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Fields Without Dreams: Defending the Agrarain Ideal

Overview

Eulogizing the vanishing lifestyle of the family farm, Victor Hanson calls for America to take notice of its lost simplicity and purity before it is too late. "Victor Davis Hanson . . . is a writer as much as a farmer. His memoir is complex--passionate, angry, honest, scorching".--Jane Smiley, "The New Yorker".
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Overview

Eulogizing the vanishing lifestyle of the family farm, Victor Hanson calls for America to take notice of its lost simplicity and purity before it is too late. "Victor Davis Hanson . . . is a writer as much as a farmer. His memoir is complex--passionate, angry, honest, scorching".--Jane Smiley, "The New Yorker".
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
We are in the penultimate stage of the death of agrarianism, says the author, a fifth-generation vine and fruit grower. Hanson (The Other Greeks) has written an eloquent and bitter elegy for the American family farm. For more than a century, his family has grown grapes (for raisins) and plums in California's San Joaquin Valley. In 1983, the raisin market crashed, marking the start of an ongoing agricultural depression. Hanson relates here the grim story of his and his neighbors' experiences. He is deeply concerned about the cultural and historical ramifications of eliminating the family farm, reminding us that the origins of Western civilization and democracy arose from a vibrant agrarianism. He charges that the American people no longer care how they get their food, as long as it is fresh, firm and cheap. To stem the decline of the family farm, the author calls for regulation of commodity brokerages, property and irrigation taxes based on size and presence of owners and elimination of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. (Apr.)
Library Journal
Hanson, a raisin grower and professor of Greek at California State University at Fresno, writes passionately about the life and times of raisin farmers in the San Joaquin Valley during the agricultural depression of the 1980s. Referring to farmers as "yeomen," he narrates the experiences of neighbors and friends who work long days with low incomes and no vacation to feed a society that has little knowledge or understanding of agriculture and its role. One can feel his frustration and anger as he describes a host of unpredictable variables that can make or break a raisin yeoman. Weather, pests, brokers, distributors, cooperatives, university advisors, and corporate absentee owners share the responsibility for the rapid decline of American agriculture. He admonishes yeomen themselves for their unyielding conservatism and support of elected officials who do not seem concerned about their plight. Hanson makes a plea for restoration of the agrarian ethic that has nearly disappeared from American culture. By comparison, he offers a model of respect and dignity afforded farmers in Greek society, which he claims led to ideas of constitutional government, private land ownership, and free enterprise. This provocative book urges us to put a halt to the impending disappearance of the nation's agrarian infrastructure lest it threaten the very future of American democracy. Recommended for academic and larger public libraries.-Irwin Weintraub, Rutgers Univ. Libs., New Brunswick, N.J.
Kirkus Reviews
An unusually literate work, at once paean and dirge, on the decline of family farming, which also happens to mark "the end of a historical cycle in America."

Hanson (The Western Way of War, 1989) is both a professor of Greek and a farmer in the Central Valley of California. This lends his book a refreshingly antiquarian air in the gloom-and-doom library of current, resoundingly modern environmental writing. Certainly few other writers share Hanson's comfort in likening the raisin farmers of Modesto to the hero Ajax of the Homeric epics or to Aeschylus's virtuous man, who "did not wish to seem just, but to be so"; few even command the literary sources that would enable them to do so. His deep learning also affords the author a certain archness that is not unpleasant. "Is it not odd," he writes with nice disdain for present orthodoxies, "to rise at dawn with Japanese-, Mexican-, Pakistani-, Armenian-, and Portuguese-American farmers and then be lectured at noonday 40 miles away on campus about cultural sensitivity and the need for `diversity' by the affluent white denizens of an exclusive, tree-studded suburb?" In a ringing defense of the old ways of farming and of rural life, Hanson gives us the histories of men like Rhys Burton, who died at the age of 86 after a lifetime of working the land, and the raisin magnate Bus Barzagus, observing with passion and sorrow that their way of life will likely soon disappear, thanks in part to a federal system of agricultural subsidies that favors large-scale, industrial farm corporations over individual "yeomen." That system, Hanson suggests, hastens the decline of our democracy of freeholders and the rise of agro-corporate tyranny.

The Southern Agrarians made much the same point in the mid-1930s, when agricultural apocalypse announced itself in the Dust Bowl. So today does Wendell Berry, alongside whose agrarian essays this intriguing book should be shelved.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780684835709
  • Publisher: Free Press
  • Publication date: 3/25/1997
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 320
  • Sales rank: 819,159
  • Product dimensions: 0.71 (w) x 5.50 (h) x 8.50 (d)

Table of Contents

Preface ix
Introduction xv
1. In the Beginning 1
2. The Raisin Cosmology 21
3. The Great Raisin Crash of 1983 61
4. To Save a Farm 87
5. Bus Barzagus and His Mountain 111
6. Briars and Thorns: Vines With No Grapes, Trees Without Plums 139
7. The Mountain, Part Two 177
8. The Agrarian Pantheon 213
9. The First and the Last: Family Farming at the Millennium 263
Postscript: Year's End 1994 285
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