In One Size Fits None, a farmer’s daughter paints an informed and convincing portrait of our existing agricultural system and what might be done to make it more sustainable.
Reviewed By Julianne Couch
February 4, 2019
One Size Fits None: A Farm Girl’s Search for the Promise of Regenerative Agriculture
By Stephanie Anderson
University of Nebraska Press, 2019
It takes an agriculture reporter turned creative writer like Stephanie Anderson to do the legwork of reporting and research to explain how the world of industrial agriculture works. She does so clearly and convincingly, on every page of this book. But she’s not just throwing flames at big ag or careless consumers. She positions herself in the center of the bullseye, as she considers her own family ranch and what she’s come to understand as unsustainable management practices taking place there.
Anderson was raised on a spread in western South Dakota, and writes with love about her family and her early days learning to do the things most of us equate with self-sufficiency. She could drive the tractor, help with planting and harvest, move livestock around, be a good hand. But today, she’s come to believe that her father’s approach to land management is plain wrong. She asserts that what has come to be called “conventional practice” are really industrial practices, that is to say, damaging to the land and to human health. “If we continue to farm industrially, then we’ll ruin our planet” (p. ix) she says succinctly.
Anderson affirms that her relationship with her father is still good, even though she disagrees with just about everything he believes about agriculture. By describing her personal and professional background, she’s letting readers know there’s been a cost for her advocacy. “Now I see that I was part of a powerful agribusiness system glorifying the ‘progress’ of conventional agriculture, a model in which the farm is treated as a factory, industrial farming packaged to look like family farming” (xi).
Anderson organizes her argument by presenting her reader with several types of farms, and farmers. In “Part One, Conventional,” we visit a large-scale fruit and vegetable farm in Florida, which operates its own commercial produce packinghouse. It uses many sustainable practices and is still considered a “family farm” despite its size. Yet Anderson contends it has succumbed to the pressure of “get big or get out,” which has turned the family into mere producers who rarely touch the actual soil. But as this produce farmer argues, you have to be large scale to provide the cheap food American consumers want.