Monday, June 13, 2011

Ever long for the farming life?

Growing a Farmer: How I Learned to Live Off the LandGrowing a Farmer: How I Learned to Live Off the Land by Kurt Timmermeister

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book is Timmermeister's account of his transition from a restauranteur who kind of plays around with producing his own food to a full-fledged, leaning-toward-self-sufficient farmer. He purposefully attempts to de-romanticize his story, even though it is clear that he began his journey as a starry-eyed city guy longing for the slower, stress-free bucolic life.

Timmermeister takes a practical, rather than ideological approach to food. He likes good food, and generally that means as fresh as possible, with as few additives as possible. He also aims to make his farm as self-sufficient, although he is not attempting to live off the grid, and he frequently buys baby animals and brings them onto the farm. He mentions that while he would rather have organic hay for his animals, for example, there is only one guy who will deliver hay to the island where he lives. It isn't organic hay, so he makes do with that and doesn't worry about it too much.

The pressure of finance is a constant presence in this book; it isn't cheap to keep even a small farm, and the author directly addresses that several times throughout the book. I appreciated that because when I am reading memoirs of city folk who give up their successful city jobs to go raise goats in the country or make cheese or whatever, that is always the question in my mind: how can they afford to do that???? Do they have some financial guardian angel waiting in the wings that never gets mentioned in the book? By the end of the book, it is unclear to the reader whether the farm actually does turn a profit, even after 20 years. It seems unclear to Timmermeister as well, or perhaps it's just that he's reluctant to make the full accounting that would show him the financial fitness of his operation in a definitive way.

The book is not quite a memoir, because the reader doesn't get a real sense of Timmermeister's personality. He explains the logic behind many of his decisions about his property and his philosophy on food, but the reader doesn't get a sense of Timmermeister as a human being. We do get a bit of the chronology of the development of his farm, but it's not exactly a memoir of the farm, either. He seems to be writing the book to an audience of neophyte farmers like himself 20 years ago. He explains a lot of his early farming mistakes and gives little tidbits of advice about how to avoid similar predicaments. The book isn't exactly a how-to, either, but I think it is closer to that than a memoir. I enjoyed reading this book, although I wished that he had explained a little more about cheese-making and less about slaughtering and butchering pigs (there is a whole chapter devoted to this topic). Overall, though, very interesting.

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