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It’s that time of year again: The onset of the beach read. These light and fluffy novels designed to be consumed at the height of laziness—relaxing on the beach, if you can manage to snag a week away from the farm—leave their readers with no lasting impression, but personally, if I’m going to read a book in the summer—and, believe me, I’m going to—I see no reason that it needs to be empty, non-impactful words. On that note, I’ve compiled a list of five agricultural memoirs that I think are perfect for the bright and sunny days of summer.
The books below celebrate all sides of agriculture: the good, the bad, and yes, the ugly. You’ll read about lost animals and farm disasters, but when you turn the page, you’ll see stories of plentiful harvests and joyous births, all written from the authors’ own experiences. You’ll probably laugh, you might even cry, but I guarantee that you’ll be moved by these authors’ passion, eloquence and reverence for the land and its care.
1. Cold Antler Farm
More an essay collection than a traditional memoir, Jenna Woginrich’s Cold Antler Farm is the tale of a college graduate who moves to the Great Smoky Mountains of Knoxville, Tenn., and falls in love with Appalachia and living off the land. Eventually, she winds up in Washington County, N.Y., on a homestead she christens Cold Antler Farm, and the hilarious and heartwarming stories she tells of a typical farm year are second to none. Maybe the best writer on this list, Woginrich makes her farm come to life through short vignettes that reveal a much larger picture of one woman’s love for the land and her love affair with the six acres she calls her own. Don’t pass this one up.
Cold Antler Farm: A Memoir of Growing Food and Celebrating Life on a Scrappy Six-Acre Homestead; Jenna Woginrich; Roost Books; 2014; $16.95
2. The Crops Look Good
Maybe the most unique book on this list is Sara DeLuca’s clever and poignant portrait of life on a family farm in Wisconsin in the early to mid-20th century. The Crops Look Good, is the perfect read for any farming and history buffs. Taking her family’s letters over a 30-year period and constructing a detailed family narrative from them, complete with her own asides and add-ins, DeLuca has crafted an eminently readable book that honestly reads like a novel. You’ll cheer and grieve with the Williamson family as they make a life during the Great Depression and World War II; you’ll be charmed by the nods to popular culture of the time and the stories of a lifestyle gone by; and you’ll likely be inspired to pick up a pen and write a letter to your loved ones.
The Crops Look Good: News from a Midwestern Family Farm; Sara DeLuca; Minnesota HIstorical Society Press; 2015; $17.95
3. Farming Soul
Written by Jungian analyst and biodynamic farmer Patricia Damery—now there’s a career combination you don’t hear everyday—Farming Soul is billed as the author’s psychological and spiritual reckoning. Mixing memoir with ruminations on spirituality and human behavior, Damery crafts a tale of developing an intimate relationship to the land and taking care of herself by taking care of it. Any farmers interested in biodynamic farming or in an exploration of psychology and agriculture will eat Farming Soul right up.
Farming Soul: A Tale of Initiation; Patricia Damery; Leaping Goat Press; 2014; $19.99
4. Home Grown
This book veers off the beaten path in comparison to the other featured memoirs, but that’s not necessarily to its detriment. In Home Grown, Ben Hewitt describes the unconventional homeschooling method he uses for his two sons, Fin and Rye, called “unschooling,” and how it is innately tied to the natural world on the family’s 40-acre Vermont farm. He does not do so preachily or haughtily, and he does not condemn traditional educational systems; rather, Hewitt blends these explanations the story of that farm and how he and his wife, Penny, came to own it, how they came to decide on this unique path for their children, and why he believes it works for their family. Hewitt’s nontraditional approach will drive some readers away, but Home Grown is a good read for lovers of the land and parents who have chosen or are considering homeschooling their children.
Home Grown: Adventures in Parenting off the Beaten Path, Unschooling and Reconnecting with the Natural World; Ben Hewitt; Roost Books; 2014; $14.95
Richard Gilbert opens his memoir, Shepherd, with the line, “Childhood dreams cast long shadows into a life,” and proceeds to spend the next 300 pages proving the truth of that line again and again. His childhood, romantic dream of farming is not easy, and Gilbert sugarcoats no part of his agricultural journey into raising sheep in southern Ohio—thankfully for him (and, by extension, for us), he writes about his successes and challenges beautifully. You won’t be surprised to hear that another writer has spun poetry from agriculture, but you will be moved by his descriptions of farm life and overcome with a reverence for the land and the people who work it.
Shepherd: A Memoir; Richard Gilbert; Michigan State University Press; 2014; $24.95
The Final Word: Pick up one of these farming memoirs for a perfect summer read that celebrates the beauty and the struggle of agriculture—you’ll be glad you did.