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Farm (and Other F Words): The Rise and Fall of the Small Family Farm

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We love The American Farmer. We trust them to grow our food, to be part of children’s nursery rhymes, to provide the economic backbone of rural communities, and to embody a version of the American dream.

At the same time, we know that “corporate farms” are disrupting the agrarian way of life that we so admire, and that we’ve got to do something to stop it. So what’s our plan for saving the farms we love?

In Farm (and Other F Words) , Sarah K Mock dismantles misconceptions about American farms and discovers what makes small family farms work, or why they don’t. While exploring the intersection of farming and wealth, Mock offers an alternative perspective on American agricultural history, and outlines a path to a more equitable food system moving forward.

Calling for change, Farm (and Other F Words) tackles questions
Ultimately, Mock suggests a solution without putting the onus for change on struggling consumers and reminds us that, “the future of American agriculture is not yet decided.”

270 pages, Kindle Edition

Published April 26, 2021

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About the author

Sarah K Mock

2 books6 followers
The seed for Sarah K Mock’s passion for farming was planted on her family’s farm in Wyoming. As it grew, so too did her need to find the answer to a critical question: is it possible to farm without exploiting farmers, farmworkers, the environment, or communities? Mock’s search for answers took her around the globe, working in and around agriculture for non-profits, government organizations, Silicon Valley companies, the national news media, and directly with farms.

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5 stars
76 (52%)
4 stars
52 (35%)
3 stars
10 (6%)
2 stars
6 (4%)
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1 (<1%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 36 reviews
Profile Image for Hopey.
1 review8 followers
July 2, 2021
With Farm (and Other F Words): The Rise and Fall of the Small Family Farm, Sarah K. Mock bursts into the world of nonfiction books with the same precision, passion, empathy, and knowledge that characterize all of her earlier writing. Mock’s journalism credentials in the agriculture space have given her a unique perspective and expertise that she weaves in alongside the real narratives of farmers across America and painstaking historical and statistical research. The result is a triumph of visionary boldness, tackling our societal misconceptions about what makes a “Good Farm” chapter by chapter, data point by data point, story by story. Mock manages to hold space for nuance while also maintaining the surety of her conviction that the path toward more equitable agriculture in America is not found in the status quo. Her dissection of the relationship between farming and wealth will likely be novel and perhaps even uncomfortable for many readers who have grown up believing that farmers are inherently underdogs, but Mock’s writing is clear, accessible, and unpatronizing: she empowers her readers to accompany her on this exploration of farming’s realities, and they’ll put down the book feeling challenged in a good way. Mock’s commitment to anti-racist and intersectional reporting is apparent in her intentionality about centering the voices of historically marginalized farmers; her acknowledgment of her own identity and positionality; and the care with which she has consulted with experts regarding, for example, discussions of undocumented farm workers. Farm (and Other F Words) is a must-read for anyone interested in pushing the agriculture industry forward or simply reckoning with their own understanding of the systems impacting the food they eat.
Profile Image for Fred Rose.
533 reviews15 followers
August 8, 2021
Reviewing this book as a possible addition to our policy survey course. I like this book as it has the perspective of a millennial without any romanticism about farming (but maybe tinged with a little cynicism). She did a very good job of covering a variety of farms, which is important. And she identified the huge elephant in the room around land ownership. There's no question that if you want to get started farming you have to have some existing wealth or land, or both. Her proposal for large team farms is reasonable and it sounds like she'll be talking about that more in the next book. I hope she uses that book to expand a little bit about how we might get there, as it is a gargantuan cultural shift. I also wish she had identified who she worked for before the last few pages. She's definitely a journalist but that bit confused me and hurts some credibility. Overall though a good point of view. Full disclosure, I grew up on a small family farm (a GOOD ONE, and it no longer exists either) and inherited farm land.
Profile Image for Miss Susan.
2,517 reviews52 followers
July 28, 2021
very informative and interesting deep dive into farming as it is practiced in the states and a look at why the small family farm is neither sustainable or anything else it's vaunted to be. i particularly liked how she linked our agricultural policy to the history of colonialism and slavery in the americas and provided practical alternatives. looking forward to the sequel!

