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Now working in a St. Louis, Mo.-based advertising firm, Gracie Weinzierl is one of the founders of AgBookClub, a social media-centered book club. (Submitted photo)

AgBookClub brings agriculture book lovers together

Laura Wolf and Gracie Weinzierl are farm girls from Missouri and Illinois, respectively, who have both found themselves working in advertising in St. Louis, Mo. The co-workers hatched a plan to keep their fingers on the pulse of agriculture that would also indulge their love of learning and reading. Over the course of months, AgBookClub was born.

The book club functions on social media, Twitter and Facebook specifically, and concentrates monthly on recommended agriculture-themed books.

"There's a ton of really interesting and really diverse books out there either by people in ag who have a context, or by people who don't have that context but have a lot of strong feelings about food, as we all do," Wolf says. "This is our opportunity to give ourselves and our peers the chance to think critically about both sides of that."

The book list the club hopes to tackle is not only diverse but ambitious as they attempt to examine all sides of the story published about agriculture. Previous reads include "Bread, Wine, and Chocolate: The Slow Loss of Foods We Love"; "$2 a Day: Living on Almost Nothing in America"; "The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Dust Bowl"; and "Grocery: The Buying and Selling of Food in America."

Wolf admits she has found something she has disagreed with in portions of nearly all of the books the group has read, and conversations with other book club members always are lively and interesting. The group is built around these discussions, which take place on Twitter each Wednesday at 8 p.m. Central time. Books are broken down into sections to direct the discussions.

"The kind of conversations that come out of reading something that is challenging like that is so valuable," Wolf says. "It gives us a chance to think through where those arguments come from and puts us out there to help us understand the other side or opposite view."

Upcoming books will run a huge gamut from "No More Food Fights: Growing a Productive Farm and Food Conversation," written by Michele Payn, an agriculturist and professional speaker who focuses on ag audiences, to the books penned by Michael Pollan. Members can also recommend titles for consideration.

Wold says the group boasts a variety of members interested in ag subjects including retired merchandisers, agriculture economists, agriculture communications students and others who have ties to agriculture.

The group's first read, "Bread, Wine, and Chocolate: The Slow Loss of Foods We Love," allowed the conversation to revolve around both the members' "intrinsic love of food that translates then to our understanding of production agriculture," says Wolf. Members discussed their feelings about specialty crops in terms of whether they feel the same way about one grower cultivating a certain variety of grapes for a favorite wine versus another grower cultivating a specialty variety of wheat, for example.

In her review, Weinzierl points out that the farmers who grow many of Americans' favorite foods, like cacao or coffee, live well below America's poverty line but desire similar things for their children, namely the education to earn a stable income. This desire, shared by American producers, is echoed in the question of whether consumers will pay more for a product knowing it was produced by a farmer who, in turn, received a fair wage.

Wolf says "Grocery: The Buying and Selling of Food in America" evoked strong feelings for her as she read and discussed the content.

"I was just blown away," she says. "I didn't know I had so many feelings about grocery stores"

The group is currently reading a biography of Norman Borlaug , "The Man Who Fed the World," which explores Borlaug's research, life, and impact on the agriculture industry.

In addition to the recapped discussions, the pair post reading guides and recommendations based on their own experience, plus the weekly group chats.

To access archived chats, search #agbookclub on Twitter, or visit their AgBookClub Facebook page or https://agbookclub.com.