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Lentil Underground

Renegade Farmers and the Future of Food in America

This book can be downloaded and read in Apple Books on your Mac or iOS device.


A protégé of Michael Pollan shares the story of a little known group of renegade farmers who defied corporate agribusiness by launching a unique sustainable farm-to-table food movement.

The story of the Lentil Underground begins on a 280-acre homestead rooted in America’s Great Plains: the Oien family farm. Forty years ago, corporate agribusiness told small farmers like the Oiens to “get big or get out.” But twenty-seven-year-old David Oien decided to take a stand, becoming the first in his conservative Montana county to plant a radically different crop: organic lentils. Unlike the chemically dependent grains American farmers had been told to grow, lentils make their own fertilizer and tolerate variable climate conditions, so their farmers aren’t beholden to industrial methods. Today, Oien leads an underground network of organic farmers who work with heirloom seeds and biologically diverse farm systems. Under the brand Timeless Natural Food, their unique business-cum-movement has grown into a million dollar enterprise that sells to Whole Foods, hundreds of independent natural foods stores, and a host of renowned restaurants.

From the heart of Big Sky Country comes this inspiring story of a handful of colorful pioneers who have successfully bucked the chemically-based food chain and the entrenched power of agribusiness’s one percent, by stubbornly banding together. Journalist and native Montanan Liz Carlisle weaves an eye-opening and richly reported narrative that will be welcomed by everyone concerned with the future of American agriculture and natural food in an increasingly uncertain world.

From Publishers Weekly

Apr 20, 2015 – In this thoroughly researched debut, Carlisle explores her realization that "American farmers weren't actually growing food, but rather, raw ingredients for big food processors." She sets off to work for Sen. Jon Tester, who was an organic farmer from her own home state of Montana, and subsequently pursues a Ph.D. from UC Berkeley's Department of Geography. Her work eventually leads her to Dave Oien, who with his business Timeless Seeds had become the first organic lentil farmer in his Montana county, selling specialty lentils at Whole Foods and to chefs who served them at fine restaurants. Carlisle's searches for answers to her central question "How could we feed the world without destroying it?" is reminiscent of the works of Michael Pollan (who mentored the author) and Susan Orlean. Carlisle merges high-stakes material with lovely, descriptive prose, training her sharp eye on the issue of sustainable farming as seen through a small handful of compelling characters, including Oien and other members of the "Lentil Underground," Timeless Seeds's farmers. This book delivers their stories to a wider audience, and will appeal to readers interested in food, farming, and the politics of sustainable agriculture.

Customer Reviews

A top-notch ethnographic account of agricultural revolution

This book is as good as a magic carpet ride through the past 30 years of a revolution in agricultural thinking and practice, as well as an engrossing lesson on why this agricultural revolution—ecologically-based farming—portends the future if we are to survive as a species that regenerates rather than exhausts our basic sustenance on planet earth.

The author draws on first-hand experience, extensive interviews, conversations and field visits with all the main actors in this story (farmers and entrepreneurs who have been critically reconstructing and taking ownership of their production, processing, marketing and food culture in the north-central USA.) The result is an authoritative, thoughtful documentary (historically, sociologically and agronomically) on a future in the making, far better than mere advocacy.

Lentil Underground
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  • $12.99
  • Available on iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, and Mac.
  • Category: Social Science
  • Published: Jan 22, 2015
  • Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
  • Print Length: 320 Pages
  • Language: English
  • Requirements: This book can only be viewed on an iOS device with Apple Books on iOS 12 or later, iBooks 1.3.1 or later and iOS 4.3.3 or later, or a Mac with iBooks 1.0 or later and OS X 10.9 or later.

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