Turn Here Sweet Corn

Turn Here Sweet Corn Cover Image

Turn Here Sweet Corn:
Organic Farming Works

by Atina Diffley

344 pages · 1 b&w illustration · 5 b&w photos · 29 color photos

Published by University of Minnesota Press

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UMP A (neg-block) [Converted] red 300ppiA MASTER CLASS IN ORGANIC FARMING, a Lesson in Entrepreneurship, a Love Story, and a Legal Thriller.

In telling her story of working the land, Atina Diffley reminds us that we live in relationships—with the earth, plants and animals, families and communities. A memoir of making these essential relationships work in the face of challenges from weather to corporate politics, this is a firsthand history of getting in at the “ground level” of organic farming.

When the hail starts to fall, Atina Diffley doesn’t compare it to golf balls. She’s a farmer. It’s “as big as a B-size potato.” As her bombarded land turns white, she and her husband Martin huddle under a blanket and reminisce: the one-hundred-mile-per-hour winds; the eleven-inch rainfall (“that broccoli turned out gorgeous”); the hail disaster of 1977. The romance of farming washed away a long time ago, but the love? Never. In telling her story of working the land, coaxing good food from the fertile soil, Atina Diffley reminds us of an ultimate truth: we live in relationships—with the earth, plants and animals, families and communities.

A memoir of making these essential relationships work in the face of challenges as natural as weather and as unnatural as corporate politics, her book is a firsthand history of getting in at the “ground level” of organic farming. One of the first certified organic produce farms in the Midwest, the Diffleys’ Gardens of Eagan helped to usher in a new kind of green revolution in the heart of America’s farmland, supplying their roadside stand and a growing number of local food co-ops. This is a story of a world transformed—and reclaimed—one square acre at a time.

And yet, after surviving punishing storms and the devastating loss of fifth-generation Diffley family land to suburban development, the Diffleys faced the ultimate challenge: the threat of eminent domain for a crude oil pipeline proposed by one of the largest privately owned companies in the world, notorious polluters Koch Industries. As Atina Diffley tells her David-versus-Goliath tale, she gives readers everything from expert instruction in organic farming to an entrepreneur’s manual on how to grow a business to a legal thriller about battling corporate arrogance to a love story about a single mother falling for a good, big-hearted man.


  1. Cold, Hard Water
  2. My Name Is Tina
  3. It’s Not Here
  4. The Other Has My Heart
  5. Forward through Fire
  6. Past in the Present
  7. Spring’s Fault, 1985
  8. Songbirds Nesting
  9. Ancient Need
  10. Rock and Bird
  11. Health Is True Wealth
  12. Drought of ’88
  13. Endangered Species
  14. Nomads
  15. As-If-It-Never-Existed
  16. What to Hold on To
  17. Subsoil Is the Mineral Base
  18. Eureka
  19. If Soil Is Virgin
  20. Maison Diffley
  21. Spring Covenant, 1994
  22. Fertile Ground
  23. The Difference
  24. The Real World of Fresh Produce
  25. Living in the Relative Present
  26. Looking to the Future
  27. Kale versus Koch
  28. Definitely Not Fungible
  29. Soil versus Oil
  30. Organic Integrity
  31. Hail Thaws into Life
  32. Normal Process
  33. Postscript
  34. Gratitude

What readers are saying…

“As Malena and I sat in bed, listening to the first thwaks of what would end up being a full 20 minutes of hail, all I could think of was the first chapter of your book. This morning began with the phrase, ‘Things are going to bounce back fine… these plants WANT to live.’ Much Love.” — Michale Jacobs, Easy Bean Farm

“Your book is so thrilling!!!  I can’t stop turning the pages.  Seriously.  You rock.  Write more, please!” — Katherine Plowman

This is one of the best books I’ve read in a long time. It was given to me as a gift, I’m not sure if i would have read it otherwise. My first thought was, ‘Farming? Why would I read a book about farming?’ I have no interest in farming, my family had a very small garden growing up, but that was about it. This book isn’t just for farmers or people interested in farming/gardening practices. Atina is a great writer! The writing in this book is absolutely incredible. The story is very touching and inspiring. –Kayleen E. Ausen

