Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Book Review: Deeply Rooted

I finished Lisa Hamilton’s Deeply Rooted last night. It was a thought-provoking work. Ms. Hamilton singled out three unconventional farmers, farmers who bucked the trend of constantly increasing the size of their operation and spent quite a bit of time watching what they do and more importantly finding out why they do what they do. All three buck conventional wisdom and while they might not make as much money as the huge commercial farms they still retain their connection to the land and their community, something Ms. Hamilton argues and I largely agree has taken place in most of the agribusiness world.

I think Ms. Hamilton does a great job painting the picture of each of these farms for the reader. Her vivid imagery is sometimes raw but life on a farm is not all setting suns and green pastures. Life on a farm is dirty sometimes, sometimes ugly and unpleasant. When you eschew the methods of modern agribusiness, it can make life even harder. In a country where meat and milk come from the grocery store in sanitary foam packages and plastic jugs, Deeply Rooted is a welcome reminder of just how much has changed in the world of food.

The three farmers she selected are kind of characters, each with a pretty interesting personality. I am sure that is intentional, after all the book needs to be readable as well as educational. I don’t think these three are typical of non-confirming farms but they do provide a great insight into the mindset of people who were raised to be farmers and ranchers but decided against getting on the economy of scale treadmill. It is one thing to woodenly detail the operations of a farm, which is only mildly interesting. Getting into the minds of these farmers is where the really interesting stuff happens.

It is indisputable that the agricultural world has changed dramatically over the last century and the pace of change shows no sign of letting up. Ms. Hamilton does a very good job of telling us about the downside of this revolution, farmers becoming producers, people disconnected from the land and from where their food comes from. On the other hand, feeding your family has become, at least for the majority of people in Western nations, something of an afterthought. I can get up from my computer and get to four grocery stores in less than ten minutes, each one chock full staple foods, dairy products and fruits and vegetables. The food is consistent, predictable and cheap. How healthy it is, well that is a different story but the market delivers what people demand. I am confident in saying that short of a major crisis, we are never going back to a world of gardens and small farms, of local produce. Perhaps Deeply Rooted will serve as an encouragement to others, as it has been for me, to think more about food and the choices we make. Food, water and shelter are the essentials of life and we really only pay attention to one of those. As bad as the mortgage crisis was, a food or water crisis is infinitely worse. Deeply Rooted is, pun intended, food for thought.

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