A Revolution Down on the Farm: The Transformation of American Agriculture since 1929

Paperback (Print)
Used and New from Other Sellers
Used and New from Other Sellers
from $11.00
Usually ships in 1-2 business days
(Save 51%)
Other sellers (Paperback)
  • All (8) from $11.00   
  • New (4) from $18.43   
  • Used (4) from $11.00   


At a time when food is becoming increasingly scarce in many parts of the world and food prices are skyrocketing, no industry is more important than agriculture. Humans have been farming for thousands of years, and yet agriculture has undergone more fundamental changes in the past 80 years than in the previous several centuries. In 1900, 30 million American farmers tilled the soil or tended livestock; today there are fewer than 4.5 million farmers who feed a population four times larger than it was at the beginning of the century. Fifty years ago, the planet could not have sustained a population of 6.5 billion; now, commercial and industrial agriculture ensure that millions will not die from starvation. Farmers are able to feed an exponentially growing planet because the greatest industrial revolution in history has occurred in agriculture since 1929, with U.S. farmers leading the way. Productivity on American farms has increased tenfold, even as most small farmers and tenants have been forced to find other work. Today, only 300,000 farms produce approximately ninety percent of the total output, and overproduction, largely subsidized by government programs and policies, has become the hallmark of modern agriculture. A Revolution Down on the Farm: The Transformation of American Agriculture since 1929 charts the profound changes in farming that have occurred during author Paul K. Conkin's lifetime. His personal experiences growing up on a small Tennessee farm complement compelling statistical data as he explores America's vast agricultural transformation and considers its social, political, and economic consequences. He examines the history of American agriculture, showing how New Deal innovations evolved into convoluted commodity programs following World War II. Conkin assesses the skills, new technologies, and government policies that helped transform farming in America and suggests how new legislation might affect farming in decades to come. Although the increased production and mechanization of farming has been an economic success story for Americans, the costs are becoming increasingly apparent. Small farmers are put out of business when they cannot compete with giant, non-diversified corporate farms. Caged chickens and hogs in factory-like facilities or confined dairy cattle require massive amounts of chemicals and hormones ultimately ingested by consumers. Fertilizers, new organic chemicals, manure disposal, and genetically modified seeds have introduced environmental problems that are still being discovered. A Revolution Down on the Farm concludes with an evaluation of farming in the twenty-first century and a distinctive meditation on alternatives to our present large scale, mechanized, subsidized, and fossil fuel and chemically dependent system.

Read More Show Less

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Conkin provides an original twist by narrating his own experiences of farm life as a youth in eastern Tennessee…he manages to personalize his tale without letting nostalgia blind his scholarly critical eye."— Journal of American History" —

"Historian Paul K. Conkin provides an interesting examination of the transformation that has occurred in American agriculture over the last eighty years."— Kentucky Ancestors" —

"This book provokes thought, and ideally it will provoke reflection and a study that addresses the social costs as well as the industrial gains made during the greatest industrial revolution in the history of the United States, the agricultural production revolution."— Ohio Valley History" —

"For a generation of students who know little about the agricultural past, Conkin's book will provide an important and well-rounded overview."— Agricultural History" —

"An accurate and straightforward account of agriculture in America down through the years, spiced with the on-farm experiences of the author himself. Perfect for the new student of agriculture who needs a quick but detailed introduction to farming history in the United States." —Gene Logsdon, author of The Mother of all Arts: Agrarianism and the Creative Impulse" —

"Conkin cogently describes agricultural life with particular attention to changes wrought by the world beyond farmyard and fields... about lost American country life."— Indiana Magazine of History" —

"Conkin provides a masterful survey of the major agricultural legislation of the 1930s, noting that the long-term effect of these programs continues to invite curiosity.... a friendly, approachable work on agricultural history... a map to new ways of thinking about the past and planning for the future."— Arkansas Historical Quarterly" —

"Clearly written and organized, Conkin's book will appeal to anyone interested in farming and the agricultural economy."— Book News" —

"Conkin's latest book — or perhaps, as he predicts, his final book — is a thoughtful and elegantly written survey of American agriculture since the 1930s."— Business History Review" — Sarah Phillips

"Revolution clarifies an immensely complex topic, not only changes in American agricultural practices and technologies, but also the politics of definition and the long term repercussions of what many might simply ignored as banal."— Southeastern Librarian" —

Publishers Weekly
Author and Vanderbilt University history professor Conkin (The State of the Earth: Environmental Challenges on the Road to 2100) grew up on a subsistence farm in Tennessee, working summers as a harvest hand, and members of his family still farm. As such, he's personally witnessed many of the radical changes he covers in this practical, thorough and clearly-written story of the American farm's 20th century transformation into the world's breadbasket. Along the journey from family homestead to hyper-efficient industrial farm, the most useful chapters explain the origin and development of convoluted federal and state farm policy (and why attempts at reforms so often fail) for both rural and urban taxpayers. Throughout, Conkin documents from all sides the clever advances that began mechanizing agriculture right after the Civil War, driving spectacular improvements in efficiency, but also a complete dependence on cheap oil and a cycle of debt many farmers cannot escape. A final chapter examines even-handedly various types of "alternative" farming, proving Conkin no dreamy devotee of "organic" trends. This cogent, thorough history should prove fascinating for anyone interested in the changing landscape of American agriculture. 198 photographs.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Read More Show Less

Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780813192420
  • Publisher: University Press of Kentucky
  • Publication date: 7/28/2009
  • Edition description: 1
  • Pages: 240
  • Sales rank: 585,532
  • Product dimensions: 5.90 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

Paul K. Conkin is Distinguished Professor Emeritus of History at Vanderbilt University. He is the author of numerous books, including The State of the Earth, The Southern Agrarians, and When All the Gods Trembled.

