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The Land Remains

The Land Remains—A Midwestern Perspective On Our Past and Future | Neil D. Hamilton | $24.95 | Gatefold Trade Paper | 344p with photos | ISBN 9781948509336 | Available Now

Iowa Public Radio interview/NPR: Talk of Iowa with Charity Nebbe
Interview on Iowa Public TV’s Market to Market show
Fantastic Look at Neil and his wife’s Sunstead Farm

★ Starred Review in Shelf Awareness ★
Morning Edition interview, IPR/NPR radio
Piece in the Gazette
Commentary in the Capital-Dispatch, DSM

 

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The Land Remains blends personal memoir, a history of Midwestern land conservation, and an analysis of contemporary issues of soil health, water quality, public lands, and future challenges to tell the story how land shapes our lives. Written by Prof. Neil Hamilton, a well-known authority on agriculture and land policy who recently retired after 36 years directing the Agricultural Law Center at Drake University, Des Moines, Iowa. The Land Remains weaves stories from his career working with food and the land to bring a fresh perspective to a topic most people take for granted. The book is narrated in part by the voice of the Back Forty, a field on his family’s farm in Adams County. Influenced by past conservation leaders like John Lacey and Aldo Leopold, as well as efforts by current farmers and landowners who care for and steward the land. The book also weaves new insights from authors like Eddie Glaude Jr. and Jedidiah Purdy to trace the parallels in our attitudes toward the land to issues of historic racism, economic inequality, and environmental vulnerability rooted in our land history.

The Land Remains identifies reasons to be optimistic—we can find hope and resiliency from the land by examining how new attitudes toward land can address past abuses. Demand for better food is creating opportunities for better land stewardship and new farmers, land trusts are helping owners protect unique lands, and conservation practices to improve soil health and protect water quality are laying the foundation for how the Nation will address the challenge of climate change. Whether you are a landowner or a citizen, our history and future are shaped by how we treat the land. The Land Remains will leave readers informed, inspired, and thinking differently about how land will shape the future.

Neil Hamilton is an emeritus professor of law and the former director of the Agricultural Law Center at Drake University in Des Moines. He retired from full-time teaching in 2019 after thirty-eight years focusing on agriculture and food law. Raised on his family farm in Adams County, he attended Iowa State University for Forestry and the University of Iowa for Law. Teaching, writing, and consulting work led to travels around the globe and across the state and nation. His advice is sought by Presidential candidates, cabinet secretaries, reporters, and others looking for insight on issues involving farming, rural society, conservation, and land tenure. He has served for decades on a variety of non-profit boards including the Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation and Seed Savers Exchange. He lives with his wife Khanh at Sunstead Farm, a market garden oasis they created on Sugar Creek, near Waukee, just west of Des Moines.

Praise for The Land Remains:
“Of all the agrarian scholar-activists in America, Neil Hamilton has played the most pivotal role in pioneering good policy and stewardship practices than any other individual. He is beloved by farmers, seed savers, agricultural land trusts, and the thousands of students whom he has influenced with his brilliant lectures and compassionate mentoring. Now, with a profound and enlivening prose, he weaves together all the strands of agricultural stewardship into a compelling ‘crazy quilt’ vision for what healthy lands and rural communities ought to be in a just and prosperous future. But unlike other chroniclers of farm country history, Hamilton not only give us hope because of what is in his head, but also because of what he has held in his hands and in his heart.”—Gary Paul Nabhan, author of Coming Home to Eat, Renewing America’s Food Traditions, Food from the Radical Center, and Jesus for Farmers and Fishers

“The Land Remains is the perfect book at the perfect time: a vivid, engaging and thoroughly insightful treatise on land and agriculture. On every page, Neil Hamilton masterfully translates the challenges inherent in our food system—quite literally from the ground up—but then goes beyond the limitations to find solutions and hope. But the real win here is Hamilton’s unique perspective that so accurately sums up what many of us already suspect when it comes to caring for the land that feeds and sustains us: whether we come to our actions by understanding the nature of the world, or the world of nature, both must intersect in order to effect positive and everlasting change.”—Tracey Ryder, Co-Founder & CEO, Edible Communities

