Narrative Nonfiction 5: Life Back on the Farm

by Kim on June 4, 2010 · 39 comments

nonfiction five button I’ve been interested in food and reading about food for the last several months. While I’m not a farmer or a gardener myself, I do love the local farmers’ market and how much great, fresh, local produce I can get when it’s not freezing here in the Midwest.

But there are people who do a lot more than just go to the farmers’ market each Saturday — they go all out to change their lives and their food. This Narrative Nonfiction 5 lists is about memoirs and nonfiction written by people who have taken back their food by going back to the farm.

1. The Bucolic Plague: How Two Manhattanites Became Gentlemen Farmers: An Unconventional Memoir by Josh Kilmer-Purcell

nn5 bucolic plague I just got this book for review from HarperCollins, and I’m already excited. Josh Kilmer-Purcell (a drag queen turned advertising exec who lives in Manhattan) and his boyfriend, Dr. Brent, go on an apple picking trip to the country and end up buying a restored mansion on a farm. Your guess is as good as mine as to where it goes next, but I can only imagine awesome places.

If my enthusiasm isn’t enough, both Jill (FizzyThoughts) and Billy the Goat also had good things to say about it.

2. The Town That Food Saved: How One Community Found Vitality in Local Food by Ben Hewitt

nn5 the town that food saved Citizen Reader recommended this book to me when I interviewed her for a story on summer reading trends and plans (which is running on Sunday, I’ll link to it). It’s a reflection and analysis of a town of 3,200 people in northern Vermont and the local personalities who helped turn it into an example of local agriculture. Hewitt lived there for awhile, then wrote the book as a way of trying to explain it. This sounds especially great to me given my own growing interest in local foods and local farming.

3. Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life by Barbara Kingsolver

nn5 animal vegetable I read this book last fall, and was struck by the way it equates the idea of food with the idea of community. The premise of the book is a challenge — whether author Barbara Kingsolver and her family can go a year eating only local foods, which they define as foods they grow themselves or foods they can get close by (with a few exceptions).

While the memoir itself is a little unrealistic for the average person — how many people just happen to have a garden in Appalachia they can move to? — it’s still an inspiring local foods odyssey.

4. Here and Nowhere Else: Late Seasons of a Farm and Its Family by Jane Brox

nn5 here and nowhere else When author Jane Brox was 10, she started to help out on her parents farm. After spending years away from home, Brox returned to help her troubled brother and aging parents tend to the family farm while doing so becomes more difficult.

I read this book a few years ago and thought the prose was just lovely. It’s really a touching tribute to a family farm and reflects some of the major changes happening to American agriculture. It’s a very slow, thoughtful, and poetic sort of book.

5. It Takes a Village Idiot: A Memoir of Life After the City by Jim Mullen

When Jim Mullen’s wife bought a weekend farmhouse in the Catskills, the former columnist for Entertainment Weekly was not excited. The book follows Mullen’s transition from urbanite to country guy and the culture shock he feels entering a rural community for the first tiem.

Although I haven’t read this book, I suspect it’s much more sarcastic and has more biting humor than some of the others on this list — one review points out “this memoir is a unique blend of stinging wit, hilarious anecdotes, and amusing fondness for his farming neighbors.”

Other Possibilities

Weekend CookingAlso, if you’re interested in more foodie related posts, check out the awesome Weekend Cooking feature by Beth Fish Reads. Every week you can see a collection of cooking and food related posts from around the blogosphere. It’s quite cool!

Do you have any favorite nonfiction books about local foods or the importance of family farming? Share any thoughts or suggestions in the comments!

Also, if you have suggestions for a Narrative Nonfiction 5 post or would like to write a guest post, please send me an e-mail at sophisticated.dorkiness [at] gmail [dot] come.

{ 36 comments… read them below or add one }

Amy June 4, 2010 at 7:31 am

I’ve only read one of those, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, but I really enjoyed it. I think I need to add the others to my wishlist! The only other ‘food’ books I’ve read are Michael Pollan type books about where food comes from. I love this different perspective that shows what people are doing, and what we can do, instead of just the same old what is going on.

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Kim June 5, 2010 at 9:40 am

Amy: I like the different perspective too. With Pollan, I felt like there wasn’t anything that I could do about my food, like the system was just too big. But even when AVM was unrealistic, what she was doing felt like the idea of what I could do too.

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Trisha June 4, 2010 at 8:06 am

I think I picked up something like this at BEA – Farm City which I think is about someone trying to grow veggies and keep some animals in a large metropolis area. My husband is a vegetable farmer, so seeing the word farm in a title had me thinking he might like to read it.

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Kim June 5, 2010 at 9:41 am

Trisha: I just looked up Farm City on Amazon and it looks good — I’ll add it to the list. I’ve been pretty interested in urban farming lately, although I guess not enough to start a garden of my own!

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Beth F June 4, 2010 at 10:19 am

Great list of books and a couple are new to me. Please link this post up with my Weekend Cooking tomorrow — the feature is for all things food, not just recipes.

Thanks — I think! — for adding to my wish list.

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Kim June 5, 2010 at 9:42 am

Beth: I love when people do book lists, but then I get all antsy and want to read everything — that’s how I felt when putting this one together!

