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When Lucie Amundsen had a rare night out with her husband, she never imagined what he'd tell her over dinner-that his dream was to quit his office job (with benefits!) and start a commercial-scale pasture-raised egg farm. His entire agricultural experience consisted of raising five backyard hens, none of whom had yet laid a single egg. To create this pastured poultry ranch, the couple scrambles to acquire nearly two thousand chickens-all named Lola. These hens, purchased commercially, arrive bereft of basic chicken-y instincts, such as the evening urge to roost. The newbie farmers also deal with their own shortcomings, making for a failed inspection and intense struggles to keep livestock alive (much less laying) during a brutal winter. But with a heavy dose of humor, they learn to negotiate the highly stressed no-man's-land known as Middle Agriculture. Amundsen sees firsthand how these midsized farms, situated between small-scale operations and mammoth factory farms, are vital to rebuilding America's local food system. With an unexpected passion for this dubious enterprise, Amundsen shares a messy, wry, and entirely educational story of the unforeseen payoffs (and frequent pitfalls) of one couple's ag adventure-and many, many hours spent wrangling chickens.
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.
After years of working at the ends of the earth in human rights and development, Brent Preston and his wife were die-hard city dwellers. But when their second child arrived, the shine came off urban living. In 2003 they bought a hundred acres and a rundown farmhouse and set out to build a real farm, one that would sustain their family, nourish their community, heal their environment, and turn a profit. The New Farm is Preston's memoir of a decade of grinding toil and perseverance. Farming is a complex and precarious business, and they made plenty of mistakes along the way. But as they learned how to grow food, and to succeed at the business of farming, they also found that a small, sustainable, organic farm could be an engine for change, a path to a more just and sustainable food system. Today, The New Farm supplies top restaurants, supports community food banks, hosts events with leading chefs, and grows extraordinary produce. Told with humor and heart, The New Farm is a joy, a passionate book by an important new voice.