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From the Farm to the Table

From the Farm to the Table: What All Americans Need to Know about Agriculture

Copyright Date: 2006
Pages: 384
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  • Book Info
    From the Farm to the Table
    Book Description:

    As with other areas of human industry, it has been assumed that technological progress would improve all aspects of agriculture. Technology would increase both efficiency and yield, or so we thought. The directions taken by technology may have worked for a while, but the same technologies that give us an advantage also create disadvantages. It's now a common story in rural America: pesticides, fertilizers, "big iron" combines, and other costly advancements may increase speed but also reduce efficiency, while farmers endure debt, dangerous working conditions, and long hours to pay for the technology. Land, livelihood, and lives are lost in an effort to keep up and break even. There is more to this story that affects both the food we eat and our provisions for the future. Too many Americans eat the food on their plates with little thought to its origin and in blind faith that government regulations will protect them from danger. While many Americans might have grown up in farming families, there are fewer family-owned farms with each passing generation. Americans are becoming disconnected from understanding the sources and content of their food. The farmers interviewed in From the Farm to the Table can help reestablish that connection. Gary Holthaus illuminates the state of American agriculture today, particularly the impact of globalization, through the stories of farmers who balance traditional practices with innovative methods to meet market demands. Holthaus demonstrates how the vitality of America's communities is bound to the successes and failures of its farmers. In From the Farm to the Table, farmers explain how their lives and communities have changed as they work to create healthy soil, healthy animals, and healthy food in a context of often inappropriate federal policy, growing competition from abroad, public misconceptions regarding government subsidies, the dangers of environmental damage and genetically modified crops, and the myths of modern economics. Rather than predicting doom and despair for small American growers, Holthaus shows their hope and the practical solutions they utilize. As these farmers tell their stories, "organic" and "sustainable" farming become real and meaningful. As they share their work and their lives, they reveal how those concepts affect the food we eat and the land on which it's grown, and how vital farming is to the American economy.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-4665-2
    Subjects: Environmental Science, Technology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. xv-xx)

    For the past three years, I have been talking with, and learning from, folks who understand, as best any of us can, how agriculture works. In the process, I’ve visited with almost forty farm families in southeast Minnesota, northern Iowa, and western Wisconsin. Some of those visits lasted half a day or more and included a firsthand look at the farm. In some cases I’ve been back several times. I’ve also spoken with university faculty in our land-grant institutions, talked with county extension educators, attended too many public meetings and farm field days to count, and shopped at local farmers’...


    • CHAPTER 1 Fundamentals
      (pp. 3-9)

      It seems right to begin with the oldest elements. From the beginning, the Sumerians were right, the ancient Greeks were right, the American Indians were right, the Chinese were right: in the beginning, there were earth, air, fire, and water. We may all know these, but some in our cities and urban bureaucracies—and even some farmers—may have forgotten them. It is no disservice to either language or thought to speak of soil as earth, and light as fire, for soil provides the earth a skin of healthy nourishment that enables life, and light takes its origin in distant...

    • CHAPTER 2 Histories
      (pp. 10-26)

      Immigrants in 1846 followed wagon ruts all the way from Chicago to Red Wing, Minnesota. The army had worn the ruts into the rolling hills and prairie during the Black Hawk War. At Grand Detour, a common stop along the way, the Anderson family halted for a rest. They saw a plow leaning against the blacksmith shop, gleaming silver in the sun. They were struck by it and inquired after it. Their respondent gestured toward the smithy and said, “He is the only man in the world who can make a self-polishing ploughshare. Out here, in this new soil, a...


      (pp. 29-59)

      Driving from Red Wing, Minnesota, down to Mabel, Minnesota, I take an inland route, a big semicircle cutting southwest across the bluff country along the Mississippi, heading up into the borderland between those steep, tree-covered hillsides and the beginning of the rolling prairie that will soon taper into the Great Plains. In the hills leading away from the bluff lands along the river, the soil lies lightly on the ridges, a porous sandy silt called loess, easily eroded, and not very deep to start with. Driven by ancient winds following the most recent ice age, about ten thousand years ago,...

