SGT July Book Club: Turn Here Sweet Corn

Its July and yes, we all know its been hot. Minnesotans are notoriously aware of the current state of things, especially when they are not in the realm of perfect, sunny and 70. It is appropriate then, that for July, our book clubs have been reading a book by local author Atina Diffley, who is well connected to the weather extremes that effect our lives and our food. However, she might have a bit of a different perspective:


When the hail starts to fall, Atina Diffley doesn't compare it to golf balls. She's a farmer. It's "as big as a B-size potato." As her bombarded land turns white, she and her husband Martin huddle under a blanket and reminisce: the one-hundred-mile-per-hour winds; the eleven-inch rainfall ("that broccoli turned out gorgeous"); the hail disaster of 1977. The romance of farming washed away a long time ago, but the love? Never. In telling her story of working the land, coaxing good food from the fertile soil, Atina Diffley reminds us of an ultimate truth: we live in relationships--with the earth, plants and animals, families and communities. 

A memoir of making these essential relationships work in the face of challenges as natural as weather and as unnatural as corporate politics, her book is a firsthand history of getting in at the "ground level" of organic farming. One of the first certified organic produce farms in the Midwest, the Diffleys' Gardens of Eagan helped to usher in a new kind of green revolution in the heart of America's farmland, supplying their roadside stand and a growing number of local food co-ops. This is a story of a world transformed--and reclaimed--one square acre at a time.

And yet, after surviving punishing storms and the devastating loss of fifth-generation Diffley family land to suburban development, the Diffleys faced the ultimate challenge: the threat of eminent domain for a crude oil pipeline proposed by one of the largest privately owned companies in the world, notorious polluters Koch Industries. As Atina Diffley tells her David-versus-Goliath tale, she gives readers everything from expert instruction in organic farming to an entrepreneur's manual on how to grow a business to a legal thriller about battling corporate arrogance to a love story about a single mother falling for a good, big-hearted man.



It is always good when books like Turn Here Sweet Corn come about in the world. I am impressed, not only by the fight in people and their willingness to look something difficult in the eye and do it anyway, but also by the fact that they have any energy left to write a book.


They have done their job and done it well. Now, what about us? Our job, as writers, readers and lovers of food is to preach this gospel of appreciation and help everyone we know to understand the value of the food that these folks produce. It seems almost impossible that someone could read a book like Diffleys and still complain about having to pay $4 a pound for tomatoes or $5 for a head of cauliflower. For me, it is often the opposite. Knowing how hard people work, not to mention the uncertainty of their day to day lives and income, it seems to me like we should be investing heavily in these people. Talk about insurance! Supporting local farmers is food insurance.


No matter who you are, be it an up and coming farmer, local food lover, chef de cuisine, political activist...this book may have something in it for you. Even if you haven't yet read it, feel free to come to one of our book clubs to join in the discussion, or continue to support our local farmers by buying their produce, meat, eggs and now, their books!


The Minneapolis SGT book club meets tonight, Wednesday the 25th at the Linden Hills Coop, from 6:30-7:30. Up north, the Bemidji book club meets on Thursday the 26th at 5:30 at Sparkling Waters. For those of you interested in the book, those who have read it, or simply those who love food and reading, please feel free to join in the discussion by leaving a comment below. 


A brief book club note: both SGT book clubs will be taking August off. We will reconvene in September, when the Minneapolis folks will be reading: Marion Nestle’s Food Politics: How the Food Industry Influences Nutrition & Health. In Bemidji, they will be tackling: The End of Illness by David Agus.



Lawrence Black is a writer and editor at Simple, Good, and Tasty. He has two kids and loves gardening and eating with them. He wrote an article about kids and gardening called: Hey boy, don't eat all the rhubarb. The last book club post was for Tomatoland by Barry Estabrook. He can be reached at