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Andi June 4, 2010 at 1:43 pm

Kim, you’re killing me. I can’t afford to buy all of these books right now, and I REALLY WANT TO! The only one I’ve read is Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, and I’m lusting after all the others.

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Kim June 5, 2010 at 9:50 am

Andi: Ha ha :) I want all of them too, especially The Town that Food Saved.

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Becker June 4, 2010 at 2:22 pm

The Bucolic Plague keeps popping up in my reading–guess I’ll have to get my library to buy it! My favorite farm book is Hit by a Farm by Catherine Friend–she is a writer, and her partner has always dreamed of living and working on a farm, so they decide to have a go at it. They’re still farming (and she’s also written a very interesting book called The Compassionate Carnivore), and I recommend her book all the time, it’s quite funny.

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Kim June 5, 2010 at 9:43 am

Becker: Some copies of The Bucolic Plague were being given away at BEA and the BBC, so I think that’s why it’s been popping up. It’ll be a tv show on Planet Green too, I think.

Hit by a Farm also sounds great — I’ll add it to the list.

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softdrink June 4, 2010 at 7:49 pm

I haven’t read it (yet), but Coop might fit into this list…although I think it mixes a lot of other stuff in with the farming.

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Kim June 5, 2010 at 9:44 am

softdrink: Yes, Coop does fit! I’ve been meaning to read that forever.

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Esme June 5, 2010 at 10:39 am

I have not read any of these-thanks for the list.

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Kim June 8, 2010 at 6:01 pm

Esme: Sure, I love making lists :)

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Margot June 5, 2010 at 11:44 am

I’m very interested in this subject and I’ve read a few on your list. The total list is fantastic. I’ve bookmarked this page so I can go through the whole list one at a time. Thanks Kim.

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Kim June 8, 2010 at 6:01 pm

Margot: Awesome! I hope you get a chance to read some of the books in the future.

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Tisha Turk June 5, 2010 at 12:55 pm

Awww, Jane Brox! :)

I’m reading Mike Perry’s Coop right now, and really enjoying it. I’ll have to add your other recs and ideas to my list…

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Kim June 8, 2010 at 6:02 pm

Tisha: Yes, Jane Brox! I think if we hadn’t read that book in February, I would have loved it. I can’t wait to read Coop!

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JoAnn June 5, 2010 at 2:35 pm

Great list! The only one I’ve read is Animal , Vegetable, Miracle – it gave me quite a bit to think about. I’ve also enjoyed Michael Pollan’s books and am looking forward to hearing him speak in the fall. Will add a couple of the others to my wish list.

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Kim June 8, 2010 at 6:02 pm

JoAnn: I enjoy Michael Pollan too, but only so much at a time before he gets to be too much. He’s a good speaker — I heard him a couple times last year.

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Heather June 5, 2010 at 4:14 pm

What an interesting list. I’ve sent the link along to a friend.

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Kim June 8, 2010 at 6:03 pm

Heather: Cool, thanks!

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The Girl from the Ghetto June 5, 2010 at 8:00 pm

I thought about reviewing your #1. Glad to hear you like it, and I’d say I’d read it, but I have so many books to read, I’ll never get to it.

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Kim June 8, 2010 at 6:03 pm

The Girl from the Ghetto: Ha ha, it happens. I’m not sure I’ll ever get to read all of these, either :)

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Kim June 5, 2010 at 11:47 pm

What a great list! I am thinking It Takes A Village Idiot sounds like a hilarious read. The book by Jane Brox sounds beautiful and another one I should check into. Man, my bookshelves overfloweth!
*smiles*

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Kim June 8, 2010 at 6:04 pm

Kim: I don’t know much about that last one, but from the descriptions I thought it sounded pretty amusing. The Brox book is really poetic and lovely, although more somber than the other books on the list.

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Iris June 6, 2010 at 7:03 am

Great list! I haven’t read any of these, but I really want to. I wanted to read Animal, Vegetable, Miracle before but now even more so. Plus, you added 4 others to my wishlist :)

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Kim June 8, 2010 at 6:04 pm

Iris: Yay! AVM is a good book, but a little crazy at some points too.

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Gwen June 6, 2010 at 10:20 am

The Bucolic Plague is my favorite book of the year so far and I can’t wait to see the Beekman Boys reality show.

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Kim June 8, 2010 at 6:04 pm

Gwen: Cool! I can’t wait to read it!

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charley June 6, 2010 at 4:18 pm

I’d like to read The Town That Food Saved. My family and I have a decent-sized vegetable garden (not much is up yet, though), and it is such a pleasure to pick, prepare, and eat a home-grown meal.

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Kim June 8, 2010 at 6:05 pm

charley: Definitely. I don’t really have the patience for gardening myself, but I do love the farmer’s market.

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monica @ paper bridges June 7, 2010 at 8:32 am

have you read The United States of Arugula by David Kamp? excellent and a must read for those of us interested in the history of food in the US.

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Kim June 8, 2010 at 6:05 pm

Monica: No, I haven’t. Sounds really good though – I’m going to look it up now.

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Sheila (Bookjourney) June 9, 2010 at 8:38 pm

Good looking books Kim! The Bucolic Plague: How Two Manhattanites Became Gentlemen Farmers: An Unconventional Memoir sounds interesting!

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Kim June 12, 2010 at 8:36 pm

Sheila: It does! I can’t wait to read it.

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