Bet the Farm
5 x 8
5 x 8
Beth Hoffman was living the good life: she had a successful career as a journalist and professor, a comfortable home in San Francisco, and plenty of close friends and family. Yet in her late 40s, she and her husband decided to leave the big city and move to his family ranch in Iowa—all for the dream of becoming a farmer, to put into practice everything she had learned over decades of reporting on food and agriculture. There was just one problem: money.
Half of America's two million farms made less than $300 in 2019. Between rising land costs, ever-more expensive equipment, the growing uncertainty of the climate, and few options for health care, farming today is a risky business. For many, simply staying afloat is a constant struggle.
Bet the Farm chronicles this struggle through Beth’s eyes as a beginning farmer. She must contend with her father-in-law, who is reluctant to hand over control of the land. Growing oats is good for the environment but ends up being very bad for the wallet. And finding somewhere, in the midst of COVID-19, to slaughter grass-finished beef is a nightmare. The couple also must balance the books, hoping that farming isn’t a romantic fantasy that takes every cent of their savings.
Even with a decent nest egg and access to land, making ends meet at times seems impossible. And Beth knows full well that she is among the privileged. If Beth can’t make it, how can farmers who confront racism, lack access to land, or don’t have other jobs to fall back on? Bet the Farm is a first-hand account of the perils of farming today and a personal exploration of more just and sustainable ways of producing food.
"Part farm thriller, part historical nonfiction, Bet the Farm keeps readers guessing—will Whippoorwill Creek Farm succeed or fail?—as they learn the realities of farming. Hoffman doesn’t shy away from the benefits of race or privilege as she shares the history of and hopes for American farming. A must-read for anyone with romantic notions about farming!"
Rachelle Chase, author of Creating the Black Utopia of Buxton, Iowa
"The coastal elite who takes on an Iowa farm might smack of sit-com fare, but Bet the Farm is an essential look into the reality of an American way of life that is profoundly misunderstood by the majority of Americans. This is a story only Hoffman can tell, as an outsider with decades of experience writing about agriculture who also immerses herself in the experience firsthand."
Andrew Cotto, author of The Domino Effect and Outerborough Blues, and contributor, The New York Times
"Honest and authentic, Beth Hoffman accomplishes what few authors who write about farms ever achieve: conveying amid the hard work and simple pleasures, the realities of running a tough business. Readers seldom get to view farming so accurately."
John Piotti, President, American Farmland Trust
"Combining an analysis of the troubled state of American agriculture with her personal account of three years of transforming a 'conventional' family farm into an organic one, Hoffman busts myths, confronts hard truths, and provides a vision for what could follow the end phase of factory farming."
Martha Saavedra, University of California, Berkeley
Chapter 1. The Simple Life?
Chapter 2. Land Rich, Cash Poor
Chapter 3. The Land of Corn and Cattle
Chapter 4. The Price of Sustainability
Chapter 5. Privilege to Farm
Chapter 6. Money Matters
Chapter 7. What about Subsidies?
Chapter 8. The Cattle Runaround
Chapter 9. Keeping Up with the Joneses
Chapter 10. Everybody Does It – off the Farm
Chapter 11. A New Narrative
Chapter 12. Self-Care Is Key
Chapter 13. Co-farming and Community
Chapter 14. Sharing the Pie
Chapter 15. People and Policy
Chapter 16. Meanwhile, Back at the Ranch
About the Author
Beth Hoffman is a beginning farmer on almost 530 acres in Iowa.
Her new book, Bet The Farm, chronicles her transition as a journalist and professor in San Francisco to her life in Iowa, where she lives out her dream of becoming a farmer, to put into practice everything she had learned over decades of reporting on food and agriculture.
In this talk, Hoffman will discuss the perils of farming today and explore more just and sustainable ways of producing food.
Moderated by Kathleen Merrigan, executive director of the Swette Center for Sustainable Food Systems.
How do we make farmland more affordable? What can conservation easements, land trusts and other farm transfer mechanisms do to open the market to others outside of the direct descendants of farmers themselves?
Beth Hoffman, author of the just released book, Bet the Farm: The Dollars and Sense of Growing Food in America, will be joined by her husband John to talk about their transition into farming. After growing up on the east coast, Beth spent ten years in San Francisco reporting on food and agriculture, where she met John, an Iowa farm boy, trained chef and butcher. A few years ago, they moved to Iowa to take over John’s family’s farm. During this webinar Beth and John will discuss intergenerational farm transitions, the problem with “family farms” today, and the couple’s ideas about how to make land available to a new generation of farmers.
Joining them will be the President and CEO of American Farmland Trust, John Piotti. Under John’s leadership, AFT has undertaken the most comprehensive study of American land use ever conducted, helped secure an additional $200 million per year in federal funding for agricultural conservation easements, and launched new initiatives that advance regenerative farming practices, combat climate change, and support next-generation farmers.
Please join us for a reading and conversation with Beth Hoffman to celebrate the release of her new book Bet the Farm: The Dollars and Sense of Growing Food in America. She will be joined in conversation by Chuck Offenburger.
John Piotti, President of the American Farmland Trust says of the book, "Honest and authentic, Beth Hoffman accomplishes what few authors who write about farms ever achieve: conveying amid the hard work and simple pleasures, the realities of running a tough business. Readers seldom get to view farming so accurately."
Beth Hoffman has been reporting on food and agriculture for over twenty years, airing on NPR, The World, Latino USA, Living on Earth, and others. She blogged for Forbes as the Hungry Hack and studied the food system in depth as a student, fellow and co-lecturer at UC Berkeley’s School of Journalism. She has completed several documentary projects including a year cooking with immigrant women in their homes and telling their stories. She was an Associate Professor in Media Studies at the University of San Francisco for six years. Two years ago, in her late 40s, she and her husband left San Francisco and moved to rural Iowa to take over his family’s farm. Bet the Farm looks at the economics of American agriculture, told through Hoffman’s personal story of becoming a farmer.
Chuck Offenburger is a mostly-retired Iowa writer who had a 26-year career covering Iowa and its people for the Des Moines Register. His "Iowa Boy" column in the Register took him all over the state, across the nation and around the world. He now lives and writes at his "Simple Serenity Farm" outside the tiny town of Cooper (pop. 30, maybe) in west central Iowa, "surrounded by some of the most interesting farming operations you could find anywhere." His writing -- on a wide range of topics -- now appears first on his website www.Offenburger.com which is one of the oldest news and opinion sites in Iowa.