“Neil Hamilton is a Lorax for the land—if the Lorax had the insights of a lawyer, the wisdom of an agrarian philosopher, the acumen of a policymaker, and the lived experience of an Iowa farm kid. As we consider what it will take to build an agriculture that nourishes both humans and the land, we are lucky to have Hamilton’s wisdom to guide us. The Land Remains is a powerful reminder that a better future for food and farming is possible—one that advances social and racial justice, holds the soil in place, and gives our people and communities the nourishment they need to thrive. The Land Remains is more than a memoir; it’s a stirring call to action to all of us—farmers and voters alike—to protect the soil as if our life depended on it. Because it does.”—Curt Ellis, co-founder and CEO of FoodCorps, and co-creator of the Peabody-winning documentary, King Corn

“Anyone interested in exploring how to have a more inspiring, practical way to relate to land sustainably will want to read this book!”
—Dr Frederick Kirschenmann; Retired, former director of the Leopold Center

“It is clear we need clarion voices like Neil Hamilton’s to speak for the land. To this former Iowa farm boy become Emeritus Professor of Law, the soil is an animate being worthy of reverence and a duty of care. Across the nation, and all over the planet, we’ve allowed our agricultural top soils to erode and lose fertility at an alarming rate. As the substrate for food and agriculture, the land is our most precious natural resource; continued maltreatment sullies our future prospects as a species. At heart, The Land Remains is a hopeful book filled with practical advice about soil and water conservation and commonsense solutions within our ken. Let us all join in the chorus and pivot to the future!”—Amy Goldman, author of The Melon

“The Land Remains explores our most valuable natural resources—soil, water, air and biodiversity—in Iowa, one of the most altered landscapes on Earth. Neil couples his agriculture law and policy expertise with his deep personal connection to his family’s Iowa farm to question how we can work in partnership with the land to build a truly sustainable ecosystem and future. Connecting current land issues to economic inequality, racism and environmental degradation. The Land Remains offers an ultimately hopeful outlook for the future, should we all recognize the land as the cornerstone of our lives.”
Paul Willis, Niman Ranch Pork Co., Director/Founder

“Neil Hamilton has spent decades working the ground where agriculture, conservation, the law, policy, and ethics intersect. In The Land Remains, he brings that experience together in stories about and from the Iowa landscape that he knows best—and that has been such a proving ground for our successes and failures in land stewardship. Hamilton combines his personal insights and professional expertise, yielding a compelling commentary on our responsibilities as caretakers of the land.—Curt Meine, Author, Aldo Leopold: His Life and Work

“We all depend on the land. Our basic needs of food, clothing, and shelter all come from the land. The air we breathe, the water we drink, all depend on the land and the biodiversity it wants to support. One would think stewardship of this precious resource would be our highest priority. But instead of listening to the land we ignore it. We see this with unsustainable soil loss, polluted water, and vanishing biodiversity. As the land suffers so, do we. Yet, Mother Nature is both benevolent and forgiving. If we simply listen to her and apply her wisdom the land responds in wonderful ways. In The Land Remains Professor Neil Hamilton writes from the land’s perspective. Allowing us to hear its story firsthand. Helping us understand what we’re doing to it, and to understand how we can help. In this wonderful book the land shares the wisdom we need to work with it, advocate for it, and help others to do the same. Allowing all of us to serve the land that has served us all so well.”—Seth Watkins, Pinhook Farm, Page County Iowa cattleman

“Professor Hamilton skillfully weaves together a narrative of his personal connection to the land with sound policy advice—grounded not only in years of research, but also in his deep experience. His forthright critique of our current approach to issues from soil conservation to water quality is balanced by an essential optimism in the future of our relationship to the land.”—Jerry L. Anderson, Dean and Richard M. and Anita Calkins Distinguished Professor of Law, Drake University Law School

“There is a rhythm to The Land Remains that reminds me of the rhythms embedded deep in the land that Professor Hamilton reverences. I noticed this same rhythm the first time I sat in Professor Hamilton’s food policy class: a pattern of blending midwestern, unpretentious moral sensibilities with an endless intellectual curiosity and new ideas about relationships between people, land, law, and agriculture. These inflections have steadily marked Hamilton’s work over the years and loom large in this personal memoir. They also fuse perfectly with his practical legal and policy recommendations which make the book a substantive read as well as interesting, engaging, and reflective. In short, the book does what Hamilton did for me in the classroom: it invites the reader–to quote a line from a page–‘to stop and think.’”
Michael T. Roberts, Executive Director, University of California, Los Angeles, School of Law Resnick Center for Food Law and Policy