5 stars
Author 1 book2 followers
May 13, 2022
I didn't want to like this book kinda, but got sucked in. This is some hard lessons to learn/hear about as a privileged white farmer. But Sarah bravely goes forth to dispel myth after myth. I recommend this book highly for anyone who cares to understand why ag is so messed up in the USA.
1 review
June 7, 2021
For all those interested in food & rural living in general - and sustainable agriculture in particular - I highly recommend this book.

It is part cultural exploration, part business analysis, and part historical review - with the overarching aim of understanding what good agriculture might look like. Highly readable, the book is compact & structured around a cultural journey. Individual farmers & farming organizations intersperse discussions of the current data and past history.

As concise, readable coverage of the issues to address for better & realistic rural futures I am going to be widely recommending this (starting at home: it is the thing for foodie relatives to read). The second part of the book is quite clear on what policy avenues one might want to pursue.

And though some of the history is somewhat specific to America I think this is still very applicable within a broader Anglo-European view of farming (European farms likewise being subsidized) & the broader city dweller desire of "I wish I could live in the country".

The author collected so much material in their investigations I understand a second book should be shortly forthcoming (find her online etc. for details).

My only wish, apart from wanting to read the author's next book on the subject, might have been a a more stats & graphs heavy book. I think this wish comes from unease that the same "journey to meet these individual exemplars of the phenomenon discussed" structure would be just as suitable for a narrative divorced from the overall picture - unlike this book. As I'm sure there's a great deal of personal preference behind this feeling I've tried to come up with an actual example for driving home the stats - and The Two-Income Trap: Why Middle-Class Mothers and Fathers Are Going Broke with its use of graphs comes to mind. Given the power of visuals explored in the first part of Farm (and Other F Words): The Rise and Fall of the Small Family Farm - maybe an argument for an illustrated edition?

That said: if the book had dug more into the stats & graphs in the main body of it then that could have reduced two of the book's virtues - conciseness & accessibility. So overall a good tradeoff I think - as a book that paints an accurate picture & that someone has actually read counts for more than an book that people think they should read - but haven't the time or inclination for! Was delighted to see that it had come out - having been aware of it for some months - and now to have actually read it.
Profile Image for Rhode PVD.
2,368 reviews24 followers
May 8, 2021
As a step-sister of an actual small family farmer, living in a culture where young people rhapsodize over the idea of buying land and being ‘self sustaining’ someday, and meanwhile swoon over farmers markets, is ... weird. I know the behind the scenes truth, which is without inheriting his mom’s land (which she turned into a farm and then a family foundation to avoid taxes) he couldn’t do this. Without his wife working a job outside the farm that provides cash and health insurance, he couldn’t do this. Without his family’s free labor, he couldn’t do this. And without upper middle class people willing to pay higher than average prices for the privilege of ‘pick your own’ and farmers’ market charm, he couldn’t do this.

I also know it’s not an easy life, not more peaceful, happy or healthy than anyone else’s. More scenic, sure. That’s about it.

I appreciate this book because the author initially had all the stars in her eyes, then researched her brains out, including talking to farmers across the country as well as studying data (that killer combo of anecdotal evidence plus quantitative data.) In this book, we get to learn the results.

She dives into what’s really going on, why (historic roots) and then at the end, some alternatives and possibilities based on current farm experiments. I love that her note of positivity isn’t about an unproven theory, but rather actual team farms that exist now.

The challenge is huge, perhaps impossible. But at least with this book we can get started. Gosh I hope everyone reads it. Especially elected officials.
Profile Image for Liz Gross.
12 reviews2 followers
August 1, 2021
I've thought more about my food ever since I read In Defense of Food and saw Food, Inc. in 2009. Animal, Vegetable, Miracle became my favorite book the following year. Over the last decade I've read and watched dozens, if not hundreds, of reports and stories that led me to believe there were "good" farms and "bad" farms. At the very least, there were farms that I absolutely didn't want to support and others that I did--most of which seemed to desperately need more support.

