Reviews, Interviews, & Articles
Booklist Review: Not just a feast for the palate, Buchanan’s book is a feast for the souls of those concerned about a fast-food culture that prizes uniformity and convenience over the kind of tastes that cannot be produced on an assembly line. He focuses on heirloom foods, those dating back at least 50 years and unchanged by modern methods of food production. After working in a garden for seven years in Portland, Maine, Buchanan finally settled into a rhythm that offered elements of city and country life—gardening on borrowed and leased land, a quasi-farm, and across two acres of back yards, and working informally with other like-minded people in a food enterprise focused on flavor. A pioneer in the heirloom seed movement in the early 1990s, he aspires not to an effete effort at reviving fragile foods but rather to bringing regionally and culturally different foods to the table. His clearly defined goal, “to create the best plant collection for this particular time and place,” informs this delightful book rich in delicious details of journeys to discover forgotten foods and flavors. — Booklist
Kirkus Reviews - A meander, with hoe, through organic vegetable patches, lost orchards, seed catalogs and produce markets with a dedicated gardener in search of a small farm.
From experiments “trying to live off the grid” in Washington state after college to raising produce on semiurban plots around Portland, Maine, Buchanan has always followed his passion for heritage plants: the ugly heirloom baking apple, undersized pear, thin-skinned tomato and other relics of the old family farm lost or marginalized by bottom-line-obsessed agribusiness, environmental degradation and government regulation. In this combination of memoir and treatise for the back-to-the-farm movement, the author laments the loss of 90 percent of America’s crop diversity over the last century. What that means to the average supermarket shopper is dinner without a world of region-specific savors—the fruit of what the French call the terroir. Seeking inspiration and the perfect place to start a market garden, Buchanan made research forays to thriving organic farms and nurseries in New England, talked with seed collectors, visited a USDA gene bank and hunted for heritage apple trees by highways and in backyards. He ponders the relevance of agricultural diversity in the contemporary world and the role individuals can play in keeping heritage varieties in our markets and on our plates. Buchanan ended up swapping work for equipment and the use of small parcels of tillable land around Portland, where he continues to battle late blight and caterpillars to raise a varied crop of rare apples for his own brand of raw cider. It’s a catch-as-catch-can lifestyle, but it’s deeply satisfying to Buchanan and demonstrates the way forward for a new generation of farmers and locavores.
A specialized look at the small-farming movement, written with appealing self-knowledge, diligent research and occasional flair.
ForeWord Reviews - As debate rages about genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and their impact on seeds and farming, there’s another issue that deserves to be widely visited: the dearth of diversity in our current food system.
Because of changes in our agricultural model, scores of once-common fruits, grains, and vegetables have been phased out by the need for food that’s more easily shipped across long distances and stored for days, if not weeks, before getting to market.
What have we lost as a result of these farming changes and distribution demands, and what can be gained by preserving the diversity that’s left? Author David Buchanan’s answer, in the form of Taste, Memory, is compelling and important.
As a pioneer in the heirloom seed movement and agricultural conservation effort, Buchanan is well-versed in the types of changes that have dismantled our food system. He combines personal stories as well as encounters with leaders in biodiversity to present a glimpse of what a healthy food system might look like, one in which plants and animals are matched to the land and the climate, not to consumer demand or agribusiness bottom lines.
Exploring the question of how we can create a stronger food system that also includes room for new types of fruits, vegetables, and grains, Buchanan artfully describes his own journey through farming and gardening. The story wends from a shift into heritage food production in the early ’90s, through disillusionment, and into his current venture, a small acreage suffused with rare fruits and vegetables.
Thoughout, Buchanan’s writing style is lyrical but straightforward, perfect for observations about food and growing. “My farm project isn’t about just saving seeds or old fruit varieties,” he writes, “but searching for a creative connection with land and plants that, until the last few generations, was at the heart of most people’s lives.”
There’s enormous value in preserving the agrarian diversity that humans have enjoyed for centuries, he believes, and that we’ve only recently lost. Buchanan makes an excellent case for waking up to the issues of crop diversity and how we need to continue exploring how our foods can evolve along with our methods for cooking, preserving, and treasuring them. Buchanan’s work is a savory treat, full of fresh insight and delicious inspiration.