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Farm: A Year in the Life of an American Farmer Paperback – November 28, 1997
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Farm lyrically recounts a year in the lives of Tom and Sally Bauer, solid Midwesterners who work the bottomlands of the Missouri River to grow "a harvest few city people could have identified ... the foundation of their diet, the principal food plant of the Western world": corn. The two rise before dawn in all kinds of weather, tending to the hundreds of tasks farmers must master in the face of heavy odds--foreclosures, climbing interest rates, a then-sickening economy, and, always, the uncertainties of the weather and the health of their crops. Richard Rhodes makes it clear that their lives are hard, but the Bauers love to till the soil. Doubtless few urbanites will want to don bib overalls after reading Farm, but anyone who reads the book will appreciate the difficulty of farmers' lives and the courage of those who lead them.
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The other aspect of this review is the farm is fast disappearing from our landscape. Commercial farms are becoming the norm, and the family farm and the support it needs to survive are fast becoming ancient history. This book will put you back into those good old days when farmers were an important part of American life and helped shape Americana.
There are too few books like this and when I find myself longing for home I'll pull it out and read a few chapters and I'm back home helping fix the tractor or hoping a thunderstorm will pass by in order to drive the combine over to one of the fields to harvest some corn.
If you like farming, buy this book, you won't be disappointed.
FARM details the deceptively complicated life of a midwestern farm couple, their 3 kids, two dogs and assorted friends, crops, livestock, farm machinery, etc. Farming is certainly no walk in the park. The further you venture into this book, the more emotionally exhausted you feel as Rhodes brings home in brilliant detail all the pulls, pushes, tugs, restraints and jolts that go into this lifestyle. How do they do it?
Around the biographical data concerning the Bauer family, Rhodes introduces a staggering array of ancillary subjects, summarizing each with deadly accuracy coupled with a comfortable and easy-to-digest writing style. (Even soils and compactor mechanics are rendered comprehensible for those of us who never "tested well" on mechanical reasoning!)
For east/west coast new arrivals to the midwest who couldn't feel more lost if they'd just landed on Jupiter, this book sheds lots of light on many of the onstensibly incomprehensible mores, rhythms, habits and tendencies of midwestern life that persist in the behavioral patterns of even those who are more than a generation removed from the farm or the small town. With Rhodes as your guide, it's easier to understand the positive aspects of why they do what they do and less painful and exasperating to conform yourself to behaviors that will make them accept you more. I'd need a calculator to add up all the dumb mistakes I could have avoided over the past 10 years if I'd been armed with the information contained in Rhodes' book.
However, 1989 was a long time ago. Since then a new breed of "agri-preneurs" led by Ron Macher, Small Farm Today, the various editors of Storey Books and others is slowly guiding America's farmers away from traditional wholesale masochism toward direct marketing of specialty crops and livestock.
Rhodes' FARM and Macher's MAKING YOUR SMALL FARM PROFITABLE form a veritable old and new testament of American farming -- and an important primer for the aging suburban Boomer who wants to replace lifelong cluelessness with a practical body of knowledge with which to become at least a small part of the solution -- the voting booth, perhaps?!!
I did shock my doctor while reading it in his office, he asked what I was reading and I told him(It was the part about bull castration) I thought he was going to pass out! He turned white and quickly said " I don't think we need to talk about that in here."