Deeply Rooted: Unconventional Farmers in the Age of Agribusiness by Lisa M. Hamilton is a really excellent book. I read a lot of books about folks who are vegetable farmers, growing for farmer’s markets or CSAs. (See my earlier review of Season’s on Henry’s Farm.) I sort of assumed when I picked up this book that it would be along the same lines, but it isn’t.
In Deeply Rooted, Ms. Hamilton profiles three separate farmers: a Texas dairyman, a New Mexico cattle rancher, and a farm family in North Dakota who grow wheat as well as vegetable seeds to sell. It’s a pretty heavy book. She gets into a lot more than just the day-to-day activities on the farms, careful to cover the history and ideology behind the farmers’ choices.
After my recent visit to a dairy farm, I was especially interested in the section on dairy farming. The author outlines the consolidation of dairy farms around the country, and the policies and events that led to shutting down small farms. The farmer she profiles runs an organic operation, and she does a nice job of highlighting the differences between that and a traditional farm. Here’s a quote I found particularly interesting:
“…three out of four milk cows in the United States are on farms with more than 100 cows; 20 percent are on farms with two thousand-plus cows. And in 2007, the USDA reported that investments in dairies with one to three thousand animals had slackened; investors had moved their interests to those with three thousand to ten thousand.”
You might think that a book on these topics might be boring or even like a textbook. While I think the information presented would probably make excellent college course material, Ms. Hamilton’s writing is fresh and almost literary. She doesn’t gloss over the ugly or dirty side of the farms she profiles either. She puts it all out there, allowing the reader to come to their own conclusions about her subjects.
All in all, a good read for anyone who wants to dig a little deeper into sustainability. It would make great winter reading by the fire. (Although, I thoroughly enjoyed reading it in the hammock this summer.) Just be sure to have your highlighter ready. I hate to mark up books, but this one had a lot of great quotes and facts worth remembering.
I’ll close with this quote from one of the farmers in the book:
“Every person, I believe, possesses in their soul an inherent moral code. We know deep down what’s right and wrong, but to judge between the two we have to stop and think about it. Instead, most people just accept things. Well, I don’t just accept things. I’ve got to stop and think about them. And when I do, I realize how much in our society is just based entirely on money economy, with no thought for a moral or ethical response to what we’re doing.”