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on March 21, 2004
I must respond, although a bit late, to the review posted in Dec. '99 by "a reader": "As we read this book it became clear that Professor Hansen's uniformly negative opinions of the people who now support themselves as professional farmers are truly clouded by his amateur status as a farmer. The sad thing is that he does not see that himself. In case you are wondering, his profession is, after all, that of College professor."
Clearly the "reader" did not read Mr. Hanson's book carefully enough. As a nearby resident of his town of Selma, I can attest to Mr. Hanson's personal and family legacy of professional farming. He is by no means "an amateur farmer." Instead, he has worked on his family farm more than full time since his pre-teens, and supported his family doing so.
The difficulties Hanson encountered as a farmer were common to the ventures of his particular crops. In addition, his acceptance of a university position at Cal. State Fresno was mainly a way to keep food on the table after the raisin crash. I wish this reviewer had read the book more carefully before tossing out major criticisms.
As an outsider to farming, although my uncle is a cattle farmer in Wisconsin, I developed a passionate respect for farming after reading Fields Without Dreams. Hanson's overriding point, I think, is to emphasize the character and toughness required of farmers in any age. His book is particularly timely because, as he notes, "Family farmers are noble, but vanishing stewards of ancient ground."
Hanson also makes an important statement about farming--that its myth of simplicity and quaintness is unfounded. While capitalism overtakes the family farm in favor of agribusiness, just like it has many other American businesses, what is disappearing along with the family farm is an honorable society we'll never see again. I am glad Hanson is around to capture this moment for us.
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on June 17, 2004
Hanson is one of the rare people that can live in two distinct worlds and have the vision to see the difference. Fortunately for all the rest of us, he also has the ability to allow us all to see his two worlds. To me, many that read this book need to read it closer, for the book contains much more than casual reading can reveal. This book tells real life stories of real life people and the many interactions that take place between these people, that will ultimately shape everyones future. I did my best to try and say how I feel about this book. Read this book yourself and enjoy.
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on October 23, 2000
A wonderful read. Hanson sweeps the reader up into the the high stakes game, the espirt d'corps of the family farm, the teeter-totter hazards of weather and market demands, the changing fortunes of agrarian culture. A magnificent achievement. One of my favorite books of the last decade.
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on November 20, 2010
This book is, without question, one of the finest works about the decline of the family farm, specifically the harsh realities of California agriculture during the 1980s (written from the perspective of the late 1990s). The profiles of the last holdout "yeoman" are compelling and full blooded. But what's even more interesting is how, through the small details and the individual anecdotes, Hanson is able to diagnose the larger trends and social consequences of this decline.

One thing other reviewers haven't pointed out is that this book is really a warm-up, the personal backstory, for the much tighter and much more damning argument put forward in Hanson's book "The Land Was Everything." That book is an easy five star, mainly because it is so finely argued and so elegantly written. I have turned passages over and over with my wife ever since I finished the last page. You just can't read some of those paragraphs once. They are simply too packed with implication and subtle observation, based on years of real-life experience.

It is also a warm-up for his book "Mexifornia," which separates out in a humane and clear-eyed way the realities of illegal immigration in Central California. Like "The Land Was Everything," this book is a classic in the genre and will be read for insight long into the future. So, all in all, these other two books might be approached with more benefit first, before turning back to this mid-way point in Hanson's thought. Anybody who is interested in learning what it takes to grow grapes for raisins will be interested in this earlier account.

My only question is: Why aren't Hanson's books on agriculture better known? The quality of writing and thought are far superior to a Michael Pollan (who is really too urban) or even a Wendell Berry (who tends to be too abstract or ponderous). There is so much in these books that, perhaps contrary to most expectations, liberal readers interested in the dynamics of social class or race, the construction of gender, the criticisms of corporate capitalism, and the problems of environmental stewardship will find much to ponder. Conservative readers will be equally challenged by the concern for virtue, the difficulty of good government, and the inevitable problems of modernity.
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on August 24, 2005
book of great impact. A realistic view into the challenges and demands of mono-cultural farming. If you want/need to understand the reality of farming and challenge your 'romantic' ideals, this book will provide that awakening and more. Most importantly, it leaves with you a clear sense of the honest influence fostered by an agrarian lifestyle - folks with integrity and values, least of which - fortitude and faith.
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on December 4, 2014
This is a raw, learned and angry memoir that details the author’s attempts to keep his California Central Valley family farm going during the raisin crash of the 1980s. The predominant theme is the manner in which the madness of modern America has led to a widespread sneering amongst the elites at the typical yeoman farmer – the gutted, surly, cynical agrarian who devotes his life - wrecking knees, back and pension plan in the process, to till his family land and provide food for his community. This tradition, stretching back to the pioneer homesteaders who travelled west in the 19th century, and further, as Hanson argues, to the non-city state dwelling Greeks who furnished western civilisation with its primary virtues, is no more. To make it in farming nowadays you need to be not a primary producer but a middle man. A slick, non-gutted, non-surly agri-businessman with a knack for corporate spiel and a business model that sucks value from the product you have not made, ruining the farmer in the process and feathering your own nest of condos, jetskis and executive cars. A far cry from the farmer’s crumbling old homestead.