This book was written for people like me. It helped me realize the economic and systemic issues that have gotten us to where we are today, and dives deep into the question, "What is a good farm?" Although a relatively short book, it took me a couple weeks to get through because I had to stop every 1-2 chapters to reflect on what Sarah had written. There's a lot packed in here, and if "local food" has become a part of your identity, you may need to do some critical reflection of your own buying habits and stereotypes of the farms you patronize.

I'd recommend that every farmer's market customer, CSA member, agricultural educator/advocate, community business leader, and food activist read this book. I'm eagerly awaiting the sequel that focuses more on the solutions, but I'm glad this book exists to clearly define the problems facing "good" farms.
9 reviews
May 17, 2022
Great discussion of American Farming and Agriculture business. Mock thoroughly debunks misconceptions of the "Small Family Farm" as the American ideal for farm businesses. Very easy to pick up and addicting to read. No need to be an expert in farming or have any in depth understanding of Ag Business to enjoy this book. The chapter titles are hilarious. Share it with anyone you know who grew up on a farm, or thinks they want to start one.
30 reviews1 follower
April 18, 2022
Sarah Mock delivers an excellent story of her quest to find a "good farm" and realize it doesn't exist. As a journalist who also grew up on a farm, she's able to weave personal anecdotes with stories of different farmers across the United States. This book does a good job outlining why the dream we hold about American farming doesn't actually exist, the political and economic realities of farming today, and glimmers of opportunity to advance farming systems to ones that are in greater balance with the land and the people who work the land. Lot's of pithy remarks in here that stuck with me (so I know it is a good book) such as "poor farmers grow food for rich people and rich farmers grow food for poor people". The book concludes with an idea that "big team farms" may be the best shot we have and supporting our farming system and moving toward a space that is more environmentally friendly and equitable. Highly recommend to anyone who is working in this space trying to better understand the system or to anyone who has taken an interest in how agriculture works today.
2 reviews
May 12, 2021
The first half of the book is an interesting drive through the reality of what "farms" in America are- through diverse case studies you learn about the demographics, the economics, the agricultural practices, the cultures of farmers. It clears up the stereotypes and misconceptions, and I think it will give everyone a better and more nuanced understanding of agriculture.

The second half gets even better, as it ramps up, going back into the damning history of agriculture on this continent and its perpetuation of systemic injustices up to and including present day "Good Farms". It changed my perspectives on land ownership, resource management, generational wealth... some pretty big and thorny ideas, made a lot more digestible by the good writing.

And yet, despite its singing critiques, this book ends with hope. The final thesis and proposed model involves radical change in our ideas about farming, but Mock describes real possibilities. An incredibly worthwhile read.
17 reviews
May 5, 2021
I am far from considering myself knowledgeable about agriculture and farming, despite living in a small-ish town surrounded by wheat fields that are - in turn - surrounded by wheat fields. However, this book struck the perfect balance between describing and informing on the nuts and bolts of this topic, while not straying into esoteric detail that made it read like a textbook. Basically: I learned a lot, and it was a pleasant experience.

I also strongly appreciate Mock's willingness to critically assess ideals we take for granted in our society, and have a frank conversation about exploitation and the role racism and colonialism play in the food system we find ourselves with today.

