The Land Was Everything: Letters from an American Farmerby Jane Smiley
Before storms that can destroy his crops in an instant, the farmer stands implacable. To fluctuations in temperature that can deprive his children of their future, the farmer pays no heed. Every day the elements remind him that his future is secure only through constant effort. Like the creepers and crawlers he seeks to eradicate, the farmer toils away in the lush anonymity of his grid of vines, his tradition one of impervious resolve.
Today that tradition of muscular, self-effacing labor is quietly disappearing, as the last of America's independent farmers slowly fade away. When they have gone, what will we have lost? In The Land Was Everything, Victor Davis Hanson, an embattled fifth-generation California grape farmer and passionate, eloquent writer, answers this question by offering a final snapshot of the yeoman, his work, and his wisdom.
Over two centuries ago, J. Hector St. John de Crevecoeur wrote the bestselling Letters from an American Farmer. It was the first formal expression of what it meant to be American, a celebration of free, land-working men and women as the building blocks of enlightened democracy. Hanson, like Crevecoeur, begins with the premise that "farmers see things as others do not." He shows that there is worth in the farmer beyond the best price of raisins or apples per pound, beyond his ability to provide fruit out of season, hard, shiny, and round. Why is it, then, that the farmer is so at odds with global culture at the millennium? What makes the farmer so special?
To find the answer Hanson digs deeply within himself. The farmer's value is not to be found in pastoral stereotypes--myths that farmers are simple and farming serene. It is something more fundamental.
The independent farmer, in his lonely, do-or-die struggle, is tangible proof that there is still a place for heroism in America. In the farmer's unflinching, remorseless realities--rain and sun, hail and early frost--lie the best of humanity tested: stoicism, surprising intelligence, and the determination that comes from fighting battles, tractor against vine, that must be replicated a thousand or a hundred thousand times if a farmer is to have even a chance of success. There is, writes Hanson, an "awful knowledge gained from agriculture" and a "measure of brutality that even the most humane farmer cannot escape from or hide." It is this terrible knowledge, these hard-fought battles against man, self, and nature's unseen enemies, that Hanson celebrates.
Today the city, Crevecoeur's "confined theatre of cupidity," is triumphant. But those who have stuck to a difficult task will see that they have much in common with Hanson's dying farmer. That the land was everything once made America great and democracy strong. Will we still like what we are--and can we survive as we are--when the land is nothing?
- Free Press
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Dr. Kevin Starr, State Librarian of California and author
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This book is an excellent treatise on the gulf between city and rural life and the at times opposing lives of the people in these two spheres. Mr Hanson a professor of classical studies in California is also a farmer and how he uses one life to illustrate the other is quite remarkable. A must read for anyone who likes both history and the countryside.