Books for the Field: Recommendations from Women in Food and Ag

by Ash Bruxvoort

There is no shortage of books about food and agriculture, which makes it hard to know what to spend our limited time reading. In a recent Facebook post, we asked women in our network to recommend must read books for women in the field. This list is a compilation of their comments, which you can read here.  We know there are hundreds of books that deserve to be on this list! If your favorite book isn't included we encourage you to add a comment on Facebook or tweet us @WomenFoodAgNet!

*Most descriptions come from the publishers.

Fearless Farm Finances: Farm Financial Management Demystified by Jody Padgham, Paul Dietmann, and Craig Chase

Fearless Farm Finances is a resource for new farmers, farmers new to financial management, and those wishing to increase their understanding. This book will be relevant and useful for those managing all types of farms, including new farms, small farms, and diversified farms.

Woman-Powered Farm: Manual for a Self-Sufficient Lifestyle from Homestead to Field by Audrey Levatino

Audrey Levatino shares her experiences of running a farm and offers invaluable advice on how to get started, whether you have hundreds of acres or a simple lot for an urban community garden. Filled with personal anecdotes and stories from other women farmers, from old hands to brand new ones, from agricultural icons like Temple Grandin, to her own sister.

8 to Great: The Powerful Process for Positive Change by MK Mueller

This groundbreaking and positively practical text offers a simple, yet powerful, 8-step process for taking charge of our lives and achieving our dreams. It revolves around author MK Mueller's unique formula for Positive Attitude. “[This book] has transformed my life by empowering me. A great read and study,” said Sue FitzGerald on Facebook.

Food Movements Unite!: Strategies to Transform Our Food System (a collection of essays by food movement leaders, published by Food First)

Food Movements Unite! is a collection of essays by food movement leaders from around the world that all seek to answer the perennial political question: What is to be done?

The answers—from the multiple perspectives of community food security activists, peasants and family farm leaders, labor activists, and leading food systems analysts—will lay out convergent strategies for the fair, sustainable, and democratic transformation of our food systems.

Good Food: Grounded Practical Theology by Jennifer Ayres

Good Food is a practical theology grounded in a rich ethnographic study of the food practices of diverse faith communities and populations. Grounded in unflinching analysis and encompassing both theological and moral implications, Ayres examines actual religious practices of food justice, discovering in the process a grounded theology for food. Ayres challenges people of faith to participate in communal initiatives that will make a real difference--to support local farmers, grow their own food, and advocate for fair food policies.

Outside the Magic Square: A Handbook for Food Security by Lolo Houbein

Outside the Magic Square considers issues of food security and offers solutions at the street, neighbourhood and global levels. Mixing gardening advice and food plot design with discussion of pressing issues like global warming, dwindling oil supplies, the future for farmers and GM foods, Lolo Houbein challenges us to mobilise for food security.

Staying Alive: Women, Ecology & Development by Vandana Shiva

Since at least the days of Francis Bacon, the dominant view in the western world has framed technological and economic development as progress and championed that same narrow vision of “progress” as inherently benevolent and inevitable. Staying Alive makes clear why this development paradigm—implemented through enclosure, privatization, corporate piracy, marginalization, and violence—is more accurately characterized as maldevelopment.

Stuffed and Starved: The Hidden Battle for the World Food System by Raj Patel

It’s a perverse fact of modern life: There are more starving people in the world than ever before, while there are also more people who are overweight.

To find out how we got to this point and what we can do about it, Raj Patel launched a comprehensive investigation into the global food network. What he found was shocking, from the false choices given us by supermarkets to a global epidemic of farmer suicides, and real reasons for famine in Asia and Africa.

Against the Grain: How Agriculture Has Hijacked Civilization by Richard Manning

In this provocative, wide-ranging book, Against the Grain, Richard Manning offers a dramatically revisionist view of recent human evolution, beginning with the vast increase in brain size that set us apart from our primate relatives and brought an accompanying increase in our need for nourishment. For 290,000 years, we managed to meet that need as hunter-gatherers, a state in which Manning believes we were at our most human: at our smartest, strongest, most sensually alive. Manning suggests that agriculture as we have practiced it runs against both our grain and nature's. He offers personal, achievable ways we might re-contour the path we have taken to resurrect what is most sustainable and sustaining in our own nature and the planet's.

