BookBrowse Reviews This Blessed Earth by Ted Genoways

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reviews |  Beyond the book |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

This Blessed Earth

A Year in the Life of an American Family Farm

by Ted Genoways

This Blessed Earth by Ted Genoways X
This Blessed Earth by Ted Genoways
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    Sep 2017, 240 pages
    Paperback:
    Nov 2018, 240 pages

  • Rate this book


Book Reviewed by:
Rebecca Foster

Buy This Book

About this Book

Reviews

BookBrowse:


Ted Genoways follows one Nebraska family for a year as he illuminates the blessings and challenges of the farming life.

For the Hammonds, a farming family in Nebraska, the 2014 harvest season started with a perfect storm of perilous circumstances: a spell of good weather led to nationwide crop overproduction and surpluses, which caused a drop in projected prices; then heavy late-summer rains delayed the harvest. At the same time, there were concerns about the potential Keystone XL Pipeline (see 'Beyond the Book'), which could cut right through their land and jeopardize the freshwater reserves of the Ogallala Aquifer.

Ted Genoways, a Nebraskan with family roots in farming, is a poet and journalist whose previous works include The Chain: Farm, Factory, and the Fate of Our Food (2014). For this new book he followed Rick Hammond's family and farm workers over one critical year, October 2014 to October 2015. He vividly conveys the rhythms of farming and reflects on the historical shifts that have brought this way of life to a point of crisis.

It was in the early 1970s that family farms began to cede to big agri-business. Then Secretary of Agriculture Earl Butz warned farmers to "get big or get out." This forced small operations like Hammond's to diversify – for instance, by producing genetically modified seed corn for DuPont Pioneer. In addition, the Hammonds grow soybeans in rotation, and raise Black Angus cattle.

Yet uncertainties are intrinsic to the farmer's life; "you can't control the weather, and you can't control the markets," Rick's daughter Meghan explains. Indeed, "failure is everywhere on the farm," Genoways ominously proclaims, as when the Hammonds discovered stem borer caterpillars in their soybeans and had to call in the insurance adjustor to calculate their losses.

There are fascinating historical facts here. For instance, did you know Henry Ford is to thank for the success of soybeans in the USA? In addition to farming soybeans, Ford was also interested in using them for fuel, and this was part of the early impetus towards developing biofuels. He funded research into alternative uses for surplus crops in industry, such as biofuels and plastics. The same tactic, applied to corn, caused so much of it to be diverted to ethanol production that there were global scarcity scares around 2005.

In between the book's major sections are four brief interludes that zero in on particular aspects of the Hammonds' life. A touching story unconnected to farming features in one of these. Meghan's high school boyfriend, a Marine, was killed in Iraq in 2006. The town named a street and an annual dance after him, and his mother still maintains his bedroom like a shrine. Even though Meghan moved on – by the end of the book she's married with a baby – the legend of Lance Corporal Brent Zoucha lingers.

I especially liked these stories and the black-and-white photographs of the farm work, contributed by Genoways' wife, photographer Anne Andrei. At times I wondered if the book's niche subject and specific family history could limit its readership. An interest in farming and food production is probably necessary to truly appreciate it. It could, of course, be argued that everyone should be paying attention to where their food comes from, but I can see how a few readers might get lost in the details of irrigation systems or 1970s–80s farming policies. However, if you enjoy books by Wendell Berry and Michael Pollan, for instance, or have read and liked what could be considered the U.K. counterpart of this book, Land of Plenty by Charlie Pye-Smith, you will appreciate This Blessed Earth. It is a unique combination of group biography, history, and science.

The epilogue, in particular, has a well-balanced tone: Genoways tempers his worry with optimism, showing that farming is a threatened yet resilient way of life. The last words in the book belong to Meghan, the sixth generation of this farming family, as she affirms their commitment to the work and to the land: "Whatever comes, we'll find a way to get by."

Reviewed by Rebecca Foster

This review is from the October 4, 2017 issue of BookBrowse Recommends. Click here to go to this issue.

This review is available to non-members for a limited time. For full access become a member today.
Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

Beyond the Book:
  The Keystone XL Pipeline

Award Winners

  • Book Jacket: Educated
    Educated
    by Tara Westover
    Voted 2018 Best Nonfiction Award Winner by BookBrowse Subscribers

    Tara Westover had the kind of ...
  • Book Jacket: Circe
    Circe
    by Madeline Miller
    Voted 2018 Best Fiction Award Winner by BookBrowse Subscribers

    Towards the end of Madeline Miller...
  • Book Jacket: Children of Blood and Bone
    Children of Blood and Bone
    by Tomi Adeyemi
    Voted 2018 Best Young Adult Award Winner by BookBrowse Subscribers

    What would you do if, in a ...
  • Book Jacket: Where the Crawdads Sing
    Where the Crawdads Sing
    by Delia Owens
    Voted 2018 Best Debut Novel Award Winner by BookBrowse Subscribers

    Where the Crawdads Sing was a ...

See all Award Winners & Top 20

Book Discussion
Book Jacket
Unsheltered
by Barbara Kingsolver

A timely novel that explores the human capacity for resiliency and compassion.

About the book
Join the discussion!

Readers Recommend

  • Book Jacket

    A Ladder to the Sky
    by John Boyne

    A seductive, unputdownable psychodrama following one brilliant, ruthless man.
    Reader Reviews

Win this book!
Win The 7 ½ Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle

The 7 ½ Deaths of
Evelyn Hardcastle

"Agatha Christie meets Groundhog Day...quite unlike anything I've ever read." - A. J. Finn

Enter

Word Play

The Big Holiday Wordplay: $400+ in Prizes

Enter Now

Books that     
entertain,
     engage

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends books that we believe to be best in class. Books that will whisk you to faraway places and times, that will expand your mind and challenge you -- the kinds of books you just can't wait to tell your friends about.