Cover image for American harvest : God, country, and farming in the heartland
Title:
American harvest : God, country, and farming in the heartland
ISBN:
9781644450178
Physical Description:
396 pages : illustrations ; 24 cm.
Summary:
For over one hundred years, the Mockett family has owned a seven-thousand-acre wheat farm in the panhandle of Nebraska, where Marie Mutsuki Mockett?s father was raised. Mockett, who grew up in bohemian Carmel, California, with her father and her Japanese mother, knew little about farming when she inherited this land. Her father had all but forsworn it.
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Summary

Summary

An epic story of the American wheat harvest, the politics of food, and the culture of the Great Plains

For over one hundred years, the Mockett family has owned a seven-thousand-acre wheat farm in the panhandle of Nebraska, where Marie Mutsuki Mockett's father was raised. Mockett, who grew up in bohemian Carmel, California, with her father and her Japanese mother, knew little about farming when she inherited this land. Her father had all but forsworn it.

In American Harvest , Mockett accompanies a group of evangelical Christian wheat harvesters through the heartland at the invitation of Eric Wolgemuth, the conservative farmer who has cut her family's fields for decades. As Mockett follows Wolgemuth's crew on the trail of ripening wheat from Texas to Idaho, they contemplate what Wolgemuth refers to as "the divide," inadvertently peeling back layers of the American story to expose its contradictions and unhealed wounds. She joins the crew in the fields, attends church, and struggles to adapt to the rhythms of rural life, all the while continually reminded of her own status as a person who signals "not white," but who people she encounters can't quite categorize.

American Harvest is an extraordinary evocation of the land and a thoughtful exploration of ingrained beliefs, from evangelical skepticism of evolution to cosmopolitan assumptions about food production and farming. With exquisite lyricism and humanity, this astonishing book attempts to reconcile competing versions of our national story.


Author Notes

Marie Mutsuki Mockett is the author of a novel, Picking Bones from Ash , and a memoir, Where the Dead Pause, and the Japanese Say Goodbye , which was a finalist for the PEN Open Book Award. She lives in San Francisco.


Reviews 4

Publisher's Weekly Review

San Francisco author Mockett (Picking Bones from Ash) takes a road trip in the summer of 2017 to "flyover states" with a crew of wheat harvesters in this well-written but dense take on farming, race, and religion. Mockett embarked on the trip--which included stops in Idaho, Oklahoma, and Texas--at the invitation of a farmer named Eric, the head of a harvesting crew who for decades has cut the wheat on the Mockett family farm in Nebraska. He wanted Mockett, who was born and raised in California and spent her childhood summers on the farm, to see more of her country and meet its rural residents. Mockett, who is half Japanese, discusses being surrounded by whiteness on her trip and offers history lessons--on Native American displacement and the impact of the transcontinental railroad, among other topics--as she travels and meets farm workers, most of whom are churchgoing Christians who often engage in long conversations about the Bible. As for farming itself, Mockett explains that every year workers like Eric take a "harvesting route" across the middle of America with tractors and combines, and discusses the realities of crop production and of "organic" farming ("It is marketing," Eric says. "Do not fall for it"). Filled with rich descriptions, this illuminating memoir wonderfully captures farming life in Middle America. (Apr.)


Kirkus Review

Literate travels in the forgotten American hinterlands.Mockett (Where the Dead Pause, and the Japanese Say Goodbye, 2015, etc.) is a child of "the coasts: seventeen years in California, four years of college in New York City, more years of ping-ponging between the East and West Coasts," the kind of person likely to think of the territory in between as flyover country. Yet, with a Japanese mother and High Plains father, she knows that ground well, having spent summers on a family farm that spilled over from Nebraska into Colorado. The author returned to explore the work of itinerant contract or "custom" harvesters whose "routes across state lines were established by men, who handed down their itineraries to their sons, and harvesting became a family business." Traveling with one such family across the center of the country, Mockett analyzes the divides between rural and urban, religious and apathetic or atheistic, conservative and liberal. Even in her own family, she writes, those differences were profound, but what is a bicoastal, educated person to make of someone who believes "that man was around at the time of the dinosaur"? Refreshingly, the author finds that conversation is just the thing; with it, some stereotypes shade away or at least become more complicated, as with that young fundamentalist who also maintained that if someone is pro-life, "they would help children, not just abandon them." On the other hand, some farmers and harvesters spend their off time at the Omniplex, a sprawling science museum in Oklahoma City, and some hold education and the "uncharted world" in our minds in esteem while others hold the Bible to be the sole truth. What some city sophisticates dismiss as monoculture, many country people praise as progress. Throughout, Mockett's portrait is nuanced, revealing those overlooked people in counties likely to have voted for the sitting president to be worth paying attention to. A revealing, richly textured portrait of the lives of those who put food on our tables. Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.


Booklist Review

California-born Mockett (Where the Dead Pause and the Japanese Say Goodbye, 2015) is the daughter of a Japanese mother and Midwestern father whose family has owned a Nebraska wheat farm for more than a century. In pursuit of her roots, Mockett spends one season with the contracted wheat-harvesters who have long served the area. An admitted West Coast liberal whose life easily fits into a host of Whole Foods-associated clichés (the store is mentioned repeatedly), she engages with the harvesters on topics that emphasize the differences between urban and rural residents. The harvesters are all white, almost entirely young and male, and, with rare exception, devout members of the Anabaptist religion. None of them live in cities. These conversations quickly steer away from proposed environmental topics, leaving readers with a somewhat confusing blend of faith discussion, memoir, history, and repetitive culture clashes. Mockett clearly has a great deal of love for her family land and engages earnestly and respectfully with everyone she meets. The result is a placid narrative on farm country, with a biblical twist.


Library Journal Review

In this latest work, Mockett (Where the Dead Pause, and the Japanese Say Goodbye) explores America's Great Plains as she journeys from Texas to Idaho with a crew of wheat harvesters. The author grew up traveling to her family's Nebraska wheat farm, but it wasn't until an invitation from a custom harvester and family friend that Mockett immerses herself in the complex sociopolitical history of the heartland. As a Japanese American woman with secular ideologies, it becomes quickly evident to Mockett that she is an outlier among a crew of mainly white men whose guiding principles are ruled by their evangelical Christian faith. These differences push the author to pose difficult questions regarding faith, the land, and what it means to be American in the Midwest. Readers will enjoy a narrative rich in historical context of colonization, land ownership, and farming that is expertly woven into chapters with searching theological dialog while describing picturesque landscapes of fields and skies. VERDICT A highly readable, multifaceted look into the topics of faith and living in America today. The level of intimacy within these pages invests readers not only in the unfolding human story but also in the history of the land. [See Prepub Alert, 9/30/19.]--Angela Forret, State Lib. of Iowa, Des Moines