“This book is from the land and for the land. Professor Hamilton lays out the legal underpinnings of property in Iowa, the most cultivated patch on Earth. The law defines how we approach the land, and it can provide the moral rationale for a conservation ethic that can protect world food production threatened by ecological catastrophe. Answers to our most existential problem lies in the Back 40 of an Adams County farm: How do we live with the land?”—Art Cullen, editor of The Storm Lake Times and Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Storm Lake: Change, Resilience, and Hope in America’s Heartland

“The stars aligned just right to tug a farm kid from the fields of Iowa to a degree in economics and forestry at ISU and through law school and a distinguished professorship in agricultural law. His hands-on experience with the land, nature, history, and the law come together in this highly readable and valuable work. It’s ripe with wisdom, and should be well-thumbed, and in a highly visible place on every land owner and policy maker’s desk.”—Robert Leonard, author of Deep Midwest, and radio host KNIA/KRLS

“If this land could talk, ah, the stories it would tell! Neil Hamilton hears the compelling voice of his historic Back 40. He translates its tales into constructive dialogue of how to preserve and protect all Iowa’s priceless land and water resources. A read like no other.”—Pat Boddy, former deputy and interim director of Iowa DNR
“No one is more qualified than Neil Hamilton to teach us about the land and its continuing impact on our lives and our world. From personal experience as an Iowa farm boy, he has a rare and profound understanding of the pleasures and pain of life on the farm, and as a noted scholar and professor of agricultural law, he has a deep knowledge of where we have gone wrong in our stewardship of the land and what we must do to correct these wrongs. Hamilton is not an alarmist but he does a good job of making us understand that the story of the land is our story as well.”—James A. Autry, author of The White Man Who Stayed

“This book will make a major contribution to the discussion of the direction of Iowa’s agriculture.”—Dennis Keeney, first director of the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture

“Neil Hamilton’s book is a love song to the earth, informed by deep family bonds, as well as extensive knowledge of the ecological, agricultural, legal and political nature of the land that sustains us all. There is warning here, but also hope, found in Neil’s portrayal of heroic environmental voices in Iowa’s past and in his inspiring (and practical) advice for those of us who want to make a positive difference today. An essential read for all Iowans—and all Americans.”—John T. Price, author of Man Killed by Pheasant and editor of The Tallgrass Prairie Reader

“A excellent read from cover to cover. The impacts of Midwestern agricultural and environmental policies, woven with the traditions and ideas of the past make this an ideal addition to understanding the Midwest heartland!”—Liz Garst, Farmer and Banker

“Neil Hamilton blends Iowa history, family history, and current farm and land policy into a provocative discussion on the future of land in Iowa and the United States. You may not agree with him on every topic but the narrative features important figures in Iowa and US history, and is worthy of additional reflection by all.”—Leo Landis, Iowa Historian

“Professor Hamilton has a unique background for the subject matter in his book, The Land Remains. He grew up on a farm in Iowa with an outdoor hand pump for a water source. He studied forestry before studying law as it applies to agriculture. He headed up the Drake University Agricultural Law Center. He has lived at the center of the Iowa storm over agricultural practice and water quality. His appreciation of Leopold’s Land Ethic, Lacey’s public lands legislation and Ding Darling’s poignant conservation cartoons are beautifully expressed in The Land Remains. This is a must read for all who care about our Soil, Air, Water, Woods, and Wildlife. His knowledge must be put to use for the benefit of our children and their children.”—Mike Delaney, Conservation Director, Iowa Izaak Walton League

“In The Land Remains Iowa treasure Neil Hamilton is hopeful for the land and the people who care for it. He uses his powerful intellect and extensive experience to articulate ways to address climate change and our other challenges on land and make a more livable and sustainable world for all of us.”—Teresa Opheim, Climate Land Leaders

