Turn Here Sweet Corn – Book Review

Review by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Turn Here Sweet Corn: Organic Farming Works
by Atina Diffley
Published by University of Minnesota Press, August 2013
344 pages 1 b&w photo, 5 b&w plates, 29 color plates, 6 x 9
$18.95 paperback
ISBN 978-0-8166-7772-6

PaperbackTHSC_smlWhen the hail starts to fall, Atina Diffley doesn’t compare it to golf balls. She’s a farmer. It’s “as big as a B-size potato.” As her bombarded land turns white, she and her husband Martin huddle under a blanket and reminisce: the one-hundred-mile-per-hour winds; the eleven-inch rainfall (“that broccoli turned out gorgeous”); the hail disaster of 1977. The romance of farming washed away a long time ago, but the love? Never. In telling her story of working the land, coaxing good food from the fertile soil, Atina Diffley reminds us of an ultimate truth: we live in relationships—with the earth, plants and animals, families and communities.

A memoir of making these essential relationships work in the face of challenges as natural as weather and as unnatural as corporate politics, her book is a firsthand history of getting in at the “ground level” of organic farming. 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.

And yet, after surviving punishing storms and the devastating loss of fifth-generation Diffley family land to suburban development, the Diffleys faced the ultimate challenge: the threat of eminent domain for a crude oil pipeline proposed by one of the largest privately owned companies in the world, notorious polluters Koch Industries. As Atina Diffley tells her David-versus-Goliath tale, she gives readers everything from expert instruction in organic farming to an entrepreneur’s manual on how to grow a business to a legal thriller about battling corporate arrogance to a love story about a single mother falling for a good, big-hearted man.

Atina Diffley's book “Turn Here Sweet Corn” is a masterclass in organic gardening and farming without being preachy, a lesson in entrepreneurship, a love story and a legal thriller, all rolled into a memoir that is as easy to read as a good novel.

Reading the chapter “Endangered Species” I just wanted to scream at the developers as well as the people who regarded the vegetables growing in the fields as “just laying there being wasted”. The latter pointing to the fact that so many folks today do not know where the vegetables that they buy in the supermarkets come from and that, unless they are grown in a hydroponic way, they grow in soil, what they would regard as as “dirt”.

The developers, when they take over the Diffley land, you also want to scream at. We cannot eat houses and infrastructure and we need farms just like the Gardens of Eagan and others close to the cities. But seems to be something that escapes them and that all too many today do not understand and that includes many in our governments.

When reviewing books I tend to use Post-It notes for annotations which I leave sticking like flags out of the pages of the book. When a book has many such flags, as this one has, it means one of two things; it is either extremely good and those flags indicate references or bad and the flags remind me as to where the bad points are and that I will comment on these.

In the case of “Turn Here Sweet Corn” it is the former and not the latter. This book is a handbook for organic gardening and farming without being one.

The book is an absolute page turner that I found very hard to put down. And the reader will also learn something new about organic gardening and farming on almost each and every page. It is easy to read and teaches the whys and wherefores, and even the how-tos to some degree, of organic farming and gardening without being a boring manual.

Atina Diffley is an organic vegetable farmer who now educates consumers, farmers, and policymakers about organic farming through the consulting business Organic Farming Works LLC, owned by her and her husband, Martin. From 1973 through 2007, the Diffleys owned and operated Gardens of Eagan, one of the first certified organic produce farms in the Midwest.

Rating: Six out of five. I know that that is actually not possible but I am going to do it anyway.

© 2013