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Civil Eats: Farmers Talk About the Books that Inspire Them

Many of our readers are small farmers, homesteaders, and gardeners — folks who have made books like The Four-Season Harvest and Wild Fermentation best-sellers for years!

We thought you’d enjoy this post from the excellent and informative team-blog Civil Eats, on other books that have inspired the farmers they spoke to.

By Cynthia Salaysay

Scores of books depict farms as little slices of heaven on earth, where venison is smoked and butter is churned, and things seem perfect. But today’s farmers are far from unrealistic dreamers, longing for a Little House on the Prairie-esque pastoral ideal. They’re socially conscious doers. And when asked about books that inspire them, they cite writings that are practical, at times poetic, and that beckon them to rescue the land.

Here are some of the books that farmers are reading and getting inspiration from today.

The Unsettling of America by Wendell Berry. “I had spent  seven or so years of my life as a ‘punk’ growing up in the the central NJ suburbs of NYC, disgruntled and disillusioned and looking for real meaning and ways to be in the world, and [Berry] was someone seemingly so disgruntled and disillusioned, yet incredibly intelligent and coherent, with a posited solution of sorts…. Challenges [were] laid forth to take full responsibility for our lives and to truly push against what our culture is feeding us, to move towards a society built around community, equality, a new free culture, and a cooperative economy in which we all work satisfying jobs in support of each other; ideals I cannot imagine any human being would deface. Farming could embrace these challenges and reconnect us with the land and each other like no other, I was convinced.” — Anthony Mecca, Great Song Farm The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck. “I read The Good Earth when I was a child, I think I was ten or eleven. I read it again in my 20s, and again in my 30s…. It’s an inspiring novel about building a dream, perseverance. I think the best line is at the end of the novel when it says, ‘without land, you’re nothing.’ It’s a quote my father and mother used to repeat to us kids all the time. So that book always meant something for many reasons.” — Alexis Koefoed, Soul Food Farm Silent Spring by Rachel Carson. “I read it as a freshman in college. This was kind of a critical treatise in the ecological movement. It was not only a cry of protest, but a teaching document about the basic principles of ecology. [Carson] was drawing connections between the different layers that make up the environment… how the chemical sprays in the ground migrated into the trees. The book had layers—one layer was science, one was critique, and one was art—the art of protest. It was also very poetic—what do we cherish more than the sound of birds in the spring?And I thought the fusion of those things really appealed to me as a young woman, and guided what kinds of actions I would take in my life. “ — Severine von Tscharner-Fleming, farmer and founder of The Greenhorns.

How to Grow More Vegetables Than You Ever Thought Possible on Less Land Than You Can Imagine by John Jeavons. “My copy of this one is missing its cover and several of the front pages and the binding has been chewed up by a dog. I like that John explains a complete farming system that minimizes the use of commercial and outside inputs that will work nearly worldwide.  He even looks at the calories produced, and includes fruit trees, and compost growing areas as part of the garden design and process… I wanted to farm because it is good honest work and it provides something that people truly need.  John Jeavons is telling people all over the world how they can farm and produce the food they need with very few tools, little money and fertilizer, and using open-pollinated seeds.” — Brenton Johnson, Johnson’s Backyard Garden The Contrary Farmer by Gene Lodgson. “I read The Contrary Farmer about eight years ago.  I think this book really helped me formulate the idea about what it meant to be a farmer.  Lodgson painted a beautiful, yet realistic picture of the farming lifestyle and the sacrifices a farmer must make.  It brought me to the conclusion that I could achieve this lifestyle for myself and my family.” — Jacqueline Smith, Green Dirt Farm. Read the rest of the article and see which other Chelsea Green book made the list!


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