So... Yeah. It was good.
Profile Image for Sarah.
18 reviews3 followers
December 26, 2021
This is one of those books that will upend your world view because it brings so many new perspectives and hot takes to our cultural norms and beliefs around farming and farmers.
I assigned it to my organic agriculture students (community college class). It is on the cynical side and I was quite surprised at how much dispair it brought up for some of my students feeling hopeless and like there is no future for them in farming. I am really looking forward to the second book and how they might tie together to build a future outlook.
I highly recommend this for all agriculturalists.
Profile Image for Paul Deaton.
80 reviews3 followers
December 1, 2021
If this book is rooted in the present, it is timely in presenting a possible future for agriculture that is hopeful and well considered. My eight seasons of working on small, CSA focused farms, provides me the background to say Mock knows that of which she speaks. In particular the labor issue is a conundrum that farmers are so busy dealing with, by finding labor to do the daily work, they have little time for development of a permanent solution. Highly recommended, but read it soon. The farm environment Mock describes will change quickly.
1 review
May 8, 2021
I work in agriculture, and there's so much romantic misinformation about it that it's hard to talk to people outside it about all the crazy stuff that happens at work. Mock gets it. It's always a treat to hear from other people looking at ag critically from the inside, because we're seeing such similar things and often from very different angles. Reading this book felt like sitting down with a friend to compare notes.
Profile Image for kayla.
43 reviews
February 6, 2022
decent read for farm folks. it was a bit dry and too repetitive, thus found myself skipping certain sections. while i certainly learned some interested things, it was a bit too generalizing for me. sarah mock neglects to include urban farms and micro farms in her thesis/analysis. i felt frustrated as an urban micro farmer by the broad strokes painted. i think the whole book could have cleaned up more nicely if she had not used a handful of very different farms to draw broad conclusions. in addition to that the 'resolution' was a bit weak. it was far less cared for then then other parts of the book. it was not long or detailed enough to combat the hundreds of pages of evil laid out before it. because in my 3-5 years of farming i have worked with/visited dozens of farms and none of them function like the ones she describe. so i felt, on behalf of me and probably thousands of others farmers,.... excluded to say the least.
Profile Image for Derek.
366 reviews18 followers
July 23, 2022
This book was a refreshing look at why (most) small farms fail and how the conversations that we commonly have about which farms we should be supporting are incomplete. People — especially those in the sustainable ag movement — love to rail against the agriculture system in the US. They love to talk about how small farms are at an unfair disadvantage and how if we could simply change the existing systems, then all the great small farms could succeed. I've studied and worked in the sustainable ag space and I can't think of another book or analysis that is similarly willing to challenge basic American ideas of what makes a good farm in order to find the root causes of why so many of our small farms fail.

Sarah Mock also did a great job of making this book readable and interesting all the way through. I read through it quite quickly. There are some wonderful turns of phrase, many useful statistics, and lots of highlight-able lines. I very much look forward to reading Mock's next book.
137 reviews1 follower
March 1, 2023
• this book shook me and changed the way I think about farming. Mock makes some startlingly perceptive points that shatter the foundational beliefs that structure how many of us picture agriculture. Pointing out that farms are and ought to be ultimately businesses that provide goods, not romanticized ideals, is a tough but critical pill to swallow.
• however, I have some concerns with this book. Mock ultimately rests her case in case studies, not data. She makes BIG claims that could be easily debated and I feel that she is very much Cherry-picking evidence to support what she believes. In addition, this book is really logical, clinical, and dismissive of some of the more intangible and human aspects of farming, land, and eating that I think is a serious thing to miss out on.
• at the end of the day, this book made me interested less in land ownership (which has previously been a goal of mine) and more of working on collectively owned agricultural cooperatives.
July 7, 2021
An excellent, well-researched dive into why our deeply held beliefs about American "small, family farms" are not only fantasy, but detrimental to building an actual, equitable, planet-sustaining food system. (I keep thinking of a verklempt Linda from Coffee Talk on SNL: "America's Small Family Farms are neither small, nor family, nor farms...discuss.) This a must read for everyone before your next farmer's market trip, Farm Aid concert, or most certainly before the next Farm Bill policy meeting. (Speaking of Farm Aid, can we send copies to Willie, Dave, John and Margo? Maybe get the next concert proceeds to support farm WORKERS instead of farm owners.)

