A protégé of Michael Pollan tells the remarkable story of an unheralded group of Montana farmers who have defied corporate agribusiness by launching a unique sustainable food movement.
Forty years ago, corporate agribusiness launched a campaign to push small grain farmers to modernize or perish, or as Nixon Administration Secretary of Agriculture Earl Butz put it, to “get big or get out. But twenty-seven year-old David Oien decided to take a stand. When he dropped out of grad school to return to his family’s 280 acre farm, Oien became the first in his conservative Montana county to seed his fields with a radically different crop: organic lentils. A cheap, healthy source of protein, rich in fiber, folate, Vitamin B1, and amino acids, lentils are drought tolerant and don’t require irrigation. And unlike the chemically dependent grains American farmers had been told to grow, lentils make their own fertilizer and tolerate variable climate conditions, so their farmers aren’t beholden to industrial methods. Today, David Oien leads a thriving movement of organic farmers who work with heirloom seeds and biologically diverse farm systems. Under the brand Timeless Natural Food, this “lentil underground” has grown into a million dollar enterprise that sells to hundreds of independent natural foods stores, and a host of renowned restaurants.
Set in the farm belt of red state America, far from the farmer’s markets and haute cuisine of coastal cities, Lentil Underground confronts the global food system in one of the little known rural communities that will determine its fate. From the heart of Big Sky Country comes this inspiring story of a handful of colorful pioneers who have successfully bucked the chemically-based food chain and the entrenched power of agribusiness’s one percent, by stubbornly banding together. Unearthing the deep roots of this movement, Lentil Underground introduces readers to a memorable cast of characters, from gun-toting libertarians and Christian homesteaders to peace-sign-waving environmental activists. Journalist and native Montanan Liz Carlisle weaves an eye-opening and richly reported narrative that will be welcomed by readers of food and farm memoirs, as well as everyone concerned with the future of American agriculture and natural food in an increasingly uncertain world.
About the Author
Liz Carlisle is a Lecturer in Food Systems at the University of California, Berkeley and a Lecturer in the Thinking Matters program at Stanford University. She holds a Ph.D. in Geography, from UC Berkeley, and a B.A. from Harvard University. A native of Missoula, Montana, Carlisle is a former Legislative Aide to United States Senator Jon Tester.
What People Are Saying:
“What does it take to farm sustainably–and make a living? Liz Carlisle tells the engrossing story of the ‘audacity rich, but capital poor’ Montana farmers who thought lentils were the answer and stuck with them until proved right. Anyone who dreams of starting a farm or wants to know how organic farmers can overcome the obstacles they face will be inspired by this book.”
Marion Nestle, professor of nutrition, food studies, and public health at New York University and author of Food Politics
“Liz Carlisle’s new book is an absolute treasure–-actual stories of real farmers in a part of Montana, some of whom found that their industrial farming practices were a ‘losing game’ and some who discovered that locally adapted organic farming could be resilient and economically successful. It is a must read for anyone interested in the future of food in America.”
Frederick Kirschenmann, author of Cultivating an Ecological Conscience
“These farmers demonstrate how to build democracy and build soils at the same time. What a deal!”
Frances Moore Lappé, author of Diet for a Small Planet and EcoMind
“This book tells the fascinating story from one corner of the ongoing rural renaissance–it will resonate and fascinate, and it will leave you looking for ways to get involved yourself.”
Bill McKibben, author of Deep Economy
“All of civilization rests on agriculture, and so it follows that real revolutions begin in the soil, which is why the stories of real revolutions must be reported from the ground up, as Liz Carlisle has done so competently in Lentil Underground. Read it, engage the real revolutionaries and begin the understand why their work is so vital to all of us.”
Richard Manning, author of Against the Grain: How Agriculture Hijacked Civilization
“Who’d have thought that a book about lentil farming could be a page-turner? With a voice as clear and powerful on the page as it is on stage, Liz Carlisle writes the struggles of Montana’s farmers as an epic. Their battles with food, finance, healthcare and modern capitalism are both inspiring, and a timely reminder that populism needn’t be a dirty word.”
Raj Patel, author of Stuffed and Starved, Research Professor at the Lyndon B Johnson School of Public Affairs, The University of Texas at Austin