an economics text, even a soap opera of sorts. If we eat, we should know.
...a cleareyed and unsentimental look at how farming has become relentlessly optimized by automation, markets and politics ... Hammond, with his cowboy hat and thousand-yard stare, can feel like an archetype, but Meghan, his daughter, is a more raw personality. Funny and salty, she’s fully aware that farming is a gamble in which the house always wins, but she is still eager to embrace the incredibly complex skills of the modern farmer ... When Genoways moves away from the subject of the Hammonds, he writes with authority on plant breeding, water rights and, in a particularly interesting example, Henry Ford’s early evangelizing for soy as an ingredient for car parts, an initiative that led Fortune to write, 'There is a bushel of soya beans in every Ford car.' Sometimes, though, we end up in the weeds. A long section about irrigation, for example, overwhelms with technical details and historical arcana.
In his compelling narrative, journalist Genoways gives the reader a kitchen-table view of the vagaries, complexities and frustrations of modern farming, beginning with the 2014 harvest, when the Hammonds were 'wrestling with how to run the farm in the future' ... Insightful and empathetic, Genoways interweaves the family’s personal stories, with the factors impacting their decision making: fluctuating markets; trade deals, the rise of agribusiness and mega farms that affect profit margins; the development and widespread use of genetically modified crops, herbicides and pesticides weighed against potential long-term environmental damage; and the stress heavy irrigation places on water sources, such as the aquifer that supplies groundwater for Nebraska and eight other states from South Dakota to Texas.