The 2019 One Book One Nebraska selection is “This Blessed Earth: a year in the life of an American Family Farm” by Ted Genoways. Genoways followed the Hammonds from eastern Nebraska through a year of farming. Rick Hammond is ready to start the process of passing the family farm to his daughter and her soon-to-be husband.
Rather than a day by day accounting of what goes on, Genoways shows up for harvest, then planting and so on, describing the farming process through the year, then taking detours through how farming got to where it is now from the turn of the century at each point. Told in the vein of Michael Pollen, the author explores, among other topics, the Homestead Act, development of pivot irrigation, and how Henry Ford promoted the growth of soybeans for use in biofuels as well as plastics. All of these tangents help provide context to the current story.
Honestly? I have some mixed feelings about this book. The author is clearly from Nebraska, as he thinks Valentine is in the northwest corner of the state (p.122), and Hamilton County (Aurora) is in the center part of the state. I recognize that is a pet peeve of mine. I think I learned a lot about modern farming, but because the research he did in Scottsbluff was slipshod, I am not sure what I can trust. Genoways came away from his trip to Scotts Bluff County believing that the Wildcat Hills are irrigated, he confuses acres with acre-feet and also gives some inaccurate information about the local canals (p.180-182). In the final chapter he claims the Bayard sugar factory closed due to a monoculture of corn in our area (p. 217).
In this quote, Genoways talks about how the sugar beet had transformed our area by 1912. “The beets themselves were reliable and profitable... The byproducts of sugar refining...could be processed into feed for cattle, stabilizing the beef industry and creating jobs on ranches and bringing packing-houses into towns along the railroad. And the manure from the ranches could be used to enrich irrigated soil to grow a greater diversity of crops-most notably soybeans, alfalfa, and eventually corn.” I have some reluctance to trust information from someone who can’t tell soybeans from dry edible beans, and who thinks farmers grew beets here before corn.
Genoways has written a cultural biography with science and history thrown in. I suspect the eastern Nebraska portion (99% of the book) is better researched, so if you want to learn more about where your food comes from and how farming technology has changed in the past few decades, and you aren’t too worried about details, this book gives a good overview of farming in eastern Nebraska.
New on the Non Fiction Shelf
“The Girl With Seven Names: Escape from North Korea” by Hyeonseo Lee
“The Art of Illusion: Production design for film and television” by Terry Ackland-Snow
“Skip the Drama: Practical, get-ahead strategies to survive your daughter’s teenage years” by Dr. Sarah Hughes
“How Technology Works: the facts visually explained” Everything from cell phones to prosthetic limbs
“Unsolved Murders: True crime cases, uncovered” by Amber Hunt
New on the Fiction Shelf: Mysteries and Suspense!
“The Last Time I Saw You” by Liv Constantine- A tension-filled psychological suspense
“Like Lions” by Brian Panowich- An Appalachian sheriff struggles to save his town
“Such a Perfect Wife” by Kate White- A 34 year-old mother and wife disappears
“The Good Detective” by John McMahon- How can you solve a crime when you’ve killed the suspect?
“Open Carry” by Marc Cameron-U.S. Marshall Cutter is assigned to solve a series of murders in Alaska