Farming A Life

Craig McNamara

(DCI 2018)

Craig McNamara’s DCI experience was a welcome pause in a busy life that allowed him to develop, write and publish his widely acclaimed book, “Because Our Fathers Lied:  A Memoir of Truth and Family, From Vietnam to Today.”  With this task completed he has turned his attention to the environment and farming, his lifelong passions.


Craig McNamara has a unique backstory, even among the DCI Fellows who have widely varied backgrounds. He is the son of Robert McNamara, considered to be the architect of the Vietnam war, a lineage that has profoundly shaped the course of Craig’s life.   He went to Stanford in 1969 already questioning the Vietnam War and his father’s role in that war.  In boarding school his complicated relationship with his father became more remote and the intensity of this generational conflict increased during his year and a half at Stanford, 1969-70.  He dropped out of Stanford mid-way through sophomore year and after failing the military draft physical, mounted a motorcycle and with a friend, headed south to Central and eventually South America.   He started farming at the most basic level, living, and working with subsistence farmers, growing the “Three Sisters”: beans, squash and corn for years.   But his life and world were always viewed through the lens of the Vietnam War and his father.

When you think of the places that you have lived, can anyone match living for a year in a cave off the coast of Chile, on Easter Island while starting a dairy cooperative?   Eventually Craig returned to the US, matriculated to UC Davis, met and married his wife, Julie, started a walnut farm in the central valley and raised a family.  Even in this he was intertwined with, but distant from his father who helped to finance the purchase of the farm.

Craig read about DCI and was excited with the concept and possibilities. He applied, was accepted three times, and declined the first two offers.  Only when told he would not get in if he declined again, he joined the DCI Class of 2018.  He said, “I’ve been accepted at Stanford four times and dropped out three.”   Craig describes the DCI experience as the most amazing educational experience of his life.   He is a lifelong journaler and a book had lived in him that required space and mentoring to bring to the world.  

DCI provided the catalyst and assistance to write his book.  From the first day at DCI, he was engaged and energized by Professor Ehrlich’s “Democracy in Crisis” class where his project was an in-depth series of interviews with Daniel Ellsberg.  Ellsberg is famous for his expose’ of the Vietnam War’s many failings in what came to be known as the Pentagon Papers.  He also took a creative writing course that nurtured and then started the process of book writing.  Craig credits Sarah Frisch and Jack Martinez for their help in his book, resources only available because of DCI.  His only regret is that he didn’t finish the book while his father was alive.  He had hoped that the book would finally open a window of communication and reconciliation between them and resolve at least part of their troubled relationship over the Vietnam War.

The product of his years of writing during and after DCI, his life experiences and journaling is his book, “Why Our Fathers Lied: A Memoir of Truth and Family, From Vietnam to Today.”   This book, published in 2022 is an exploration of the relationship between a famous or perhaps infamous national figure who has come to be reviled and his son.  A son who at the same time was loved and held at arm’s length throughout their shared lives.   In his laudatory review of the book, Washington Post reviewer, Joe Stein stated,

That Craig McNamara has survived, and thrived, and given us this staggering book, is something of a miracle. … 


 “And so a final metaphor: We can tear apart the past, study its entrails, gain a certain understanding of it, but we can’t put it back in proper order. The atrocity can’t be undone.”

Craig feels like he lives the pillars of DCI every day:

Wellness – exercising and doing physical work on his farm

Community – constant communication with members of the DCI community across all cohorts

But Purpose is the area that illuminates his path forward.

Craig McNamara book tour
Craig’s extensive book tour included Politics and Prose Washington DC with author Jane Mayer. Comprehensive coverage of reviews and interviews can be viewed at

Sierra Orchards crew including Craig McNamara
The Sierra Orchards farm crew including Craig and his family.

The present goal for his team on the farm is to receive regenerative organic farming certification.  In this quest he is working to restore the richness of the soil, ensuring that his farm workers are treated fairly and equitably and that the food he produces is of the highest quality.   In addition to the effort on his own farm, Craig is also working with Alice Waters (chef, restaurateur and author), the Alice Waters Institute for Edible Education at UC Davis, the Governor and First Partner of California and the California Secretary of Natural Resources.  Their shared goal is to scale this work to address climate change and to improve the environment across the state of California and eventually the world. 

A purpose path to admire and appreciate.

By Mark Clapper (DCI 2018)

Read more about Craig McNamara and his life journey – War Torn, Stanford Magazine, March 2023.

Profile of Impact: Farming a Life