Hanson is a wise old sceptic in the stoical tradition. At his most pessimistic he seems to believe that the undermining of the values of hard labour, solidity, commitment and maintenance of an inherited patch of land will lead in the end to the destruction of America and its pre-eminent virtues. Were the founding fathers not tied to the agrarian tradition themselves, and did they not realise that without small scale farms, America would be nothing? This is a sweeping argument, and there is much to debate here. But Hanson is that rare beast – a scholar and a grafter, accustomed to both the ivory tower and the sun scorched field. His knowledge and wisdom run deep, especially his awareness of the connection between the dusty central valley, its people and its micro-climate, and the long shadow of agrarianism stretching back to the classical world. If you read Hanson’s work carefully, you will see that he presents a compelling antidote to the modern world, and a perception of what is the true purpose and worth of a human life.
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on December 29, 2008
Hanson's prose is lively and elegant. His knowledge of Greek and Roman literature broadens the context of the history of his ancestors' farm in California. The larger background of the struggle to hold on to the farm is the extinction of a way of life in America, swallowed up by the meaninglessness of acquiring things, and avoiding real work.
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on September 3, 1998
Having bought and read this book on it's release date, I was deeply moved by Dr. Hanson's eloquence and ability to engage the readers in the experiences of both his family and himself. For anyone who reads this work, it will not be soon forgotten. Dr. Hanson has left both a legacy and a testament to those who work the soil in the true agrarian sense, and planted a seed to tend in those so far removed from our roots.
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on October 19, 2000
I read this laughing, smiling, shaking my head in wonder. A pasionate history of the risk and woe of the farmer's life.
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on December 31, 1999
When I read this book with my wife I was looking for aspokesman for those of us who are now caretakers of much of ournations remaining farmland and water rights. In my case one branch of my family's roots in farming go back to the American Revoultion. The farm I still maintain stretches back 5 generations to a homestead deed from Grover Cleveland. As a family we lost the oldest farm in the Great Depression. My great-grandfather having made enough money in the California gold fields to return relatively well off to the homestead in New York, made the mistake of sending both his sons, my grandfather and my great uncle, to Agriculture School at Cornell University in the 1880's. That training and the usual series of misfortunes left my father a landless orphan who took his chances playing russian roulette for the Army Air Core over Europe in order to earn the right to own land in America again. I now own and maintain my mother's family farm in the west through my work here in California. As we read this book it became clear that Professor Hansen's uniformly negative opinions of the people who now support themselves as professional farmers are truly clouded by his amateur status as a farmer. The sad thing is that he does not see that himself. In case you are wondering, his profession is, after all, that of College professor. In a recent article for American Heritage he points out that he has more invested in books than farm equipment. Worse, he seems to want us to see him as a downtrodden yeoman while he hawks sour grapes about bigger Classics Departments at the Universities on the Coast. Personally, I am doing what I can to preserve the arable land we have left, and I wish we had a Howard Jarvis or a Ron Unz out there who could stop Urban Sprawl, but bellyaching about banking, big farming operations, absentee ownership, and the lack of regulation in the commodities market is probably the most counter-productive thing anyone could do to save farming in the central valley. Nothing, not even collectivizing agriculture, will ever make it possible to succeed by making the lousy farming decisions he attributes to himself in this book. He has simply gone out of business, and this is as it should be. I can certainly agree with his suggestion to close the USDA, but the vilification of agribusiness is simply being used, by him and by others, to dry up the water supply to the valley. Professor Hansen's book will do more to turn productive farmland into college lecture halls than it will ever do to save family farms. After all, people need to make a living during the population explosion. If stone-age hunter-gathering could have supported the population of the world beyond its size 10,000 years ago, it would not have been supplanted by family and tribal agriculture. If the population 150 years ago could have been fed by exports from big cattle ranches, the Mexican Ranchos would not have had to yield to the more advanced technologies of the American Nineteenth century. If the population today could be supported by anything other than international agribusiness it would be doing so. If you, like me and Professor Hansen, are now an amatuer farmer, and are looking for a kindred soul you will not find one in this book, because Dr. Hansen is involved in a sharade that he is unwilling or unable to recognize. For a description of the real effects of the urbanization that necessarily tracks the population explosion read Kim Barnes', In the Wilderness. I would also recommend that one to Professor Dickey. END
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