Plowed Under

Agriculture and Environment in the Palouse

Andrew P. Duffin
Foreword by William Cronon

  • Published: 2007. Paperback 2010
  • Subject Listing: History / Western History; Environmental Studies
  • Bibliographic information: 272 pp., 21 illus., 6 x 9 in.
  • Territorial rights: World Rights
  • Series: Weyerhaeuser Environmental Books
  • Contents

In Plowed Under, Andrew P. Duffin traces the transformation of the Palouse region of Washington and Idaho from land thought unusable and unproductive to a wealth-generating agricultural paradise, weighing the consequences of what this progress has wrought. During the twentieth century, the Palouse became synonymous with wheat, and the landscape was irrevocably altered. At the dawn of the twenty-first century, native vegetation is almost nonexistent, stream water is so dirty that it is often unfit for even livestock, and 94 percent of all land has been converted to agriculture.

Commercial agriculture also created a less noticeable ecological change: soil erosion. While common to industrial agriculture nationwide, topsoil loss evoked different political and social reactions in the Palouse. Farmers all over the nation take pride in their freedom and independence, but in the Palouse, Duffin shows, this mentality - a remnant of an older agrarian past - has been taken to the extreme and is partly responsible for erosion problems that are among the worst in the nation.

In the hope of charting a better, more sustainable future, Duffin argues for a candid look at the land, its people, their decisions, and the repercussions of those decisions. As he notes, the debate is not over whether to use the land, but over what that use will look like and its social and ecological results.
Andrew P. Duffin is assistant professor of history at Western Kentucky University in Bowling Green.

"The Palouse country is incredibly beautiful. How the precious soil of this region has been used and much abused offers insight into the politics of conservation, not just on a state or regional level but on a national level as well."
-Carlos Schwantes, University of Missouri-St. Louis

"Duffin convincingly illuminates the economic, political, and cultural forces driving Palouse farmers down a destructive path even when the evidence clearly indicated that a course change was needed. His story offers lessons for every significant environmental challenge we face, from soil erosion all the way to global warming. If we wish to achieve the vaunted goal of sustainability we must understand the complex forces that drive unsustainable behavior."
-Paul Hirt, Arizona State University

"If our goal is to imagine where food will come from for the grandchildren of our grandchildren, then the paradoxical mix of private rights and public subsidies that have supported erosive soil practices on Palouse farms seems especially instructive. For just this reason, Plowed Under deserves to be read even by those who have never visited the curious hill country lying north of the Snake River in eastern Washington and western Idaho."
-William Cronon, from the Foreword

Foreword: The Wind's Gift of Wheat by William Cronon
1. Introduction: A Place Called the Palouse
2. The Precontact Palouse
3. From Bunchgrass Backwater to Agricultural Empire
4. The Implications of Prosperity
5. Lessons Learned and Unlearned
6. Better Farming through Chemistry
7. Lessons Neglected and Rejected
8. A Glimmer of Hope?
Selected Bibliography

"Duffin crafts an original narrative thematically focused on agricultural sustainability . . . . Ultimately, rather than presenting a polemic or prescriptive conclusion, Duffin reconstructs a usable past intended to foster present dialogue about environmental ethics and sustainable resource extraction."
-Western Historical Quarterly

"[Duffin's] continued presence and research into our agricultural legacy, I believe, could do much to raise our awareness not only of our rich history and contribution to the world food supply, but also of the marvelous resource that we continue to squander."
-Washington State Monthly

"Andrew Duffin has provided us with an excellent study of agriculture in one of the nation's most productive farming areas. He deftly includes perspectives from farmers and scientists, and his discussions of innovative farming practices are both informative and accessible to general readers. Specialists in agricultural history and environmental history will glean much from this book."
-Columbia: The Magazine of Northwest History

"A clearly written, extensively researched, and cogently argued story about exploitation of the land for more than a century. This is not a study about whether the Palouse should be used for agriculture, because it will be farmed well into the future, but rather a historical analysis that ultimately leads to the present and can help policy makers, environmental interest groups, and farmers make informed decisions about future land use in the Palouse. . . . This excellent study of agriculture in the Palouse merits the attention of anyone interested in agricultural history and the Pacific Northwest. It is an essential read."
-Oregon Historical Quarterly

"Duffin's frank environmental evaluation not only studies wheat production in this one region, but also presents the Palouse as a microcosm of the evolution and consequences of modern American agriculture."
-Pacific Northwest Quarterly

"Plowed Under. . . offers one of the more even-handed surveys of American agriculture and the environment available."
-Business History Review

"This is a very good book. Duffin writes well, and he uses his sources. . . to provide a clear picture of his characters. Perhaps the most valuable aspect of his book, to this reader, is that Duffin engages a broad range of topics. . . and he repeatedly sets the regional experience in a national context. His readers should leave the book understanding how ideology, economics, and politics have hindered healthy agricultural practices over the past century."
-Montana: The Magazine of Western History

"Finally, in Andrew Duffin's book, Plowed Under, we have an authoritative history of this unique environment called the Palouse. . . . Duffin's book is the one to read for those who want to understand why the Palouse is what it is."
-Lewiston Morning Tribune

"This volume is a notable contribution to the history, present status and prospect for the future not only for the Palouse but of many other agricultural areas in the United States as well. . . . Duffin presents his readers with a serious, upright and easy-to-understand account of what is arguably the most significant aspect of all our lives- the ability to put food on the table."
-Daily News, Bowling Green, Kentucky

"Duffin presents an engaging history of a lesser known US farming region. . . . His carefully developed narrative provides a brief introduction to the geographic eccentricities of the region, and a detailed look at 19th century, early 20th century, and post-war developments. Recommended."

"Andrew Duffin's history of the region's land and agriculture is wide-ranging, balanced, and very satisfying. . . . This is an engaging work of environmental history that deserves a wide readership, and not only in the Palouse."