Sarah Mock writes with clarity and just the right amount of humor to keep what could be a slog through farm policy data, feel both personal and inspiring at the right moments. Can't wait for the second volume!
Profile Image for Tom.
55 reviews
July 26, 2021
This book is a concise and easy-to-read exploration of farming in the US. What I learned from this book is that "good" small family farms in the US are and have always been a myth. Small farms in the US cannot exist without exploitation, whether it be exploitation of farm workers or of the taxpayers that subsidize them. (And naturally, historically all farming in the US has been inexorably tied to exploitation of people of color.)

Farm owners are wealth landowners who exploit labor. This is pretty obvious if you're thinking about large factory farms, but it's just as true of small farms. Because small farms aren't sustainable, they generally depend on either the exploitation of volunteer workers (who want the feel-good experience of supporting a farm) or of undocumented migrant workers.
1 review
May 1, 2021
Refreshing, Readable, Relevant

This book is amazing. Mock speaks to so many conversations I've had with farmers and fellow farmworkers about all the things in our current system that just don't make sense and don't work. I've never written a review before, but it feels necessary to tell everyone to read this book.

Not only insightful and data driven, but comprised of years of interviews with farmers makes this book grounded in reality in a way most academic reads don't seem to be. I got a C in my food studies class, but could not put this book down, and cannot stop talking about it. Thank you, Sarah, for your writing. Looking forward to book #2. - Annie
Profile Image for Julie.
153 reviews
June 16, 2021
Mock's interviews of farmers across the country provide the base for her analysis and quest to define what good farming is and should look like -- mostly striking out the "no"s along the way.

I'm very glad she devotes time in the second half to discussing just how farm labor got to be where it is today, though I would have appreciated a bit more on the way land was claimed and distributed -- oftentimes very deliberately by policy dedicated to incentivizing land wealth gain for white families, especially given the overall impact of holding onto land like that for generations. But that may just be a different book entirely.

Looking forward to the second book!
13 reviews1 follower
August 4, 2021
This book will help change the way you look at what a "good farm" is and what it isn't. Through first hand experiences and research Sarah Mock takes us through a journey of our idyllic small family farms and how we have all been lead to believe these are the best things for our economy, environment, and ourselves. Spoiler: maybe it's all a little skewed?
3 reviews
February 12, 2022
A book everyone should read! It questions the idealism of small farms in America. Mock provides an in-depth but engaging analysis of the economic, social, cultural, and environmental reality of these farms. I’ve read many other books criticizing agriculture in America, but this book addressed different topics that made me question my beliefs.
Profile Image for Carol.
1,170 reviews
September 1, 2022
I have been spouting off about big corporate farms versus small family farms forever and strongly favoring the small family farm. Well, those days are over. Farm (and Other F Words) has shaken the sawdust out of my head and replaced it with knowledge. The process was not easy on me and my next visit to a farm market will not be the same. Small book with a huge impact.
196 reviews1 follower
July 2, 2021
Sarah Mock does a brilliant job of busting status quo thinking. As someone who has been working in production agriculture for two decades- it is an absolute breath of fresh air to read a researched review of where we are, how we got here and how we might drive the change many of us seek.
Profile Image for Salena.
Author 1 book1 follower
July 27, 2021
The truths about small-scale agriculture certainly are painful, but they don’t have to be. I couldn’t put this book down, and I look forward to the sequel to discuss just how exactly we get ourselves out of this economic, environmental, and ethical mess.
Profile Image for Karen Mahtin.
207 reviews2 followers
December 3, 2021
A great breakdown of problems in the American food and farming system. She writes about what's not working, and gives an example or two of what is working, and how she thinks farm businesses and land access can work in the future.
Profile Image for Dana Probert.
236 reviews
April 30, 2021
A quick must-read for anyone who is interested in agriculture and/or has tried to figure out how to run a profitable small farm and failed to see how it could ever work.
Profile Image for Adrienne.
73 reviews3 followers
May 31, 2021
I hope that this book comes up in every future conversation on evaluating impacts to agriculture for the purposes of an EIS.
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