Empty Fields, Empty Promises

A State-by-State Guide to Understanding and Transforming the Right to Farm

By Loka Ashwood, Aimee Imlay, Lindsay Kuehn, Allen Franco, Danielle Diamond

304 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 8 graphs, 60 tables, appends., notes

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-1-4696-7459-9
    Published: September 2023
  • Hardcover ISBN: 978-1-4696-7458-2
    Published: September 2023
  • E-book EPUB ISBN: 978-1-4696-7460-5
    Published: September 2023

Rural Studies Series

Buy this Book

For Professors:
Free E-Exam Copies

To purchase online via an independent bookstore, visit Bookshop.org
The right to farm is essential to everyone's survival. Since the late 1970s, states across the nation have adopted so-called right-to-farm laws to limit nuisance suits loosely related to agriculture. But since their adoption, there has yet to be a comprehensive analysis of what these laws do and who they benefit. This book offers the first national analysis and guide to these laws. It reveals that they generally benefit the largest operators, like processing plants, while traditional farmers benefit the least. Disfavored most of all are those seeking to defend their homes and environment against multinational corporations that use right-to-farm laws to strip neighboring owners of their property rights. Through what the book calls the "midburden," right-to-farm laws dispossess the many in favor of the few, paving the path to rural poverty.

Empty Fields, Empty Promises summarizes every state's right-to-farm laws to help readers track and navigate their local and regional legal landscape. The book concludes by offering paths forward for a more distributed and democratic agrifood system that achieves agricultural, rural, and environmental justice.

About the Authors

Loka Ashwood is associate professor of sociology at the University of Kentucky.
For more information about Loka Ashwood, visit the Author Page.

Aimee Imlay is assistant professor of sociology at Mississippi State University.
For more information about Aimee Imlay, visit the Author Page.

Lindsay Kuehn is a public defender in Ramsey County, Minnesota, and a staff attorney with the Farmers' Legal Action Group.
For more information about Lindsay Kuehn, visit the Author Page.

Allen Franco is an assistant federal public defender for the districts of Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Rhode Island.
For more information about Allen Franco, visit the Author Page.

Danielle Diamond is a visiting fellow at the Brooks McCormick Jr. Animal Law and Policy Program at Harvard Law School.
For more information about Danielle Diamond, visit the Author Page.


"Empty Fields, Empty Promises challenges the popular notion that right-to-farm' laws benefit family-sized farming operations and protect their livelihoods. This innovative and thoughtful book makes an important contribution to the ongoing debate surrounding the efficacy of these laws and the impact they have on rural communities and family-sized farming operations."—Susan Schneider, University of Arkansas

"While there is a dearth of material on agricultural law in general, no book tackles the complexities of right-to-farm laws in as much detail as this book. The authors provide a thorough analysis of the laws themselves and the intent behind them, as well as how these laws contribute to a variety of larger political projects. An essential contribution."—Rick Welsh, Syracuse University