Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Gaining Ground

I ran into my friend Forrest again at tonight's Eat Local First Week kickoff event. It reminded me that I have yet to write a proper review of his wonderful book, which I devoured over two months ago. And I call myself a friend... And a lover of good writing... Here it is (na endlich!):

"[My father] looked at me as though I had just told him I wanted to push helpless old ladies down long flights of stairs."

A handful of pages into Chapter One, Forrest describes the day he told his parents he wanted to quit his teacher training and become a farmer. "Farming? Are you kidding me? You don't even know how to grow a turnip!" He could well have described my own dad's reaction the day I told my own parents I was going to bike around the country by myself. ("Biking? Around the country? But why? You don't even ride a bike!") It is one of a number of instances with which I suspect many of his readers (and if you are not yet one of these readers, you should be) can identify. It is a book written for dreamers and doers alike, a story of passion and determination and deep love for land and family.

I can't help but laugh out loud at the hilarious turns of phrase throughout, the way this up-and-coming author finds humor and chooses to learn from things that could easily make a lesser man (or woman) throw in the towel. Freshly repaired fences knocked down by 1500-pound cattle again? "I can honestly credit cow butts for helping me to become the carpenter that I am today." Time and again, the newbie farmer gets knocked down and gets up again, wiser each time, and now it's been about 17 years since he went into farming -- still a young farmer by many standards, but a good one and among the most eloquent and thoughtful ones I know.

So much of what I love about this book is the way that anyone -- no matter what their background -- can identify with moments of frustration at ridiculous situations (such as the early attempts at constructing and moving chicken tractors or building cow fences) as well as those moments of giddiness at small but important victories (a slow and steadily growing customer base, financial solvency at last). Lord knows his recounting of the abysmal early days at farmers' markets is encouraging for me amid the slowly growing Suitland market that is absorbing more than its fair share of my waking (and supposedly sleeping) hours. If we pay attention and put our hearts into it and work hard, things will fall into place. Despite many bittersweet moments along the way, Forrest tale of reclaiming the family farm has a happy ending. It gives me hope for what many of my other friends venturing into rural and urban sustainable farming are trying to do: fix our food system one farm, one community, at a time.

At the end of his book, as at the end of his presentation at tonight's Eat Local First event, Forrest gives us hope for the next generation of farmers, if we are brave and determined enough to show them that farming can be a noble and viable profession: "Potential. Respect. The sweet simplicity of toil, the satisfaction of working in harmony with the land. Bounty, and the grateful reward of harvest. These phenomena are both timeless and contemporary, deeply and constantly present. Over the course of a lifetime, farmers grow straight out of the soil, wizening into abstractions of their former selves[...] Somewhere, another farm awaits its farmer."

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