Not many writers get a chance to revise a book that they wrote thirty years earlier. There’s an eeriness to it. I feel like Rip Van Winkle—like I fell asleep out in my corn patch and, when I woke up, things looked about like always, but it wasn’t even the same century anymore.
The satisfying part of this eerie feeling is that much of what I said on the subject of small-scale grain raising thirty years ago is more current now than it was then. The pancake patch has come of age. If that sounds like a brag, I’ll not apologize. To all those agribusiness experts who ridiculed my call to garden grains thirty years ago, I now draw myself up in pompous self-righteousness, stick out my tongue, and gloat as sickeningly as possible.
Seriously, though, I have little justification for gloating. Much of the credit goes to an editor and dear friend whom I worked under at Rodale Press, Jerry Goldstein. A book about garden grains was more his idea than mine. Although I was already doing most of the things I would write about in the book, I did not think very many other people were that crazy. I was raised up in the generation that decided farmers had to get big or get out, that local gristmills like the water-powered “Indian Mill” of my boyhood, had faded away into ancient history (it’s actually a museum now), and that local bakeries like Neumeisters’ in my hometown were gone for good. One of the fond memories of my youth was fishing below the dam at Indian Mill and being in town about four o’clock in the afternoon when the bread was coming out of Neumeisters’ ovens. That heavenly smell would float all over the village. Made me weak in the knees.
But what the heck. I was a struggling writer, and if Mr. Goldstein wanted a book about grains, I was the man for the job. I was a link not only between Wonder Bread and homemade buckwheat cakes, but between vast commercial grain fields, where I worked as a young man, and the small homestead garden culture that was taking hold of society’s imagination in the 1970s.
I was surprised by the good response to that first edition. Evidently I was not the only crazy person out there. There were all kinds of mavericks who were willing to grow wheat in the backyard, thresh it by hand, and bake really good bread with it or feed it to chickens for fresh eggs and southern-fried that would make Colonel Sanders weep with envy. And instead of being a fade-away fad, the book kept on attracting interest, so much so that when it sold out, a group of homesteaders in the Ozarks wrote a letter asking that it be put back into print. But editors were not convinced, nor was I, to tell the truth, that enough more copies would sell to make the printing profitable. At least I thought that way until used copies appeared this year on Amazon.com priced ridiculously at over a thousand dollars each. And, just my luck, I’ve only got one left. (Ed. Note: See screenshot below.)
So this new edition will have one thing going for it. Buying it will save you a nice little wad of cash over trying to find a good copy of the old edition. And, if I do say so myself, the revised version is considerably better.
Revising an old book that some people apparently treasure involves a problem for the author. Beyond correcting errors and deleting obsolete information that may not be so obsolete in the future, plus adding new relevant material, what more ought I to do? Because of age, I no longer raise pigs or milk a cow, for example, although I am sorely tempted to return to doing both. Should I leave the book in the voice of a younger man with more energy than good sense, or do I write as an older man who hopefully has learned a few things in thirty years?
So I tried to straddle the line between before Rip Van Winkle and after. The two Genes aren’t really that much different anyway. I just have to be a little more careful with what I say nowadays because I can’t run fast anymore.
Another problem kept bothering me as I revised the book, although it is not really a problem. Thirty years ago there was no Internet. So-called how-to books could fill a need just by passing on pure information. Today there is no pure information in the field of small-scale grain raising, or anything else, that is not done to death on the Internet. So I deleted some of the “facty” stuff, as I call it, that you can find easily at the click of a computer mouse. It actually made the book better, it seems to me, because that kind of information is so boring.
Then I did what the Internet can’t do: I put more humor in the book, more anecdotes, and more of my own highly opinionated ideas. I’m fairly sure that’s why people read books anyway.
August 20, 2008
This excerpt is the afterword from the new version of Gene’s book, Small-Scale Grain Raising: An Organic Guide to Growing, Processing, and Using Nutritious Whole Grains for Home Gardeners and Local Farmers.