Cover Image: Uprooted

Uprooted

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Member Reviews

Even though I couldn't connect with this book, it was obviously well researched, well documented, and well written.  Perhaps it was my fault.  What I thought I was getting was a memoir.  What this books is, instead, is a very capable exploration of farming communities in general, and the authors own hometown in Idaho in particular.  It maybe could have benefited from a more narrow focus.  There are interviews of local families: their opinions, pitfalls and triumphs, interspersed with a liberal dose of statistics and the authors own experience both as a member of a local family and as someone who left her community.  But, it lacked the emotional connection of Hillbilly Elegy, the savvy exploration of Michael Pollan, and the literary quality of Wendell Berry.  It seems caught somewhere in the middle, somewhere between wanting to be a memoir of a farming family and a treatise on farming losses.  The book does document well the issues modern farmers face, from lack of income and resources that are available to big farm operations, to unsustainable farming methods, and the 'brain drain' of farming communities.  The book also touches on the history of the region, and how some of these problems began, and escalated.  But, in the last chapter it also treads dangerously close to politicizing all the issues small farming communities face, and I felt that detracted from the larger message.  Overall, it's not a bad read if you enjoy Michael Pollan and other nature/food related writers, books about conservation and ecology, or a discussion about where food comes from.  It is not, however, specifically an exploration of growing up in small town Idaho, or feeling like an outsider somewhere else.
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A fascinating exploration of the current state of America's rural farming communities, the processes that lead to their current state, and the possibilities of hope for their future, through the lens of one particular community in Idaho. Olmstead's perspective as someone who has generations of family history in that community, but left for college and never returned is particularly interesting. There's a lot to think about here, including how those of us from larger cities have unwittingly contributed to the degradation of both farmers and farming communities.
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I had high hopes for this book, expecting more of a memoir and less of a politically-driven "history" lesson using a broad paintbrush. Made it through about 25% of the book before setting it aside, the writing style and deep dive into a very niched history presenting a different picture and read than expected.

One item that set the book off on the wrong foot for me: Early on, the author attributed to "many conservatives and libertarians" a "prevalent national attitude...that we need to let communities evolve according to the dictates of the market" (eARC loc. 77). Being conservative myself, and yet very appreciative of small towns and fully of the belief they do, in fact matter, I would have appreciated more context and data to substantiate this statement. It really felt closed off to further discussion--which one would think is at least one of the book's goals.

I received an eARC of the book from the publisher via NetGalley. All opinions are my own.
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Part polemic against the agricultural industrial complex, part family history, part personal memoir, and part local history, Grace Olmstead's debut Uprooted gracefully weaves through the intertwining stories of her family’s farming history, the decision to leave her hometown, and the fragile inhumanity of our food systems. The book challenges readers who, like the author, are perhaps trying to reconcile what it means to be in one place at the present, yet from another. This tension of belonging animates the entire book.

The story of displacement is told vis-a-vis the changes in American agriculture over the past 100 years. The book avoids two common pitfalls in doing so. First, it steers clear of an easy romanticism for the better days of a pre-industrial food system (something I myself have been guilty of after my first encounter with the writings of Wendell Berry, a figure whose influence is all over this book). Yet at the same time, the book avoids a cynical fall into despair and paralysis at the magnitude of damage our food systems have inflicted upon the land, the communities of people who give their lives to grow food in it, and those of us who consume it. This eye toward larger “political” systems and “personal” stories is part of what makes Uprooted so compelling. Olmstead speaks to both without neglecting either.

What truly captivated me as a reader, however, was the frequent return to a loving and honest portrait of the Howards of Emmett, Idaho, the place and people Olmstead is from. Her inventive, contrarian, gracious and hard-working great-Grandfather Howard (“grand-pa dad”) exemplifies the “sticker” way of life the book calls for.

Borrowing the terminology from Wallace Stegner, “stickers” are those who settle down in a place to invest in it, while “boomers” are those who come to extract value from a place and then move on. Uprooted is a wonderfully written, inspiring portrait of stickers in a world of boomers.
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I have been wanting to start a feature here on the blog called Small Town Saturday for some time. I just haven't had the chance. The idea is that I will feature books about rural places. I am forever grateful for my rural experience and feel that by sharing the voices of others, they can have their place too. 

Without further ado, here is our first book feature: Uprooted.

Author: Grace Olmstead

Summary from Goodreads:
In the tradition of Wendell Berry, a young writer wrestles with what we owe the places we’ve left behind. 

