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Renegade Farmers and the Future of Food in America

by Liz Carlisle

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 2015
ISBN: 978-1-59240-920-4
Publisher: Gotham Books

Former country music singer/songwriter and newly minted geography doctorate student Carlisle unearths the secret history of a rogue posse of organic farmers operating deep in rural Montana.

Readers might be understandably reluctant to take in more than 300 pages of in-depth reportage about the emergence of legumes as a practical food product, but take a chance on this dive in to an eccentric niche of the American farm industry—it has a strange attraction, especially for foodies, business innovators and entrepreneurs. The book tells the story of Dave Oien, a farming legacy who returned home in 1976 with inspirations from the teachings of Black Elk and plans to bring solar energy to his family farm. By the mid-1980s, Oien was obsessed with the radical notion of growing organic lentils instead of the traditional crops favored by his fellow farmers. Long before they became the darling of Whole Foods chefs, Oien figured out that lentils “fix” their own nitrogen, converting it to ammonia, which is a critical element in allowing plants to grow—all without the poisonous chemicals used in growing other crops. Joining together with five other forward-thinking farmers, Oien formed Timeless Natural Food and eventually figured out a way to grow edible lentils and other organic products. The remainder of the book covers Oien’s transformation from a simple organic farmer to a kind of pied piper for the organic foods movement, inspiring farm improvement clubs, riding the wave of the new American appetite for inspiring new foodstuffs, and eventually dragging chefs, politicos, scientists and other farmers around to his way of thinking. "This lentil harvest is no fairytale success, but a complicated saga of adaptation, learning, and even some tragedy,” writes Carlisle. “The story of Timeless seeds is not a heroic one, but then again these fragile plains are not a place that needs heroes.”

A nimble story about how one man’s revolutionary ideas changed the way we eat.