This Blessed Earth: A Year in the Life of an American Family Farm

Modern family farming is the subject of This Blessed Earth by Ted Genoways (The Chain). Genoways follows the Hammond family, who mostly tolerate him as they work long, hard days farming grain and raising beef cattle, struggle through intergenerational conflicts over daily operations and future plans, and sit with him telling stories of their lives and community.

Grain farming is a terrible yearly gamble with the weather and the markets. High crop yields were the traditional goal, but can now mean disastrously low prices for "commodity grains"--corn and soybeans. The Hammonds oppose the Keystone XL pipeline because it endangers the aquifer they count on for irrigation; it also cuts through their property, lowering their crop yields. This loses them the goodwill of their neighbor and landlord, and they forfeit even more acreage as a result. Between his scenes with the Hammond family, Genoways tells the history of U.S. agricultural policy, the drive to settle the West, government investments in extension programs, weather stations and subsidies, the role of Henry Ford in developing soybean farming, and how grain has been used as a political tool since the 1970s with little regard for those who grow it. Farmers have been running to stand still with only occasional success for a long time now. Genoways makes it clear that if Americans want our food production system to change, we will have to make broad new investments in our support of the people who grow it and modifications to the government policies that drive their working lives. --Sara Catterall

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