Sept. 26, 2023
A nonfiction deep dive into rice farming may not sound like a page turner. But Ia’s story has real suspense to it, her farm constantly teetering on the edge of inviability. Her Hmong ancestors, pushed out of the Chinese lowlands by imperial Han armies, carved ribbons of farmland out of the sides of mountains. Now, in the 20th-century American West, she is playing a game of chicken with climate change, depleting precious groundwater reserves to replicate the world she had left behind.
Small-scale rice farming has no future in the San Joaquin Valley, and Ia’s children know it; they find work indoors, at Walmart or the Gap. Hamilton makes clear the rising costs of their mother’s enterprise, following grandmothers and grandfathers as they creep around, pulling weeds in their cardigans and floppy hats in 107-degree heat. It is no exaggeration to say that farming could kill them.