In the tiny farm town of Emmett, Idaho, there are two kinds of people: those who leave and those who stay. Those who leave go in search of greener pastures, better jobs, and college. Those who stay are left to contend with thinning communities, punishing government farm policy, and environmental decay.
 
Grace Olmstead, now a journalist in Washington, DC, is one who left, and in Uprooted, she examines the heartbreaking consequences of uprooting—for Emmett, and for the greater heartland America. Part memoir, part journalistic investigation, Uprooted wrestles with the questions of what we owe the places we come from and what we are willing to sacrifice for profit and progress.
 
As part of her own quest to decide whether or not to return to her roots, Olmstead revisits the stories of those who, like her great-grandparents and grandparents, made Emmett a strong community and her childhood idyllic. She looks at the stark realities of farming life today, identifying the government policies and big agriculture practices that make it almost impossible for such towns to survive. And she explores the ranks of Emmett’s newcomers and what growth means for the area’s farming tradition.
 
Avoiding both sentimental devotion to the past and blind faith in progress, Olmstead uncovers ways modern life attacks all of our roots, both metaphorical and literal. She brings readers face to face with the damage and brain drain left in the wake of our pursuit of self-improvement, economic opportunity, and so-called growth. Ultimately, she comes to an uneasy conclusion for herself: one can cultivate habits and practices that promote rootedness wherever one maybe, but: some things, once lost, cannot be recovered.

Personal Review: If you enjoy books about rural places, stewardship, or the journey of the self, this may be the book for you. I resonated on many levels of this book having grown up in a rural place and moving away. I have had to learn that even though I may not be in that place anymore, the things that I learned in being there have forever shaped who I am. This book was moving and explored how rural America is being impacted. I enjoyed it very much.

 Disclaimer: I was awarded this book by the publisher/NetGalley. Though I did not pay for the book, the opinions are strictly my own.

Happy Reading!
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Grace Olmstead grew up in the rural Idaho farm country, but moved away for college and to pursue her career. She has never moved back. But in the years since she left her hometown, she has realized that she is not the only one. There is a national trend of young folks leaving small towns and rural communities in order to seek better opportunities elsewhere. 

In Uprooted, Olmstead uses her training as a journalist to figure out why. Yet she also leans on her experience growing up on the land to share the story in the form of a memoir. Along the way, she tells stories from her own family and the families of those still working the land in her Idaho community. What she discovers is disheartening, but not surprising. Younger generations are leaving rural life, because there roots do not go deep enough to keep them. The farming industry, which use to be the backbone of American life has drastically changed. Fewer and fewer farms are surviving and the ones that do have no prospect of lasting past the current farmer after he or she retires. 

What has been seen as “chasing your dreams” or moving on to bigger and better things, has hollowed out the soul of rural American life and threatens the livelihoods of farmers nationwide. Uprooted is a fascinating read. For those who have a connection to rural life, this book hits close to home. For those that live in a more urban context, it can serve as an eye opener. I highly recommend it.
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I really enjoyed reading this book. For many years I have been aware of the.changes in agricultural policy and practice that have changed how farmers and others provide the food that Americans eat. Recently, I have been watching a number of British television shows about the farming practices in that country, and find myself startled by how personal farming still is for even the even the largest farmers/suppliers there. 

Grace Olmsted wrote this book partly as personal research to help her decide whether to move back to the rural place where she grew up. A major part of that investigation revolves around the research she does into the lives of her forebears and distant relations, and how the changing nature of agriculture has impacted their lives. 

My politics are fairly aligned with those of the author; I think readers who disagree with her might not enjoy this book as much. However, all in all, I think it is a good way of personalizing a trend that has greatly altered the way food is grown and delivered in the US. 

thanks to NetGalley and the publishers for providing me with an advanced reading copy.
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Uprooted explores the authors trip back to revisit a town from her distant past that she remembers fondly. While there she interviews family and those that shaped the town, that shaped the person she has become.
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We’re excited for this new book “Uprooted” by Grace Olmstead. We’re very much enjoying the review copy provided by #netgalley. 

We know many of you like Wendell Berry, so this is right up your alley — all about finding value in a sense of place and “rootedness,” and how to preserve those values in a changing world. An incredibly thoughtful and enjoyable read.
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Uprooted by Grace Olmstead is a free NetGalley ebook that I read in late February.

