Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Book Review: Gaining Ground

Gaining Ground: A Story of Farmers' Markets, Local Food, and Saving the Family Farm 

by Forrest Pritchard

I love this farmer memoir because it's funny, accessible, and deeply touching. Forrest Pritchard writes directly from his heart, and the resulting chapters move from amusing to hilarious, heart-warming to heart-breaking, finally culminating in both triumph and tragedy. It's not just a good model for our food system, it's simply an amazing read!

Forrest Pritchard is a farmboy at heart, as evident by his childhood memories of chickens, cows, pigs, crop fields and gardens—though not always all at once; his parents maintained full time jobs off the farm while continually starting various projects at home in an attempt to keep the family farm going. Upon graduation, Pritchard quickly sets his sights on staying on the family land and saving the farm from its steady decline into debt and failure, much to the chagrin of his dad, who had hoped his son would use his college education to get a stable job and 'better life'. The resulting adventures that follow Pritchard's new found dedication to the farm are woven into this page-turning book. Pritchard generously shares his foibles right along with his victories, and doesn't mind looking for the humor in his mistakes. All the of the great moments in the book are wonderfully enhanced by his writing style; he's a gifted writer with an English degree, and that shows.

Though he is light-hearted and humble, the bottom line is, his critical eye of the current farming system that surrounds him leads him to make risky and courageous changes. While farmers around him stick with the status quo--often out of desperation, more often out of a lack of knowing things could be different--Pritchard goes out on a limb to make the changes he thinks make more sense. He begins to analyze the ways that farming could be kept simpler, to better care for our now and our later. The changes he dives into can be very difficult (and yet sometimes so very simple), and at times costly, but Pritchard keeps the long vision in his mind as he works out a plan to create the farm of his dreams. The farm of his dreams slowly takes shape as a sustainable, healthy place, providing food to many different farmer's markets. The work is still very hard, but to Pritchard the hard work is meaningful, rather than a constant struggle to stay ahead. Pritchard's clear-headed bravery had me hooked, as I turned page after page to see how he would transform the family farm into an organic, grass-fed livestock operation. We need lots more Forrest Pritchards in order to heal our land and move forward in a better way of feeding ourselves.

One of my land-healing heroes, Joel Salatin, actually wrote the foreword for the book. Pritchard had visited his farm as a young boy and was ultimately inspired by the sustainable techniques Salatin has implemented for decades. Something in the foreword stuck with me: Salatin states that these type of farmer-memoir books should appeal to not just fellow farmers, but to the eaters who depend on those who grow food. People will feel more connected and mindful of the sources of their food when they read the entertaining, personal accounts of those providing it. I totally, whole-heartedly agree with this sentiment, but not just as one of the eaters. I want to be one of the growers, the providers, even if not in the rural-farm atmosphere. Though my path leans more toward suburban and urban food growing, I feel like I'm touching base with kindred spirits when I read about the people who are already embarked, passionately, in growing sustainable food. I'm motivated and filled with fresh inspiration when I read stories like Pritchard's, and ready to jump into my own plans, head first.

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