Bet the Farm: The Dollars and Sense of Growing Food in America

Reviewed by Deane Barker tags: food

This is a story of a metro couple from the Bay Area who move back to Iowa to take over the husband’s father’s farm.

It’s…depressing, in many ways. Farming is a tough industry, and this couple endures crisis after crisis. There’s no glamour in it. It’s just a tough slog.

Example: farming is not sustainable without the government. The Department of Agriculture will pay you to farm certain crop, and also pay you to not farm certain crops. As a farmer, your incredibly slim profit margin is usually made of of government payments, not a profitable business.

One of the problems with the book is that the couple wants to create a different kind of farm – think, very left-wing. They want to empower people-of-color, maybe have a co-op or collective or something.

Now, I don’t begrudge them this desire, but it makes their lives harder. Additionally, it sort of taints the book. It’s less about American farming as it actually is, and more about how this couple wants to do something…not mainstream. So, is it a good look at the real state of farming? I don’t think it is.

The author also hammers on the point of racism and white privilege in farming. The land the farm was on was taken from Native Americans and passed down from white farmer to white farmer, and that’s the only reason her husband’s father was able to farm – he had received this land through nothing but his hereditary privilege.

Again, that’s not so much what I was looking for. It’s a short book, so I don’t regret reading it. But the subtitle is “The Dollars and Sense of Growing Good in America,” and I don’t think it really delivers on that. This is better done in The Omnivore's Dilemma (which, honestly, I didn’t love either).

The book ends unfinished. They don’t ever reach a plateau – when it ends, they’re still struggling. I might be interested in a sequel five years on.

Book Info

Beth Hoffman

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