Bob Quinn is Changing Agriculture Grain By Grain (Book Excerpt & Giveaway!)

The story of American agriculture is being retold by Bob Quinn – leading green businessman, farmer, and researcher. In Grain by Grain, Quinn shares how his first experimentation with growing organic wheat on his family’s farm in Montana developed into a world of exploration. Through regenerative organic farming, Quinn was able to grow fruits and vegetables to provide the people in his hometown with local produce. ”The premise of this book is that economics is not just about what happens in faraway boardrooms or on the floor of the stock market. The real measures of economic health are in the fundamental goods that not only make our lives possible but also make them worth living: thriving communities, meaningful work, healthy land” (pg 11). Grain by Grain sets an example: We don’t have to accept stagnating rural communities, degraded soil, or poor health. Grain by grain, we can grow a healthy future. 

Slow Food USA is teaming up with Bob Quinn and Island Press for a giveaway. Enter to win a copy of Grain by Grain, two products from Kamut International (Quinn’s own wheat company), as well as a piece of Staub cookware. To enter the giveaway, please follow the guidelines on our Instagram. Read on for an excerpt from Grain by Grain, and join us in learning more about how we can make change – one grain at a time.

Grain by Grain: A Quest to Revive Ancient Wheat, Rural Jobs, and Healthy Food 

Chapter 11: Recycling Energy
Pages 144 – 145

The reason American agriculture has gotten away with essentially spending more than it earns is that, particularly since World War II, fossil fuel has been artificially cheap. It’s been subsidized by our government. And it’s been subsidized again by the public, since we get stuck with the consequences of the industry’s unpaid environmental costs. Hence, thanks to the burdens we all bear with our taxes and our bodies, fossil energy has been made to appear inexpensive and abundant, leading to its ubiquitous use in our cars, in our industries, in our consumer products—and on our farms (4). The result is that, for all the claims that American agriculture has been improved and modernized over the course of the past century, our farming systems have actually become less efficient. In 1910, American growers of one of nature’s most energy-efficient crops—corn—produced 5.8 units of energy for every 1 unit they used. By 1983, that ratio had dwindled to just 2.5 (5).

How are American farmers spending all this energy? About one-third of the fossil fuel footprint of contemporary US commodity farms can be chalked up to synthetic nitrogen fertilizer. Another third is due to other inputs: mainly pesticides, but also irrigation—it takes a lot of energy to pump water across thousands of acres of farmland (6). That means two thirds of the energy problem with American agriculture can be solved by converting to organics and minimizing supplementary water. So far, so good, I told myself—these were changes I’d made to my operation.

But what about that last third? The last third of fossil energy consumption on American farms is, by and large, just as prevalent on organic farms as on conventional ones—if not more so. This is the diesel fuel we put in our tractors (7).

Running my farm on diesel didn’t sit well with me. As a wheat grower, I’d worked hard to get off the commodity treadmill and control more of my own destiny. That’s why I’d started the grain business and gone organic—so I could control my input costs and take my crop to market myself, for a price I thought was fair. But so long as I relied on fossil fuel supplied by cartels, my profit margins were still at the mercy of global commodity prices. My farm’s dependence on fossil fuels also cut into the other values I was trying to add: environmental regeneration and social benefit. I didn’t see much of that in the way multinational petroleum corporations did business. There had to be a better way.



  1. International Panel of Experts on Sustainable Food Systems (IPES-Food), “From Uniformity to Diversity: A Paradigm Shift from Industrial Agriculture to Diversified Agroecological Systems,” June 2016,
  2. D. Pimentel and W. Dazhong, “Technological Changes in Energy Use in U.S. Agricultural Production,” in Agroecology, ed. C. R. Carroll, J. H. Vandermeer, and P. Rosset (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1990).
  3. Pimentel, “Impacts of Organic Farming,” p. 1.
  4. Pimentel, “Impacts of Organic Farming,” p. 1.

The Innovative Farmer

Biodiversity Matters, Climate Change, Dig into Farms
July 21, 2019, 10:00 am - 11:30 am

Farmers face growing pressures between climate change, economic challenges and shifting public demands. To be successful amidst these challenges, farmers need to draw on traditional methods as well as exploring innovative ways to create successful and unique approaches that spark resilience, excitement and growth.In this discussion, we hear directly from farmers about how they are […]

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