Documenting the struggles on a Nebraska family farm

In FERN’s latest story, produced in collaboration with Harper’s Magazine, Ted Genoways documents the struggles of a fifth-generation Nebraska farm. The article, “Bringing Home the Beans,” details the everyday difficulties that a farm family faces as it tries to harvest its crop, deal with a generational transition, and not lose money in the fluctuating commodity markets.

In an accompanying essay explaining the project on FERN’s website, Genoways says he wanted to track the experience of one farm family over a year to see what their lives were really like. He ended up writing about the Hammond family, which owns the type of midsized farm that is shrinking around the country as result of consolidation. A video that accompanies the essay briefly describes the family and its farm.

“I came to understand the difficulty of farm life in a way that I never could have from a distance,” Genoways writes. “That first fall, the harvest of 2014, everything seemed to conspire against the Hammonds. Storms moved into Nebraska in September and dumped wave after wave of rain, delaying the harvest. Prices kept falling while the Hammonds waited for the fields to dry. Some fields had worse-than-expected hail damage.”

The story actually turned into a book-length project, “This Blessed Earth: A Year in the Life of an American Family Farm,” from which the Harper’s piece was excerpted. The book will be out in September.

Genoways writes: “Just to survive, you have to be able to predict the commodities market as well as any stock broker in one moment, but in next you might have to be able to repair a half-million-dollar piece of equipment with the expertise of a licensed mechanic. … Managing that divide while also contending with encroaching pipelines, groundwater depletion, climate change, and shifting trade policies is a nearly impossible task, and yet families like the Hammonds confront that reality every day, with everything that generations before them built perpetually at stake.”