The Fate of Family Farming

Variations on an American Idea

Ronald Jager

The Fate of Family Farming employs a hands-on approach, with much local New England detail, in its exploration of the history and future of American family farming as an idea and as an ongoing way of life. Early chapters situate family farming within American history, beginning with Jamestown and Plymouth, continuing with Jefferson and Emerson and others, and including the technological transformations during the twentieth century. An extended chapter deals with the idea of “agrarianism,” and considers in detail the work of Louis Bromfield, Victor Hanson, and Wendell Berry. The middle section of the book opens a window on present-day farming with detailed portraits of four farms devoted, respectively, to the production of maple syrup, eggs and corn, milk, and apples. The author takes the reader to the barns and fields of these farms, introduces the farm families, helps the reader taste the syrup and corn and smell the silage and—ultimately enables others to see the economic and ecological challenges that farmers today face, and to consider their strategies for survival. In the last portion of the book the author provides a very accessible examination of the role of farm technology and global economics, including the many ironies of farming “success,” followed by a chapter that balances the threat and promise of biotechnology, and a concluding analysis of the current struggle for “the soul of agriculture.”

Paper: $19.95
ISBN-13: 9781584650270
Pages: 268 | Size: 6.5 in. x 9.25 in.
Date Published: August 23, 2004


  • This is an ambitious work with a moral imperative . . . Jager is efficient and entertaining while giving us the context for the news . . . The Fate of Family Farming is sweetly moving; you really do end up understanding why it matters.

    New York Times Book Review
  • Jager's readable study provides an excellent background for anyone concerned about the future of agriculture and food in this country. Recommended for both public and academic libraries.

    Library Journal
  • The Fate of Family Farming lives up to its title by offering not only an in-depth portrait of the American farm today but also well-reasoned projections from the American farm of the future, for good or for ill. Very highly recommended reading for anyone concerned with the seeming demise of the American family farm in the face of the global phenomena of agribusiness.

    The Midwest Book Review
  • [A] lively and readable book that includes insights into classical mythology, contemporary agrarian literature, case studies of "niche farming," and a penetrating analysis of agribusiness that will deeply disturb the reader, even if there are some hopeful signs of change . . . It would be hard to find anything comparable to his small volume even in an edited anthology on farming.

    Virginia Quarterly Review

About the Author

Ronald Jager

Writer and former Yale philosophy professor Ronald Jager grew up on his family’s farm in McBain, Michigan, which he chronicled in his popular memoir Eighty Acres: Elegy for a Family Farm. After graduating from Northern Michigan Christian High School and moving on to Calvin College, Jager earned his Ph.D. at Harvard University.

He left a teaching career to become a writer, penning essays for publications such as Harper’s Magazine, in addition to books on farm life, …

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