Eric Herm’s book, Son of a Farmer, Child of the Earth, was reviewed in Sunday’s, January 9th, edition of the San Antonio Express-News. The review is by Ed Conroy. I’ve enclosed the review below:
“Eric Herm, a fourth generation cotton farmer currently working on the family farm near the West Texas town of Ackerly eloquently offers a cautionary tale in his important first book for those of us who take for granted plentiful, relatively inexpensive food at the supermarket.
He succinctly sums up the message of the first half of his book on Page 15, saying “If we persist in following the model of commercial agriculture, we are destined to fail.”
In three engagingly written and well-researched opening chapters dealing successively with the issues farmers face with seed, soil, rain and water, Herm produces a powerful critique of the problems caused by a model of agriculture increasingly reliant upon genetically modified organisms and pesticides.
He also tells the reader a lot about what the world looks like to a 36-year-old man who got off the farm to get an education in journalism, traveled the world, worked as a sports broadcaster, and decided to return to the farm with a new wife (and now a son), where his father and mother still work and live.
In short, he argues that “commercial agriculture” is slowly ruining vital resources to the point where another American Dust Bowl and other farming disasters — such as the continued collapse of commercial bee colonies — are not inconceivable.
Herm offers a wealth of information about growing practices known as permaculture, alternative ways to deal with insect pests, and rainwater harvesting, together with long lists of related books and websites that open up a multitude of possibilities for farmers and gardeners alike.
Having taken the reader to the point where it appears reasonable to have serious concerns about commercial agriculture, Herm launches into a series of prescriptions for curing what ails not only the farm but American society as a whole.
In his book’s second half, Herm leaves the terra firma he knows so well to tackle questions of money, government and social organization and what he foresees as the inevitable end of a petroleum-based economy.
It is here that some of his prescriptions lack the same kind of fact-based research and historical perspective as his analysis and critique of American agriculture.
Rather than analyzing in depth current federal agricultural policies and offering specific alternatives to them, including incentives for getting more young people involved in farming, Herm provides a 10-point guide to the American farmer that centers on disengaging from the mainstream economy and “getting smaller.”
He doesn’t quite say how to do so without going out of business.
On the other hand, his advocacy for cultivation of hemp (not the psychoactive kind) as a source of energy, food and clothing makes a lot of sense.
One does not have to agree with Eric Herm’s prognostications and prescriptions to see that his analysis of American agriculture’s problems is trenchant and troubling.
We can hope this book will add to the consciousness of the need for good food as the key to good health already being encouraged by Michael Pollan, Bill McKibben and many other writers — and spark a healthy debate about the future of the American farm.”
Ed Conroy is a San Antonio writer and critic.