Mine is a family that loves the land and has lived from it as far back as any of us can remember. My great-grandfather, Walter Thomas Jack, author of the soil conservation classic The Furrow and Us, wrote perhaps the best known chapter in our love letter to the land in 1946, leaving me to plumb the depths, three generations later, of such agrarian koans as the soil can never be better than the tiller or this equally provocative aphorism breathed by Walter’s Quaker brethren in the gloaming of 1890s West Branch, Iowa: if thee tries to beat nature, nature will beat thee.
Soil can never be better than the tiller. If thee tries to beat nature, nature will beat thee. For better or for worse, I grew up on such stuff, translated, as it was, through intervening generations. And while my great-grandfather is indeed the deepest seed from which this work grows, my grandfather, Edward, and my father, Michael—both awardwinning conservation tillers—are equally important, as are their partners, my grandmother and mother.
The writers anthologized in Love of the Land: Essential Farm and Conservation Readings from an American Golden Age, 1880–1920—this first-of-its-kind interdisciplinary anthology—represent a who’s who