Atina Diffley’s memoir “Turn Here Sweet Corn” is a great, absorbing read, even for those of us who cannot grow anything and do not worry about pesticides. It’s a classic tale of the little guy fighting the big corporation and of people working hard all their lives only to face the loss of their livelihood. There’s a sweet love story in there, too. Star Tribune Staff

Loved it! I have read many books over the years from the male farmer perspective, i.e. Berry, Jackson, Coleman – your book blows them away, particularly because of the memoir voice – emotional and real. The story of losing the Diffley ground was riveting, the pipeline story is incredible. I really like how you let the earth spirit shine, but always shifted it into a practical voice. This was really my experience farming, especially because I was grounded in so many biodynamic principles and ideas. The onions need hoeing, time to stop the revery. Thanks so much Atina. Inspired, Parker Forsell, Farm Beginnings, Land Stewardship Project

A pair of feisty, dedicated farmers staring down one of the world’s largest companies—and getting Goliath to blink first! This must-read, legal-thriller memoir tells the story of the pipeline case between Koch Industries and Diffley’s Gardens of Eagan Organic Farm. How did a little organic farm succeed in court against Koch? With the support of thousands of informed citizens, expert witnesses, and an organic system plan. Koch had more money, but the farm had the people. By offering a look inside her own experience, and often her own heart, Diffley creates a multifaceted, powerful, and compelling memoir about trying to live organically. — Elizabeth Millard

I have to say that I wasn’t overly excited to crack the cover–my mom had given me it as a gift and I was expecting it to be, I don’t know.. overly romanticizing farm life? Pushy about “pure” organics? (And trust me, I’m a sympathizer!) But as soon as I started reading it I was struck by the sincerity of your words and the deep personal connection I felt to your story. Needless to say, I was either laughing or sobbing (bordering on hysteria) through most of it (maybe it was the hormones!).

I grew up in Bloomington, at a time when the very destruction you detail in your book was in full swing–in fact, a month before I was born my parents moved into a brand new house in a new development in a cul de sac much like the one that replaced your farm. Now, 25 years later, after having fled the “horrors” of suburbia, I find myself moving back to the suburbs (Apple Valley–long story) where those developments are a quarter of a century old.

The soil in our yard is foreign and covered in non native grass, the trees too young.. but I feel somehow it’s a beautiful homecoming for me, and a chance at a new beginning for both myself as I reconnect with and renourish the land that I feel responsible for destroying, as well as the generation that I am bringing into the world. After reading your book, I feel like maybe some of the damage that was done during my parents and my generations can be undone throughout the next… You inspired real hope in an organic future and a motivation for stewardship of the land that I had never felt so strongly. — Margaret

“Your book, Turn Here Sweet Corn, has been truly inspirational to me. By reading your book I have found a way to turn my graduate studies around from a place that I had lost heart to a consolidation and bridge into a new professional field. I am planning to complete my Masters in Library & Information Science and I hope to incorporate my information knowledge into the agriculture/extension field.” — Tina Speilmann

“I want to let you know that your book has given me a much more alive and precious vision and image of SOIL.”

“It is truly a masterpiece—such an amazing read. I learned so much about organic farming, and your talent for interweaving your personal stories with your life’s work in farming is extraordinary. You are a gifted writer who has written a truly American story of the land that will live on for generations.” — Patty Dowd Schmitz

“Just finished your book. Feeling dazed—so much to share. Short: I want to buy multiple copies, perhaps 50 to start, to give them away here in southern Ohio.” — Yiscah Bracha

“Your memoir has touched my heart..and my soul.  Truly a day has not passed since I began reading it where I did not think of you, the land, our environment and my connection to it all.” — Teresa Sterns

“I’m so stoked! Oh my gosh. What an important piece of work! I’ve already purchased four copies and sent them to people I call “mavens”. The kind of folks that know all sorts of people and pass along good information.” –Julie Walker

“Whew. I’ve laughed and cried my way through this book. Atina was so brave to write about her personal life so honestly and openly. I totally appreciate what she has done for the organic farming world in publishing this book.”

