FARM: A Year in the Life of an American Farmer by Richard Rhodes
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FARM: A Year in the Life of an American Farmer

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From The Making of the Atomic Bomb (1986) to the daily rounds of a Missouri farmer is a night-to-day switch in all sorts of respects; nor does a farmer's life allow for the sweep and drama we praised in Rhodes' earlier report. But he tells this unspectacular and slower-paced story with the same respect, immediacy, fidelity to detail, and skillful integration of particular operations with wider context. Here, Rhodes takes farmer and family man Tom Bauer (not his real name), who personally farms 1,250 acres--some his clear, some mortgaged, some farmed on share with other owners--through a varied and demanding round of operations: shopping and bargaining for used machinery or for scarce grain storage space; maintaining the sophisticated array of heavy equipment that is part of a contemporary farming operation; laboriously reclaiming soggy bottomland; castrating pigs and helping the vet castrate young bulls; returning a gilt's prolapsed rectum, and--an activity that brings great satisfaction and a sort of unarticulated religious awe--harvesting corn with the combine. Through it all, he must factor into his everyday decisions not only the proverbially unpredictable weather but also the impact of world events (he often speaks of his ""chernobyl beans""), domestic economy and policy (his net worth was recently cut about in half by a drop in land values), and the complicated and sometimes contradictory requirements of the current crazy quilt of federal programs. Readers can't help being struck by the judgment, skill, basic decency, and long, hard, and sometimes dirty work involved in an operation that grossed over $150,000 in a recent year but netted the industrious family only $19,000. Says Rhodes, speaking for Tom Bauer, ""Farming was a good life but it didn't make you rich."" This level, down-to-earth account is an impressive tribute to American farmers like Tom Bauer.

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1989
Publisher: Simon & Schuster