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A Revolution Down on the FarmA Revolution Down on the Farm

The Transformation of American Agriculture since 1929

Paul K. Conkin

Narrated by Kevin Pierce

Available from Audible

Book published by University Press of Kentucky

At a time when food is becoming increasingly scarce in many parts of the world and food prices are skyrocketing, no industry is more important than agriculture. Humans have been farming for thousands of years, and yet agriculture has undergone more fundamental changes in the past 80 years than in the previous several centuries. In 1900, 30 million American farmers tilled the soil or tended livestock; today there are fewer than 4.5 million farmers who feed a population four times larger than it was at the beginning of the century. Fifty years ago, the planet could not have sustained a population of 6.5 billion; now, commercial and industrial agriculture ensure that millions will not die from starvation. Farmers are able to feed an exponentially growing planet because the greatest industrial revolution in history has occurred in agriculture since 1929, with U.S. farmers leading the way. Productivity on American farms has increased tenfold, even as most small farmers and tenants have been forced to find other work. Today, only 300,000 farms produce approximately ninety percent of the total output, and overproduction, largely subsidized by government programs and policies, has become the hallmark of modern agriculture. A Revolution Down on the Farm: The Transformation of American Agriculture since 1929 charts the profound changes in farming that have occurred during author Paul K. Conkin’s lifetime. His personal experiences growing up on a small Tennessee farm complement compelling statistical data as he explores America’s vast agricultural transformation and considers its social, political, and economic consequences. He examines the history of American agriculture, showing how New Deal innovations evolved into convoluted commodity programs following World War II. Conkin assesses the skills, new technologies, and government policies that helped transform farming in America and suggests how new legislation might affect farming in decades to come. Although the increased production and mechanization of farming has been an economic success story for Americans, the costs are becoming increasingly apparent. Small farmers are put out of business when they cannot compete with giant, non-diversified corporate farms. Caged chickens and hogs in factory-like facilities or confined dairy cattle require massive amounts of chemicals and hormones ultimately ingested by consumers. Fertilizers, new organic chemicals, manure disposal, and genetically modified seeds have introduced environmental problems that are still being discovered. A Revolution Down on the Farm concludes with an evaluation of farming in the twenty-first century and a distinctive meditation on alternatives to our present large scale, mechanized, subsidized, and fossil fuel and chemically dependent system.

Paul K. Conkin is Distinguished Professor Emeritus of History at Vanderbilt University. He is the author of numerous books, including The State of the Earth, The Southern Agrarians, and When All the Gods Trembled.


“This book should be recommended reading for students and teachers of agriculture. Furthermore, those working in production agriculture will likely find the book very provocative.”


“This cogent, thorough history should prove fascinating for anyone interested in the changing landscape of American agriculture.”

Publishers Weekly

“As interesting as the personal tale is, however, what is even more useful is Conkin’s concise, carefully written discussion of the major changes in American agriculture since 1929.”

Journal of Illinois History

“This important book explores a recent revolution in American history that substituted technology for people and animals in farming and greatly increased output. Paul Conkin tells this tale in his own way, drawing upon his personal involvement in the story as well as the relevant scholarship and the basic documents. ”

—Richard Kirkendall

“This book is an accurate and straightfoward account of agriculture in America down through the years, spiced with the on-farm experiences of the author himself. All the important farm issues and views about them are discussed in a format that is handy and easy to read. Perfect for the new student of agriculture who needs a quick but detailed introduction to farming history in the United States.”

—Gene Logsdon

“Conkin’s book certainly springs forward and can be read in a manner that encourages the reader to gain a comprehensive understanding of the topics addressed. What is more, his book is truly interesting to anyone interested in the history of farming or the history of rural America.”

North Florida News Daily

“This book provokes thought, and ideally it will provoke reflection and a study that addresses the social costs as well as the industrial gains made during the greatest industrial revolution in the history of the United States, the agricultural production revolution.”

Ohio Valley History

“For a generation of students who know little about the agricultural past, Conkin’s book will provide an important and well-rounded overview.”

Agricultural History

“Conkin provides a masterful survey of the major agricultural legislation of the 1930s, noting that the long-term effect of these programs continues to invite curiosity.... a friendly, approachable work on agricultural history ... a map to new ways of thinking about the past and planning for the future.”

Arkansas Historical Quarterly

“Clearly written and organized, Conkin’s book will appeal to anyone interested in farming and the agricultural economy.”

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