“I think perhaps the best way to describe Turn Here Sweet Corn is to consider it in terms of a wind—a wind with all the power to knock you over and, at the same time, caress you with warmth. Everyone should experience this book; the writing will blow you away.” – Jay Gilbertson

“If you want to read an amazing story with an amazing and compelling message – read this! It juxtaposes conventional agriculture with organic and exposes just how ridiculously wrong our current food system is. The great thing is, there is no preaching, just recounting a farming history and it becomes obvious. I love the reverence this author has for food and how it grows.” Sharon


Atina Diffley is the neighbor we didn’t know we had! Her new book, Turn Here Sweet Corn, is heart-felt, heart-warming, heart-stopping, and in the end heart-soaring! Her story of the challenges and rewards of organic farming at Gardens of Eagan is full of places and people we know, Wisconsin and Minnesota landscapes we’ve lived in and traveled through, and friends we’ve met along the way. That said, whether you’re from the upper Midwest, New England, California, or someplace in between, you’ll love Turn Here Sweet Corn! Ms. Diffley is clearly a poet speaking from her heart and yet she has a steel backbone when it comes to meeting the challenges of nature, changing land use, and encroachment by the world’s most notorious polluters, Koch Industries.

What strikes me most about this amazing memoir is that for those of us who aren’t farmers but who are versant in such issues as organics, soil building, diversity, GMOs, certification and more—it is utterly different to hear how the farmer herself grapples with them in her daily life. Unlike reading about the same issues in an article, it’s immediate, powerful, tender, heartbreaking and above all, encouraging. -- Deborah Madison, author of Local Flavors, Cooking and Eating from America’s Farmers Markets

This book is wonderful on so many levels: the swift moving and dramatic story of Atina and Martin Diffley, the farmers of Gardens of Eagan, as they confront wild weather, development pressure, and pipelines. The transformation of Tina into Atina, from confused teenager to strong, passionate, and committed leader in organic agriculture. A powerful argument for organic farming and a must read for anyone thinking of farming—a vivid and realistic picture of the beauties, satisfactions, and stresses of farming as a way of life. And finally, a vision of hope for the future: blending intuitive faith in our oneness with Nature, the most advanced biological science, and the power of community. — Elizabeth Henderson, author of Sharing The Harvest: A Citizen's Guide to Community Supported Agriculture

Turn Here Sweet Corn is an unexpected page-turner. Atina Diffley’s compelling account of her life as a Minnesota organic farmer is deeply moving not only from a personal standpoint but also from the political. Diffley reveals the evident difficulties of small-scale organic farming but is inspirational about its value to people and the planet. — Marion Nestle, author of What to Eat

One family's quest to build, maintain and protect their organic farm. "When people ask what I most cherish about farming, what comes is the depth of intimacy--with plants and nature, with coworkers in the field and at the stand, with produce buyers and customers," writes Diffley, an organic vegetable farmer who founded, with her husband, the consulting business Organic Farming Works. Beginning with her work on her family's farm, the author expresses a love for the soil and all that grows in it; she knows in her heart she is, and always will be, a farmer. She did a stint as a migrant farmer before settling down with her husband, raising children and creating an organic farm of their own. The journey has been rewarding but rarely easy or without complications. Diffley expresses the heartbreak and anguish of losing land to development and fighting to keep her Minnesota farm, Gardens of Eagan, from being overrun by a pipeline. She explains the importance of seeds, their roots and cultivating the soil to best nurture them. "I still think God can be in the form of raindrops, and it is fascinating to me that I can pray for or curse the same drops," she writes, expressing the terror and benefits of a single storm. Through it all, the support of other organic farmers, neighbors and the people and co-ops that relied on her harvests kept Diffley and her family going and growing. An education on organic farming and its importance, as well as a heartfelt love letter to the land. -- Kirkus Reviews

. . . Throughout the memoir, even in the midst of hailstorms, droughts, and a killer lawsuit, Diffley possesses a blend of strength, faith, and ferocious passion. She's not afraid to articulate the pain and frustration that can come with farming. She holds on to her dedication by a thin, wispy thread that seems to fray at the worst moments but, thankfully, never breaks. She believes in a spiritual connection to the soil and in a food system that has the power to bring community together. By offering a look inside her own experience, and often her own heart, Diffley creates a multifaceted, powerful, and compelling memoir about trying to live organically.... read more     Elizabeth Millard -February 29, 2012