Mad Sheep: The True Story Behind the USDA's War on a Family Farm by Linda Faillace

Mad Sheep is the account of one family's struggle against a bullying and corrupt government agency that long ago abandoned the family farmer to serve the needs of corporate agriculture and the industrialization of our food supply.

On Behalf of the Family Farm: Iowa Farm Women's Activism since 1945 by Jenny Barker Devine

On Behalf of the Family Farm traces the development of women’s activism and agrarian feminisms in the Midwest after 1945, as farm women’s lives were being transformed by the realities of modern agriculture. Author Jenny Barker Devine demonstrates that in an era when technology, depopulation, and rapid economic change dramatically altered rural life, midwestern women met these challenges with their own feminine vision of farm life. Their “agrarian feminisms” offered an alternative to, but not necessarily a rejection of, second-wave feminism.

Open Country, Iowa: Rural Women, Tradition and Change by Deborah Fink

Open Country, Iowa links anthropology and history in a woman’s perspective on the changing social patterns of rural Iowa communities. Using life stories which she has collected, Deborah Fink explores the experiences of today’s women. She traces them to past influences, beginning with the time of the first settlers, and shows how family, religion, and work have changed over the years. Her interpretation of social patterns as determined by the history of national politics, economics, kinship, and community culture, call into question some common understandings about the traditional role of women and about changes initiated by World War II.

The Rise of Women Farmers and Sustainable Agriculture by Carolyn E. Sachs, Mary E. Barbercheck, Kathryn Brasier, Nancy Ellen Kiernan, and Anna Rachel Terman

A profound shift is occurring among women working in agriculture—they are increasingly seeing themselves as farmers, not only as the wives or daughters of farmers. The authors draw on more than a decade of research to document and analyze the reasons for the transformation. As their sense of identity changes, many female farmers are challenging the sexism they face in their chosen profession. In this book, farm women in the northeastern United States describe how they got into farming and became successful entrepreneurs despite the barriers they encountered in agricultural institutions, farming communities, and even their own families.

Sowing the Seeds of Victory: American Gardening Programs of World War I by Rose Hayden-Smith

Gardening activity during American involvement in World War I (1917-1919) is vital to understanding current work in agriculture and food systems. The origins of the American Victory Gardens of World War II lie in the Liberty Garden program during World War I. This book examines the National War Garden Commission, the United States School Garden Army, and the Woman's Land Army (which some women used to press for suffrage). The urgency of wartime mobilization enabled proponents to promote food production as a vital national security issue. The connection between the nation's food readiness and national security resonated within the U.S., struggling to unite urban and rural interests, grappling with the challenges presented by millions of immigrants, and considering the country's global role. The same message--that food production is vital to national security--can resonate today. These World War I programs resulted in a national gardening ethos that transformed the American food system.

The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl by Timothy Egan

The dust storms that terrorized America's High Plains in the darkest years of the Depression were like nothing ever seen before or since, and the stories of the people that held on have never been fully told. Pulitzer Prize–winning New York Times journalist and author Timothy Egan follows a half-dozen families and their communities through the rise and fall of the region, going from sod homes to new framed houses to huddling in basements with the windows sealed by damp sheets in a futile effort to keep the dust out. He follows their desperate attempts to carry on through blinding black blizzards, crop failure, and the deaths of loved ones. Drawing on the voices of those who stayed and survived—those who, now in their eighties and nineties, will soon carry their memories to the grave—Egan tells a story of endurance and heroism against the backdrop of the Great Depression.

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life by Barbara Kingsolver

Author Barbara Kingsolver and her family abandoned the industrial-food pipeline to live a rural life—vowing that, for one year, they’d only buy food raised in their own neighborhood, grow it themselves, or learn to live without it. Part memoir, part journalistic investigation, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle is an enthralling narrative that will open your eyes in a hundred new ways to an old truth: You are what you eat.