“Hamilton is a masterful story-teller, weaving history seamlessly into current events and using his personal story to showcase our public interest in caring for the land. Rich historical references bring together the writings of great agriculturalists from the early days of soil conservation with the current writings of the present day. This book is a delightful read that is both entertaining and provocative. His innovative use of the first-person narrative from the “back forty” tract of farm land gives the land its voice and perspective, showcasing the land as life, past present, and future. The Land Remains unique approach combines personal story with in depth analysis, introducing and discussing many of the most important figures in the development of US land and conservation policies and providing powerful lessons regarding soil loss, soil health, and the impact of both on our world—all with the personal touch of the life story of one of the greatest agricultural law leaders of our time.”—Susan A. Schneider, William H. Enfield Professor of Law; Director, LLM Program in Agricultural & Food Law, University of Arkansas School of Law

“This book will give the reader a better understanding of Neil Hamilton’s legacy. His love of life and land. There are so many wonderful references to other prominent conservationists and their writings. The Land Remains is a reminder and an inspiration that we must never give up on our land and conservation efforts.”—Mark C. Ackelson, President Emeritus, Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation

“A keeper for the ‘movement.’”—Wes Jackson, President Emeritus, The Land Institute

“The Land Remains is an engaging exploration of our relationship with land. It tells an honest story of how we have treated our most fundamental natural resource and the author’s efforts to provide it a voice. He literally does so here by personifying land as carrying on through our legal institution of property. Professor Hamilton simultaneously tells his own story as a farm kid, a forestry major, a law professor, a farmer, and an advocate. Part memoir, part legal history, part policy analysis, and part caricature, this book provides a rich understanding of midwestern land and our best hopes for its future. The land is our heritage, our livelihood, and our legacy. As we pass through, the land remains.”—Anthony Schutz Associate Dean for Faculty & Associate Professor of Law, Nebraska College of Law

“The Land Remains gives great insight into the complexity of land tenure in Iowa, past, and present. In addition to sharing his own lineage of cultural memories of farm life in rural Iowa, Hamilton courageously addresses the issues of inequity and past failures of land policy in the Midwest, which can often be an elephant in the room in the field of land conservation in the United States. Rooted in a comprehensive historical context, Hamilton has gifted the reader an invitation to reimagine what the future of land stewardship can look like in the Midwest with a lens that holds a diversity of stakeholders essential. Hamilton boldly encourages readers to unpack the many layers of impacts of settler colonialism and to lean into ways that all Midwesterners can reconcile their relationships to the land that sustains them. Uniquely weaving in narratives from the land itself from his childhood farm, Hamilton unearths the depth of connection that he himself, and those in his lineage have to the fertile fields of the heartland, and tends the possibility of new visions of stewardship of these lands for future generations.”—Rowen White, Mohawk Farmer/Seedkeeper

“If a sign of a good book is that you have to constantly put it down because what you read spurs you to action, then you’ll find this an almost impossible book to finish. Neil Hamilton’s deep and practical knowledge will activate you! Hamilton’s unique ability to persuade us that, for all of ‘modernity,’ humanity remains utterly contingent upon the land and on the ways we interact with it, is a result of who he is. Raised on some of the planet’s best agricultural land, an Iowa farm, Hamilton was educated at an agricultural university but—improbably—emerged a committed environmentalist, became a leading agricultural law expert, advised non-profit organizations and governments from local to federal, and continues to be active in illumined land management and policy as a farmer and elected official. If you doubt that given the existential crises we currently confront as a species—climate change, pandemics, economic inequality and the threat to democracy—you need to spare a moment to think about land management and policy, just give Hamilton the opportunity to demonstrate that land is the keystone we’re all seeking for the arch of harmonious human wellbeing on the planet.”
Ricardo Salvador, Director and Senior Scientist, Food & Environment Program, Union of Concerned Scientists

“What if a parcel of land could speak? What would it tell of its past, present, and future and interactions with the people and institutions which impact it? Neil Hamilton lays this out in an engaging and perceptive manner that requires the reader to stop thinking about the land as just dirt.”
Dr. Cornelia Butler Flora, Charles F. Curtiss Distinguished Professor of Agriculture and Sociology, Iowa State University and Research Professor, Kansas State University

 

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