    • CHAPTER 4 Farming Is a Spiritual Responsibility: MIKE RUPPRECHT
      (pp. 60-63)

      It’s April, but you couldn’t tell that from the weather. This year, it is still winter. I drive through the milky translucence of a winter day with snow falling onto the snow on the roofs of barns, falling onto the snow on the trees and on the ground, turning the whole landscape into a pale, mostly white, minimalist painting. Maybe the artist today wanted to paint light but didn’t want to overdo it, or perhaps just ran out of color.

      I am headed for Earth Be Glad Farm near Lewiston, Minnesota, to talk with Mike Rupprecht, a beef grower who...

      (pp. 64-75)

      The blufflands just north and west of Winona, Minnesota, rise above the Mississippi in steep hills. A few miles inland, the country is barely beginning to ease up a bit, has not yet relaxed into the rolling hills that appear just a few miles farther west.

      Rollingstone is nestled in these steep, July-green hills so typical of karst topography. This town of about seven hundred has an impressive museum, a handsome high-spired church with carefully trimmed lawns, and a very neatly kept public park, complete with an immaculately groomed baseball diamond. The morning I was there, though they had built...

    • CHAPTER 6 The Absolute Last Thing I Ever Dreamed I’d Be Doing: LONNY AND SANDY DIETZ
      (pp. 76-80)

      Most of our city planners and many agriculture scientists would declare that the highland ridges above the Whitewater River in southeast Minnesota are “marginal lands.” They’re not suited for townhouse development or for growing commodity crops like corn and beans. But that’s one reason Lonny and Sandy Dietz found them attractive. They had something else in mind, and they didn’t want to be dependent, beholden to the federal government’s farm bill that supplements the income of farmers who, for one reason or another, raise corn and soybeans.

      After I find my way up steep gravel and pull into the farm...

    • CHAPTER 7 I Just Felt It Was the Right Thing to Do: DENNIS RABE
      (pp. 81-106)

      It seems as though Dennis and Sue Rabe (pronounced “Ray-bee”) have tried it all—conventional farming, high-production farming, valueadded products, and direct marketing to individuals and to farmers’ markets—and now are focused on pigs and beef cattle. They follow a rotational grazing pattern for the cattle and a Swedish deep-straw system for the hogs. Behind those changes and the evolution of their current methods lies a continuing desire to farm smarter, take better care of their animals, reduce inputs, have more time with their family, and not have to work so hard.

      Sue, after farming for years, now teaches...


    • CHAPTER 8 They Say Eating Is a Moral Issue: BILL McMILLIN
      (pp. 109-117)

      When I drive in, Bill McMillin asks if I wanted to take the Mule for a quick tour. I say sure, so we start out on the four-wheeler down his lane, with mowed grass lawn to left and right, cross the highway that divides his property, then bump along his neat contour strip. From where we stop, we can see his contour strips and two other farms. It isn’t his strips he wants to show me. He points across the big coulee to a field of corn, not his, with rows running right up the hill. Every row has a...

    • CHAPTER 9 Farming Connects Us All
      (pp. 118-170)

      Every story has a context, akin to an ecosystem. That ecosystem includes its history, its environment, and its cultural and social context. This chapter, along with the chapters in part 4, provides our farm stories with their context in the state, the Midwest, America, and, in a small way, the rest of the agricultural world. Everything discussed, no matter how far it may seem from Minnesota, Kansas, Iowa, Texas, New Hampshire, Ohio, or California, is part of our farm story, influencing present circumstances and practice.

      Ecosystem, then, is an appropriate name for such a context, for the first insight of...