The Dirty Life by Kristin Kimball

"As much as you transform the land by farming," she writes, "farming transforms you." In her old life, Kimball would stay out until four a.m., wear heels, and carry a handbag. Now she wakes up at four, wears Carhartts, and carries a pocket knife. At Essex Farm, she discovers the wrenching pleasures of physical work, learns that good food is at the center of a good life, falls deeply in love, and finally finds the engagement and commitment she craved in the form of a man, a small town, and a beautiful piece of land.

Hit By a Farm by Catherine Friend

When self-confessed "urban bookworm" Catherine Friend's partner of twelve years decides she wants to fulfill her lifelong dream of owning a farm, Catherine agrees. What ensues is a crash course in both living off and with the land that ultimately allows Catherine to help fulfill Melissa's dreams while not losing sight of her own. Hit by a Farm is a hilarious recounting of Catherine and Melissa's trials of "getting back to the land." It is also a coming-of (middle)-age story of a woman trying to cross the divide between who she is and who she wants to be, and the story of a couple who say "goodbye city life" — and learn more than they ever bargained for about love, land, and yes, sheep sex.

Small Farms Are Real Farms by John Ikerd

Since the middle of the last century, American farm policy has taken the nation into the dead end of industrial farm production. In this collection of essays, the multifaceted case for small farms is built using logic and facts. Discover anew the complexity and beauty that is the small farm and learn of the many benefits small farms give to individuals, the environment, the economy and society.

Turn Here Sweet Corn by Atina Diffley

One of the first certified organic produce farms in the Midwest, the Diffleys’ Gardens of Eagan helped to usher in a new kind of green revolution in the heart of America’s farmland, supplying their roadside stand and a growing number of local food co-ops. This is a story of a world transformed—and reclaimed—one square acre at a time.

Unsettling of America: Culture and Agriculture by Wendell Berry

Since its publication by Sierra Club Books in 1977, The Unsettling of America has been recognized as a classic of American letters. In it, Wendell Berry argues that good farming is a cultural development and spiritual discipline. Today’s agribusiness, however, takes farming out of its cultural context and away from families. As a result, we as a nation are more estranged from the land—from the intimate knowledge, love, and care of it.

Behaving as if the God in all Life Mattered, Machaelle Small Wright

Machaelle Small Wright is a spiritual pioneer with the profound ability to "see" and "hear" the invisible forces of nature. Her personal story is one of triumph, from a childhood of torment and isolation to discovery of her ability to communicate with the world of nature spirits and devas. At "Perelandra," her 45-acre private nature research center in Virginia, Machaelle devotes her life to understanding and demonstrating a new approach to ecological balance.

Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer

As a botanist, Robin Wall Kimmerer asks questions of nature with the tools of science. As a member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation, she embraces indigenous teachings that consider plants and animals to be our oldest teachers. Drawing on her life as an indigenous scientist, a mother, and a woman, Kimmerer shows how other living beings offer us gifts and lessons, even if we’ve forgotten how to hear their voices.

Sand County Almanac by Aldo Leopold

These astonishing portraits of the natural world explore the breathtaking diversity of the unspoiled American landscape -- the mountains and the prairies, the deserts and the coastlines. A stunning tribute to our land and a bold challenge to protect the world we love.

The Seed Underground by Janisse Ray

The Seed Underground is a journey to the frontier of seed-saving. It is driven by stories, both the author's own and those from people who are waging a lush and quiet revolution in thousands of gardens across America to preserve our traditional cornucopia of food by simply growing old varieties and eating them. The Seed Underground pays tribute to time-honored and threatened varieties, deconstructs the politics and genetics of seeds, and reveals the astonishing characters who grow, study, and save them.

The Voice of the Infinite in the Small, Joanne Elizabeth Louke

Understanding the Infinite in the Small is less a book about insect biology and behavior than it is about reinventing ourselves as a non-hostile species. It is a unique psychological and spiritual perspective on insects and the recasting of our relationship to this Lilliputian world. The popular culture never rises above issues of power. It is in this mode then that we are caught between opposites: either we kill the insects, or we are defeated by them. We rarely see a third possibility. We rarely put down our weapons long enough to consider the effect we might have if we entered their world with empathy and compassion. Perhaps we underestimate the powers of providence that would suddenly appear if we could align ourselves with the earth and the small creatures that serve it so faithfully. It's time to try.