In the tradition of Wendell Berry, a young writer wrestles with what we owe the places we’ve left behind.
In the tiny farm town of Emmett, Idaho, there are two kinds of people: those who leave and those who stay. Those who leave go in search of greener pastures, better jobs, and college. Those who stay are left to contend with thinning communities, punishing government farm policy, and environmental decay.
Grace Olmstead, now a journalist in Washington, DC, is one who left, and in Uprooted, she examines the heartbreaking consequences of uprooting — for Emmett, and for the greater heartland America. Part memoir, part journalistic investigation, Uprooted wrestles with the questions of what we owe the places we come from and what we are willing to sacrifice for profit and progress.
As part of her own quest to decide whether or not to return to her roots, Olmstead revisits the stories of those who, like her great-grandparents and grandparents, made Emmett a strong community and her childhood idyllic. She looks at the stark realities of farming life today, identifying the government policies and big agriculture practices that make it almost impossible for such towns to survive. And she explores the ranks of Emmett’s newcomers and what growth means for the area’s farming tradition. Avoiding both sentimental devotion to the past and blind faith in progress, Olmstead uncovers ways modern life attacks all of our roots, both metaphorical and literal. She brings listeners face to face with the damage and brain drain left in the wake of our pursuit of self-improvement, economic opportunity, and so-called growth.
Ultimately, she comes to an uneasy conclusion for herself: One can cultivate habits and practices that promote rootedness wherever one may be, but: Some things, once lost, cannot be recovered.