Olmstead is wistfully romantic about her small hometown in Idaho with memories of perhaps simpler times and home-cooked meals, and emphasizes living where you've been planted, where things rarely change, resisting the escape, pull, and awe of a big town, keeping small towns small, but still thriving and connected, and giving the respect that unblemished land ought to be given.
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You grow up. You leave the confines of home and hometown to make your way in the big world. You don’t come back. That narrative for success has permeated small town America for decades. And in her first book, Uprooted (due out on March 16th), Grace Olmstead demonstrates how we live out that story at our peril. Not just individually, as rootless people without deep ties to place, but as places themselves no longer sustain life. Olmstead shows readers the landscape of our loss. Soil robbed of nutrients by devastating monocrop farming, and ag land paved over by suburban sprawl. Once healthy towns whose thriving small businesses withered like ghosts. Communities that no longer have centers of activity, but become shopping strips and victims of suburban sprawl. And Olmstead also makes the pain personal, taking us to her hometown of Emmett, Idaho, profiling her family’s history there alongside others who loved and worked the land and were cornerstones of community life. Olmstead, like so many of us, left home, and with each visit back she’s confronted by irrefutable evidence of decline. Where some would only see disaster in the wake of agribusinesses’ insatiable hunger, Olmstead employs her journalistic training to find and profiles those who refuse to give up, documenting the small strides of tenacious farmers fighting to revitalize the land and community. By book’s end Olmstead contemplates what returning to her hometown. Would her presence have any positive impact, or is she better off “sticking” in Virginia, putting down roots and consciously become a contributor to community life there?  There are no easy answers for Olmstead, or us. But no matter where you live, the questions are worth exploring in this provocative and engaging read. As Olmstead makes clear, agricultural policy, suburban sprawl, brain drain, and small town collapse impact our country and all of us personally—whether we knew it or not.
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Jackson, MI. In “The Custom-House,” his prefatory essay to The Scarlet Letter, Nathaniel Hawthorne wrestles with his generational roots in Salem. One of his ancestors, infamously, presided over the Salem witch trials here, and he now finds himself appointed to a government position at the Salem Custom House. But while Hawthorne concludes (wrongly, as it turns out) that he is destined to “make Salem my home,” he worries that this long family connection to the place is “an unhealthy one” and should be broken: “Human nature will not flourish, any more than a potato, if it be planted and replanted, for too long a series of generations, in the same worn-out soil. My children have had other birthplaces, and, so far as their fortunes may be within my control, shall strike their roots into unaccustomed earth.” This sentiment expresses an axiom in American, settler culture: the way to maximize individual opportunity and flourishing is to seek out richer soil. In an indication of the enduring power of this idea, Hawthorne’s resonant concluding phrase—his desire for his children to strike their roots into unaccustomed earth—forms the title for a rich collection of short stories by Jhumpa Lahiri about the lives of Indian immigrants seeking to plant themselves in unaccustomed American soil....

Full review will appear here: www.frontporchrepublic.com/tending-the-soil-of-our-homes-gracy-olmsteads-paean-to-roots
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The topic of this book, as should be obvious from the title is about the phenomenon of being uprooted that a the ease with which movement of populations can occur is making more a reality of life for a large segment of society. Job availability, educational opportunity, or perhaps pure adventure-seeking desire propels people to leave their birth-place in search of a better place. While this is understandable and has had positive outcomes, such as a decrease in prejudice as one becomes familiar with varying people and begins to sense the oneness of mankind, it also has its own fair share of challenges which this book explores. It is a timely topic. I would recommend this book for anyone in search of home. For this reason,
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Grace Olmstead grew up in Emmet, Idaho. Uprooted is her study of the different nuances of her home town and the ravages time, population loss, and policy have changed it. I related to this book on many levels. I come from a rural, farming background, and a small town. I hate that housing tracts have consumed so much good farm land across the country. I grew up amidst Midwestern prairie lands  that are disdainfully referred to as flyover states, which enrages me. I liked the family history she shared. Her grandpa dad was salt of,the earth, like many people I grew up knowing. Their demise has left this world not for the better. I don’t agree with all of the author’s assertions or her tendency to pontificate on certain topics, but I do agree with her theme pertaining to the gifts a small town can bestow on those who originated from there. I have no desire to move back to my small town, but I appreciate it.
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Uprooted is about rural farming communities and the challenges they face. Part-memoir and part-analysis it seeks to uncover what it means to be rooted in a place when our culture values mobility. Through the author, we learn about the history of Emmett and how it has grown and changed with the times. We get a well-written and interesting look into the Treasure Valley through the life of the author's own family and the other families that live and work there today. The book explores the nature of farming in America, the suburbanization of farmland, the boom and bust cycles of a small community, and the importance of connection and community. All the topics are addressed in a conversational and friendly tone and while researched (with footnotes) this is not a socio-economic treatise. It's an easy, thought-provoking, read that I want to share with others so we can talk about it.
 
