We have seeds pouring in from Johnny’s and Fedco and soil bags stacked high outside of the greenhouse. We are slated to start our onion seeding next week. The warmth of the sugar shack is helping Steph and I wake ourselves up for the farm season. But, oh, there is still time and energy to read! And time and energy to do other things too, like stay up late and make large batches of granola and then write about it!
Joseph is an energetic and enthusiastic employee who is returning to the farm this season as a new Assistant Grower, and he also happens to be a neighbor of mine. We ran into each other on our snow-cluttered city street a few weeks ago and agreed that we should meet to discuss schedules, and perhaps some pre-season reading. Before we met, I had a short list of books and articles in mind that I would suggest to him. All of them were technical. About soil health, weed management, nutrient cycling. This should get him up to speed, as much as can be expected, I thought.
It occurred to me, as we sat together, that Joseph needed to read something that would get him fired up for his return. He needed to reawaken what made him want to rejoin our crew and farm again, to get some momentum going to pull him through the first few weeks of the season.
Though most farmers I know do love to get nerdy about the many small details that come together to make a farm work, that isn’t what draws people to, and then anchors them at, small operations like Land’s Sake. And this goes for farmers and their customers alike. The draws are broader, more general: the hope for better health for ourselves, our families, our communities and the land; the opportunity for deeper connection with an agricultural landscape and the people one might meet there; food access issues and food ethics; the rare opportunity to directly support or interact with a business that creates their product, from start to finish, right there; to participate in production and stewardship; to simply breathe in fresh air and feel some stillness. That bigger picture is what inspires us.
In my own experience, it wasn’t until my body was accustomed to the rhythm (and sometimes pain) of the work, and my eyes became tools of observation, sharpened by familiarity with a place, or a particular crop, that I really started to come into a space where I could read a UMASS Cooperative Extension article and make any useful sense of it. In my first two full seasons as a farmhand, I relied a lot on more philosophical, big-picture readings to pull me through the days of physically and sometimes emotionally hard work that I knew I loved, but did not always understand the why of.
My chat with Joseph, and the reading that I suggested to him, reminded me that maybe it was time to get my own nose out of the more detailed how-to books and websites, and time to dive into reasons-why-we-do-this books to fuel up for spring. There is lots of writing that goes beyond Michael Pollen or Barbara Kingsolver and that is worth checking out if you are passionate about sustainable food issues.
Here are some books that are recent and thought-provoking, my new faves, or that are just easy reads. These books aren’t exclusively about farming—they are about food, food ethics, community, place and/or nature. Click on the links for descriptions from the good people at The Harvard Bookstore, who were kind enough to employ me in the winter of ’08-’09, and who have publisher’s descriptions posted, which are much more graceful than my own would be.
Berry gets his very own section because he is a writer of poetry, agrarian essays, children’s books AND fiction (try Jayber Crow!) and I at the very least really like everything of his that I have read. His philosophical essays can be a bit dense if you read them back to back, but they are well worth checking out if you have the time or inclination. His novels are beautiful, and by reading them, you can get a good idea of what Berry is all about without ever touching his essays. His storytelling is skillful and his tone is gentle.
I just finished reading Hannah Coulter, and it was incredible.
The Dirty Life: On Farming, Food and Love, by Kristin Kimball.
Stuffed and Starved, by Raj Patel. This is the one book on this list I have not read yet, but I’ve had my eye on it for some time. My friend Elizabeth, upon reading this post, said “Stuffed and Starved is one of the most integrated, important food books I have read in years.” I have it on hold at the Boston Public Library right now.
Eating Animals, by Jonathon Safran Foer. I’m not a vegetarian (anymore) because I love meat and now (mostly) eat meat that was humanely raised. I go back and forth on my commitment to eating responsibly and thoughtfully, as has Foer. I was intrigued after hearing Foer in an interview about this book, and I love his fiction, so I had to check it out. Not everyone has access to the sources of humanely raised and healthy meat, or the knowledge of how to acquire it, or even the means to get their hands on it, as it can be quite expensive. Our current industrialized meat production system is what the majority of people rely on for their animal protein, and there are some harsh realities that some along with all of that cheap meat. I can’t say that I absolutely loved everything about this book, but there isn’t much in the way of contemporary (it was published in late 2009, I think), popular writing that addresses these issues in such depth. Worth a read if you question your own meat eating ways.
All Over Creation, by Ruth Ozecki.
The Milagro Beanfield War, by John Nichols
Also, as promised, a super delicious recipe for granola, shared by food writer David Lebovitz on his blog. I made an extra huge batch of it, and we stashed it in three large gallon-sized canning jars to maintain it’s freshness. We have been working our way through it for almost three weeks, still have a lot more to go, and I am still really excited to eat it. Another great thing to make with kids–how cool is it to make your own (shh, don’t tell them it’s pretty healthy) cereal?
Thanks for reading!
Melanie Hardy, Farm Manager, Land’s Sake Farm