Journalist Hamilton fashions intimate portraits of three alternative, small-scale farming strategies.
A sensitive, well-versed observer of the American agricultural scene, the author doesn’t come to these vignettes with an agenda; she lets the farmers set the tone and state the purpose of their acts and beliefs. She does this with a subtle knack for getting under the skins of both her subjects and the land they husband, conveying a natural sense of the farmers’ stewardship while painting visceral images of the landscapes on which they work. “All the stories were different,” she writes, “but they had a common thread: these people were dead-set on saving their farms, and knew that in order to do so they had to escape the conventional market.” They eschew the bigger-is-better philosophy of capitalization for reasons of ethics and practicality: They refuse to burden the land with petrochemicals not only because it is inimical to biorhythms and sustainability, but because it is financially ruinous. Hamilton spends time on a dairy farm in East Texas, a ranch/retreat cattle operation in New Mexico and a grain spread in North Dakota. Each one slowly reveals its history and its evolving moral compass. Convictions on how to relate to the land are commonsensical and passionate, high on independence, continuity, purpose, love of place and community. Frugality steers them clear of indebtedness. Hamilton doesn’t strive to make readers love these folks—indeed, they are sometimes pariahs in the communities they wish to foster, because they don’t practice business as usual. She simply ushers us into their everyday existence, offering glimpses of new possibilities in agricultural production and where each may well lead.
A concentrated, evocative look at agricultural methods that place a premium on health and ecology.