    • Photo gallery
      (pp. None)

    • CHAPTER 10 Agriculture and Community Culture
      (pp. 173-200)

      What are the ties between agriculture and community culture? What is the relationship between small farms and small towns? Phil Abrahamson’s family has been farming the highlands above the Root River for generations. He told me about his purebred Angus herd and about his great-grandfather, his grandfather, and his father, the last two of them Angus men. We sat in the solid farmhouse, built at the end of the nineteenth century, and talked about his community and his church as well as the farm business. I marveled at the way this small, frugal farm had affected his industry, and at...

    • CHAPTER 11 Farming in Developing Countries
      (pp. 201-204)

      One striking feature of comments from participants in an eighty-nation agriculture “e-conference” in 1999 was the broad agreement in many nations about what is happening to small farming, the environment, farmers’ access to markets, and the circumstances of farmworkers and food processors. The issues are similar around the globe. The economic, social, and psychological symptoms of change, and perhaps even the causes of change, are pretty clear on every continent.

      The exchange of e-mails in this conference drew a wide diversity of people: farmers, agriculture experts, university faculty members, and policymakers. What was surprising, though perhaps it should not have...

    • CHAPTER 12 The WTO, NAFTA, CAFTA, and the FTAA
      (pp. 205-244)

      Thanks to the publicity surrounding the 1999 World Trade Organization (WTO) meeting in Seattle and subsequent meetings, most U.S. citizens know about the WTO. Because so much of the news focused on isolated incidents of property damage, there is considerable wonder among our own farmers and other citizens at the opposition, hostility, and outright anger expressed toward the WTO. In spite of the media reports, however, the real threats posed to democracy, farmers, laboring people (including white-collar laborers), human health, and the environment by our free trade negotiations are becoming better known.

      Many Americans also know there is a North...


    • CHAPTER 13 Healthy Food, Healthy Economics
      (pp. 247-261)

      As nutritionists have expanded our knowledge about the importance of diet to health and longevity, consumers’ awareness of what they eat has grown as well. There has been a shift in interest from fatty foods to leaner meats, and to vegetables no one used to like, such as broccoli, because they are thought to reduce the risk of heart disease and cancer. The shift among consumers has increased as they have become more aware of small producers’ uphill struggle against food business mergers and vertical integration that mean only a handful of huge corporations controls our food supplies. Many consumers...

    • CHAPTER 14 Alternatives for Agriculture and the Whole Culture
      (pp. 262-274)

      The trade agreements of the WTO, NAFTA, CAFTA, and the FTAA, with their narrow vision and dismal results, are not the only way to think about trade and the future. Some alternative visions come from new and (on the surface at least) unlikely amalgamations of nongovernmental organizations that are willing to take thoughtful stands for what they believe. That is one hopeful sign; another is that agriculture is the focus of trade concern, the central hub of the wheel of our rapidly whirling globalization. Without a sustainable agriculture, there will never be a sustainable and sustaining environment, and there will...


    • CHAPTER 15 Ours for a Short Time: PEGGY THOMAS
      (pp. 277-280)

      Driving along the shore of the Mississippi this morning, I move in and out of mist rising, a red-orange sunrise suffusing the sky wherever the drifting curtains of mist thin, part, and open to color. I am headed to see Peggy Thomas, who farms with Larry Gates just a mile and a half west of the great river below Kellogg, Minnesota. We begin where most farm and ranch visits begin—at the kitchen table over coffee and something baked and sweet.

      Having a farm and making it work was not our original intent. We just wanted to live in the...

    • CHAPTER 16 An Ecology of Hope
      (pp. 281-308)

      Where lies hope? The phrase “ecology of hope” which serves as the title of the final part of this book, comes from a fine book of that name by Ted Bernard and Jora Young. I think there is an ecology of hope just as there is an ecosystem for marmots, mussels, or mallards. That ecology is formed from the constituent parts of a sustainable culture, rather than a sustainable agriculture or sustainable communities. The list of dangers that threaten a sustainable culture is impossibly long, but within each threat, a hopeful aspect grows. For me, the ecology of hope is...

  11. Notes
    (pp. 309-325)
  12. Sources and Resources
    (pp. 326-350)
  13. Index
    (pp. 351-363)