MTPR

Lentil Underground

Sep 14, 2017

Lentil Underground has been selected as the University of Montana 2017 Griz Read. For more information about the program and Liz Carlisle's lecture on September 21, 2017, please visit the University of Montana website here.

Forty years ago, corporate agribusiness launched a campaign to push small grain farmers to modernize or perish, or as Nixon Administration Secretary of Agriculture Earl Butz put it, to “get big or get out. But twenty-seven year-old David Oien decided to take a stand. When he dropped out of grad school to return to his family’s 280 acre farm, Oien became the first in his conservative Montana county to seed his fields with a radically different crop: organic lentils.  

A cheap, healthy source of protein, rich in fiber, folate, Vitamin B1, and amino acids, lentils are drought tolerant and don’t require irrigation.  And unlike the chemically dependent grains American farmers had been told to grow, lentils make their own fertilizer and tolerate variable climate conditions, so their farmers aren’t beholden to industrial methods. Today, David Oien leads a thriving movement of organic farmers who work with heirloom seeds and biologically diverse farm systems. Under the brand Timeless Natural Food, this “lentil underground” has grown into a million dollar enterprise that sells to hundreds of independent natural foods stores, and a host of renowned restaurants.

Set in the farm belt of red state America, far from the farmer’s markets and haute cuisine of coastal cities, Lentil Underground: Renegade Farmers and the Future of Food in America confronts the global food system in one of the little known rural communities that will determine its fate. From the heart of Big Sky Country comes this inspiring story of a handful of colorful pioneers who have successfully bucked the chemically-based food chain and the entrenched power of agribusiness’s one percent, by stubbornly banding together. Unearthing the deep roots of this movement,  "Lentil Underground"  introduces readers to a memorable cast of characters, from gun-toting libertarians and Christian homesteaders to peace-sign-waving environmental activists.  Journalist and native Montanan Liz Carlisle weaves an eye-opening and richly reported narrative that will be welcomed by readers of food and farm memoirs, as well as everyone concerned with the future of American agriculture and natural food in an increasingly uncertain world.

A link to the Lentil Song on YouTube.

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Liz Carlisle
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About the Author:

Liz Carlisle is a Lecturer in the School of Earth, Energy, and Environmental Sciences at Stanford University, where she teaches courses on food and agriculture, sustainability transition, and environmental communication.  She holds a Ph.D. in Geography from UC Berkeley and a B.A. in Folklore and Mythology from Harvard University, and she formerly served as Legislative Correspondent for Agriculture and Natural Resources in the Office of U.S. Senator Jon Tester.  Recognized for her academic writing with the Elsevier Atlas Award, which honors research with social impact, Liz has also published numerous pieces for general audience readers, in the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Business Insider, and Stanford Social Innovation Review.  Recently, she is the author of the book Lentil Underground, which chronicles the sustainable agriculture movement in her home state of Montana.