The Grapes of Wrath Is Mostly Farming Gripes–Hardly Any Grapes

The Grapes of Wrath is not the viticulture guide you’d expect. It certainly has nothing to do with grape culture in Cape Wrath, Scotland. Furthermore, the few mentions of grapes leave the reader wondering whether Mr. Steinbeck means bunch grapes, wine grapes, muscadines, scuppernongs, or some other minor Vitis species. This is a somewhat baffling oversight considering that, in all other respects, the author describes scenes and dialog in marvelous detail, producing a tome of over 550 pages. 

Though the title is a misnomer, the book itself isn’t without agricultural merit and  provides a practical method to make farmland profitable. The steps are as follow: 1) work as a higher-up in a big bank 2) provide loans to farmers for basic farming supplies and equipment, with farms put up as collateral 3) wait for a farm crisis, like the Dust Bowl, to cause farmers to default on loans 4) foreclose on farms, forcing small farmers off the land 5) sell bank-owned farmland to bigger farmers 6) reap the profit and wait for the next farm crisis to repeat. 

Succeed at separating enough families from the land, and you can cause a mass migration of desperate, displaced people who can be further exploited for cheap labor in other locales (at least if they don’t starve to death first). Though this book was first published in 1939, the scheme is pretty much still doable, hence the large population of migrant workers used to harvest fruit crops today, most of whom are exempt from minimum wage laws because they’re paid piecewise for the backbreaking opportunity to pick America’s fruit.

Admittedly, to get to the juicy parts about farming philosophy, you’ll have to wade through a lot of fluff about the Joad family, many of whom–spoiler alert!– die pitiful deaths. In fact, the book paints a pretty dismal picture for your average displaced farm laborer and small family farmer. Thus, for a more upbeat and optimistic farming read, I suggest Snail Farming for Profit by Anton Smithers.