Gary Holthaus spent three years gathering material for From the Farm to the Table: What All Americans Need to Know about Agriculture. With a ponderous title like that, one would think you could spend 30 years researching the subject and still not be ready to write a book.
From the Farm to the Table What All Americans Need to Know about Agriculture By Gary Holthaus 2006; 363 pages The University Press of Kentucky www.kentuckypress.com
But Holthaus chose to tackle his subject matter by looking at it through the eyes of some 40 farm families presiding in a specific geographic area: southeast Minnesota, northern Iowa and western Wisconsin. He uses interviews with these -families—they almost read like oral histories at times—to explore what’s wrong with agriculture as well as what can be done to make it more sustainable.
These farmers (they range from graziers and organic vegetable growers to conventional crop and livestock producers) aren’t as parochial as one might think.
From their vantage point in the Upper Midwest, Holthaus finds them to be quite cognizant that “distant” entities like NAFTA and the WTO affect them just as much as a local rainstorm.
Holthaus, who undertook this project under the auspices of Minnesota’s Experiment in Rural Cooperation, also spent time interviewing economists and other agricultural experts to get a wider view of the issues. But it’s when he returns to the interviews with the farmers themselves, many of them Land Stewardship Project members, that the geopolitical and economic impacts hit home most effectively. The book also provides insights into how a truly sustainable agriculture can be developed. Holthaus calls his interviews with these farmers “healthy stories” that “teach us how to be human.” “If you do not believe in the power of stories, consider this: There have been cultures that have persisted for thousands of years without agriculture, industry, banking, and literacy,” writes Holthaus, “but there has never been one, as far as we know, without stories, poems, and music.”