In many ways the content of this book struck home. I was the teenager that wanted to get out of their podunk town and travel far away. I was the author, deciding to leave my Idaho valley for "bigger and better" only to find I didn't quite know what I was rejecting. I have friends who are farmers, ranchers, and dairymen that have struggled in recent years and shown me just how much farming is big business. I have watched as fields that I once worked in, hoeing beets as a kid, have been transformed into small subdivisions and seen those paved roads dead-ending into fields. This book captures so perfectly what I see around me in my valley (which is not the Treasure Valley) and it gave me a framework for thinking about the changes. I also loved how it gave me a bit of hope for these communities to find a middle way. Though the book gives no real answers I enjoyed all the questions and ways of thinking about the issues. 

Finally, I want to say how much I appreciate this thoughtful and honest approach to Idaho's people and culture. After reading Educated earlier this year I have found myself annoyed that for so many people it has become their default when they think about my home state. I can't wait to recommend this as an alternative to every single person who asks me about Educated.
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This debut seeks to give us an inside look into Emmett Idaho (the author's hometown) and what happens when people choose to leave or stay in a small farming community.

I was under the impression this would be a bit more of a memoir (a la J.D. Vance's Hillbilly Elegy) about a young woman grappling with her roots and a sense of connection or disconnection from the town she left behind for "greener pastures."

The topic of leaving one's hometown and community roots is a particularly poignant one as our entire millennial generation is extremely mobile across America compared to previous generations. I started out pretty excited about this one when she went to her old high school and asked students if they planned to stay and farm. But, her points about transience and brain drain didn't appear to be the main anecdote of the book which left me disappointed because that's what I was expecting and hoping to read.

I noted in the first few chapters that her writing style is fluid and easy to follow, but as the book progressed I found the text highly repetitive and over-wordy. I could probably pinpoint several locations where the same idea was repeated over, and over, and over again.

I think Olmstead tries to cover too much ground and this leaves the book feeling rootless. (See what I did there?) The points she makes are valid but there is almost so much happening in this book that different truths feel like outright contradictions. For example, she states many Americans have transience thrust upon them. Then the next sentence or paragraph she would say that Americans are far less mobile than they used to be. While these things may be inherently true, there is so much going on in the text that it had me questioning what the overall point was supposed to be.

Olmstead seems to almost question why the young are leaving town but then spends the rest of the book explaining about how nearly impossible it is for farmers to make it in our modern Big Ag/corporation-dominant economy. So... if people want to thrive and feel as though they can't accomplish this in their hometown why would anyone stay? Additionally, it comes across as slightly condescending to make the point that sometimes staying and growing roots is more beneficial than moving and achieving higher success/more money/etc. because that is exactly what the author herself has done in moving to Virginia.

Overall, not a bad book, but I feel like my strongest take away was that younger generations are leaving small farming communities for better opportunities, inevitably leaving a hole that can't be filled for those left behind.
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I thought this was an interesting novel about small towns/farm towns and how a lot of them are dying out due to the fact people will leave and never come back to help work the land or stay and run businesses or raise their family there. I think Grace Olmstead did a great job researching for her novel and really ask good questions to farmers and other locals in her home town of Emmett, Idaho about why they still work the farms and didn't leave. I also like the questions she brought up about if these small towns or farming communities can survive and if young people will want to stick around their hometowns and not uproot to other places. After reading this book I kept thinking about it and now my mind is thinking about small towns and how I hope I don't see them die off. I also wrote down some of her refences so that I can read those books in the future.
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The writing in this book is fine, but it seemed to need a bit more focus.  The book seems like it will be a memoir about the writer deciding to go back home to live or not.  Instead this is a very small part of the book.  The book focused more on her grandparents history and the history of agriculture in Idaho.  When the author is talking more about herself, she has a very preachy tone on how her generation has treated small towns and how that needs to be different.  I feel like this could have been a better book if it had more focus on one topic or a better hand at mixing these topics together.
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