Read More Show Less

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations     vii
Preface     ix
Acknowledgments     xiii
American Agriculture before 1930     1
Commercial Origins     1
Tilling and Preparing the Soil     5
Tools for Planting and Cultivating     6
Tools of Harvest     8
The Tractor     15
Research, Education, and Extension     19
Credit and Marketing     25
The Traditional Family Farm: A Personal Account     31
Profile of a Farming Village     32
Home Provenance     37
Household Patterns     42
A New Deal for Agriculture, 1930-1938     51
First Fruits: Hoover's Farm Board     52
Maturing a New Farm Program     59
The Agricultural Adjustment Act of 1933     63
Other New Deal Farm Programs     68
Soil Conservation and the Agricultural Adjustment Act of 1938     72
World War II and Its Aftermath: A Family Report     77
Wartime Changes in My Village     77
Postwar Transformations     80
Successful Farming in Pennsylvania     91
Dimensions of an Agricultural Revolution     97
The Great NewMachines     99
Electrification     107
Chemical Inputs     108
Plant and Animal Breeding     119
Surpluses and Payments: Federal Agricultural Policy, 1954-2008     123
Production Controls and Price Supports     123
Farm Policy in the Truman and Eisenhower Administrations     126
Managing Surpluses during a Productivity Revolution     130
The Farm Crisis of the 1980s     132
International Agreements and the Federal Agricultural Improvement and Reform Act     134
The 2002 Farm Bill and Beyond     138
Noncommodity Programs     141
Farming in the Twenty-first Century: Status and Challenges     147
Profile of Contemporary Farms     147
Farm Labor     154
Farm Income     157
Critics and Criticisms     164
Agriculture and the Environment     168
Alternatives     175
Lonely Farmers     175
Alternatives in Land Tenure     177
Agrarian Reform     180
Alternative or Sustainable Agriculture     183
Federal Support of Sustainable Agriculture     192
Certified Organic Farming     194
Afterword      201
Notes     207
Index     215
Read More Show Less

Customer Reviews

Be the first to write a review
( 0 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star


4 Star


3 Star


2 Star


1 Star


Your Rating:

Your Name: Create a Pen Name or

Barnes & Noble.com Review Rules

Our reader reviews allow you to share your comments on titles you liked, or didn't, with others. By submitting an online review, you are representing to Barnes & Noble.com that all information contained in your review is original and accurate in all respects, and that the submission of such content by you and the posting of such content by Barnes & Noble.com does not and will not violate the rights of any third party. Please follow the rules below to help ensure that your review can be posted.

Reviews by Our Customers Under the Age of 13

We highly value and respect everyone's opinion concerning the titles we offer. However, we cannot allow persons under the age of 13 to have accounts at BN.com or to post customer reviews. Please see our Terms of Use for more details.

What to exclude from your review:

Please do not write about reviews, commentary, or information posted on the product page. If you see any errors in the information on the product page, please send us an email.

Reviews should not contain any of the following:

  • - HTML tags, profanity, obscenities, vulgarities, or comments that defame anyone
  • - Time-sensitive information such as tour dates, signings, lectures, etc.
  • - Single-word reviews. Other people will read your review to discover why you liked or didn't like the title. Be descriptive.
  • - Comments focusing on the author or that may ruin the ending for others
  • - Phone numbers, addresses, URLs
  • - Pricing and availability information or alternative ordering information
  • - Advertisements or commercial solicitation


  • - By submitting a review, you grant to Barnes & Noble.com and its sublicensees the royalty-free, perpetual, irrevocable right and license to use the review in accordance with the Barnes & Noble.com Terms of Use.
  • - Barnes & Noble.com reserves the right not to post any review -- particularly those that do not follow the terms and conditions of these Rules. Barnes & Noble.com also reserves the right to remove any review at any time without notice.
  • - See Terms of Use for other conditions and disclaimers.
Search for Products You'd Like to Recommend

Recommend other products that relate to your review. Just search for them below and share!

Create a Pen Name

Your Pen Name is your unique identity on BN.com. It will appear on the reviews you write and other website activities. Your Pen Name cannot be edited, changed or deleted once submitted.

Your Pen Name can be any combination of alphanumeric characters (plus - and _), and must be at least two characters long.

Continue Anonymously

    If you find inappropriate content, please report it to Barnes & Noble
    Why is this product inappropriate?
    Comments (optional)