Welcome to Summer Reads 2017 where I’ll be reviewing a series of “not just cookbooks” (this is actually the final post in this summer’s series 🙁 )
As soon as I read this blurb from the publisher, I couldn’t wait to read The New Farm.
You know those books where the city folks move to the country and have all kinds of crazy misadventures? Where the barnyard is a place of bucolic harmony and each passing season brings the author closer to understanding his proper place in the natural order? You know those books where the primary objective is not so much farming, but writing about farming?
This isn’t that kind of book.
The subtitle of The New Farm (Our Ten Years on the Front Lines of the Good Food Revolution) should be some hint at the subject matter of this book (i.e. it’s not just a “urban couple sells everything, buys a farm and lives happily ever after” story) but unless you have lived in Toronto over the past decade and followed the Brent Preston’s story closely, you might be forgiven for thinking it’s just another one of “those books”.
Now, I do live in Toronto and am definitely involved in the food scene and consider myself pretty knowledgeable about who are the movers and shakers in the industry. But after reading The New Farm, I realised that I clearly don’t pay enough attention because I until I read the book, I was under the (incorrect) impression that Brent and his wife Gillian Flies who run The New Farm, were living one of “those stories”. From what I knew, they ran a successful farm, their produce was available in a number of specialty retail stores and fine restaurants, they supplied a few well-known food delivery companies and they hosted a huge fundraising event every year to benefit Farms for Change (a partnership between organic farmers and Community Food Centres Canada that aims to increase access to healthy organic food while strengthening organic farms). Sounds like a success story, right? Well, yes… now, but it wasn’t always the case… Brent says:
A decade ago, Gillian and I set out on what we thought would be a straightforward quest; to create a profitable, sustainable organic farm. That quest soon came to consume us. It broke down our bodies, It threatened to destroy our marriage. It was, by far, the hardest thing either of us has ever done. It took a very long time and it cost us a great deal, but eventually we succeeded, and what we ended up with is so much more than we ever could have hoped for.
The New Farm is the story of that quest – the part of the success story that came way before the “so much more than [they] ever could have hoped for.” The part of the story most people don’t hear about. And, if you’re someone who dreams of one day giving it all up and running off to start a farm, it’s the part of the story you might not want to read about (though I would say it would be required reading for anyone in that position!). There is a LOT of information about farming (which crops to plant and when, what crops grow and sell well? should a farm raise animals or no animals? how do you keep groundhogs at bay? which equipment is worth the investment? to name but a few of the issues they faced) which I thought initially I might find boring but in actual fact, I found it completely fascinating. Brent and Gillian went into their venture with not a whole lot of knowledge of the business of farming (that would be like if I chose to buy a farm) and the book chronicles everything they learned and experimented with over the course of the first ten seasons of the farm. It’s like a manual for new farm owners! Of course, reading about all the mistakes they made especially over the first couple of seasons is what makes for a great story – one that hooks you from the first chapter – you’ll find yourself rooting for The New Farm and willing it to be successful as you turn each page.
What was the most interesting for me was reading how Brent and Gillian’s objectives changed over the course of this time. They started out with a smaller goal of growing food and being self-sufficient and living a simpler life. But over the years and seasons they realised that their livelihood could also be a lifestyle evolution – one that could sustain their family but one that could also build community. They conclude that
Farming, in short, isn’t just a good way to make a living. Farming for us is the foundation of a meaningful and happy life. It’s the ultimate expression of independence and self-sufficiency, but it’s also a deeply political act, one that has the power to build community and inspire others to action. What better way to live your life?
This is a funny, well-written memoir that I devoured in one sitting. It reads almost like a mystery novel – personally I couldn’t wait to see what each new season would bring for The New Farm. It’s also an inspiration to read what two people can achieve when they put their minds to it – a new lifestyle, a new life and a community of like-minded people all working towards the same end-goal, good food for all.
Please note: This post contains product links from Amazon and The Book Depository which are affiliate links, meaning if you click over and purchase something, I will receive a very small percentage of the purchase price (at no extra cost to you). Thank you in advance!
Disclosure: I received a copy of “The New Farm” for review purposes from the publisher. I was not asked to write about the book, nor am I being compensated for doing so. All opinions 100% my own.
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