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By Jack Zaleski, editor of opinion and commentary pages, The Forum, Fargo, North Dakota, Sunday, January 21, 2001, Page E5
There are no shortages of opinions and analyses about what's wrong in farm country. Demographers, sociologists, economists and newspaper columnists have written millions of words about the woes of farming, the demise of the family farm, the collapse of rural communities.
Some of it is good stuff. Some is rubbish.
Sheldon Green and James Coomber have taken a different approach. Unwanted Bread: The challenge of farming and ranchingis a remarkable compilation of portraits and voices from the farm, ranch, ag research and agribusiness. The book's power comes from the insights of people who live on the land. Each story helps complete the sometimes dark, sometimes bright panorama of agriculture on the Northern Plains.
Coomber is a professor of English and chairman of the English Department at Concordia College, Moorhead. He is former chairman of the college's Conference on Reading and Writing.
Green is senior writer in Concordia's Office of Communications, a former weekly newspaper editor at Hazen, N.D., and an award-winning photographer.
Coomber and Green previously collaborated on the award-winning book Magnificent Churches of the Prairie. That's a wonderful volume but not as compelling as the authors' new work.
Unwanted Bread is an extraordinary snapshot in time. Its beautiful photographs and 55 essays, conversations and personal stories weave a Plains tapestry of hope, dismay, hard work, success and defeat, resignation and love of the land.
The beauty of the photographs sometimes stands in sharp contrast to the stories. Told in their own words, farmers, ranchers and others involved in agriculture relate experiences that range from economic struggles to the joys of rural life, from the need to diversify to the unique cultural icons of small towns, from raising buffalo to farming fish.
It's good stuff. It's more than dispassionate analysis. It's more than numbers and trends.
The book is a catalogue of the lives of real people as told by those people. It's an important book because it shows us who we are right now. It celebrates the spirit and energy of individuals who have persevered in farming and ranching, and who have worked to preserve and enhance a way of life on the Plains.
It's a good book. It's published by the Institute of Regional Studies at North Dakota State University and is available at area bookstores. Get it.