Yes, you should read it. This book, right here.

The book is Gaining Ground: The Renewal of America’s Small Farms by J. Tevere MacFadyen. It was published in 1984 and I had never heard of it. I read everything. That I have not come upon this gem before is maddening.

This book came out during the 80’s farm crisis, but it is quite optimistic. The author travels the country interviewing agricultural visionaries and at a time when the mantra was “Get big or get out”, astonishingly predicts the rise of the small farm.

Was it Gandhi who said, “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win”?

It is vindicating to read MacFadyen’s book in the year 2013. We have certainly moved past the ignoring and laughing stages (See this article). I am hopeful that my generation will bring it to the final one. Although I prefer to think of it as, “then they fight you, then they join you.” We all win in sustainable agriculture and there is room for everybody!

The book consists of ten chapters. In each, the reader meets another central character who is working toward creating a system of sustainable agriculture. I have collected some of their best quotes here. But there are many many more so go read it for yourself!

MacFayden captures my heart right in the preface with the line, “Agriculture, I see now, is the most human profession.”

I do not know who said this (it was probably a farmer) or where I found it in the book but I wrote it down immediately. “The first requirement for organic farming is obsession, and how well you do depends on how obsessed you are.” If you find it in your reading, let me know!

In Nebraska, MacFayden meets co-director for the new (at the time)Center for Rural Affairs Marty Strange. Strange tells him,”If the family farm represents anything, it’s a very intimate and fundamental relationship between people and resources.”

Strange’s dose of wisdom continues and produces the most coherent summation of the corn problem I have ever come across. “The fundamental problem with corn is that we are committed to it.” 

My two favorite philosophical assertions in the book:

“What American agriculture got convinced of, beginning in, say, 1946, was that a farmer should be a businessman. What the Amish said was that farming was the highest calling of the Lord. Now we find that those who made economics their god are the ones in the worst trouble, while those who put economics second – the Amish – have been making the best economic decisions.” ~ Wes Jackson, The Land Institute

“We are not going to begin to understand solutions to farm problems until we stop calling them farm problems – What ails farmers, ails all society.” ~ Gene Logsden 

I found the original 1984 New York Times review of the book, if you’d like to read more. Three cheers for good books and the family farm!