Iowa has a global reputation for its fertile soil and all of the agricultural products we raise on it — and a new book is both a memoir and a call to action to preserve and respect that valuable ground.
Professor Neil Hamilton, who recently retired after 36 years directing the Agricultural Law Center at Drake University, says he allows the land to tell its own story in his book, “The Land Remains.”
“I use the Back Forty as a narrator to help us think about how the land may look at history and may look at our activities and how the land may think about its future,” Hamilton says. “I don’t think we hear from the land very often, and so that was a device I tried to use to help tell the story.”
Hamilton grew up in southern Iowa’s Adams County near Lenox. In recent years, he sold the final piece of his family farm to a young neighbor farmer, enabling the agricultural cycle to continue.
“That land that I grew up on had been in our family since the 1870s,” Hamilton says. “So the land has this type of resilience. Our opportunity is how we use it and how we shape it and I think I say in the book, how we treat the land is really a portrait of the owner.”
While the book tells the history of Iowa land conservation, Hamilton says it’s also an analysis of contemporary issues dealing with soil health, water quality, public lands, and future challenges.
“At a personal level, it’s really asking people who are landowners or who want to become landowners to think about how they use their land,” Hamilton says. “So if there’s a call to action, it’s for us, perhaps, to be more sensitive and thoughtful and taking the long-term view recognizing that the land is resilient and how we shape it today is also going to determine its future.”
One message of the book is to have optimism, he says, as we can find hope and resiliency from the land by examining how new attitudes can address past abuses. Hamilton notes how demand for better food is creating opportunities for better land stewardship — and new farmers.
The book is available through many Iowa bookstores and the publisher, Ice Cube Press, based in North Liberty.