The Wisdom of the Radish (and other lessons learned on a small farm), written by Lynda Hopkins:
I just finished reading this book earlier today & I really enjoyed it. It's the story of a young couple, both in their mid-twenties, trying their hand at farming a couple of acres and making a living out of it. Along the way there is a lot of learning (like, the proper way to secure a chicken coop and how much water is too much for seedlings), some setbacks and many rewards for all their hard labor.
This is actually the perfect book to talk about around Earth Day, because the author brings up a lot of interesting environmental-related issues. Like pesticides - all about which pesticides are used on conventional crops, which are used on organic (Hopkins and her boyfriend, Emmett, grow organic, but aren't certified) and how it's all nasty stuff anyway. After reading it, you'll appreciate lettuce with holes and corn with worms (in fact, they dubbed their corn "worm friendly"). Other environmental issues that she touches upon are mono-crops, poor conditions for animals on industrial farms, the struggle for small farms to compete with larger supermarkets, and transportation of food from faraway places. Probably one of the most profound issues was the disappearance of honeybees, which Hopkins noticed on a few separate occasions. They had a huge field full of squash blossoms, but no bees around to pollinate them (according to the book, "the work performed by insect pollination is truly unparalleled, and estimated to be worth $57 billion per year in the United States"). So, they had to resort to hand pollination until the bees, thankfully, showed up.
I really liked the inside-view of life at the weekend farmer's market, and it really made me appreciate these hard working people. Hopkins and Emmett would get up at the crack of dawn, harvest what they intended to take to market, set up the tables and baskets, stay at the market until close and then go home to tend to their fields. Being a small farmer is definitely not a life of leisure. The care that goes into the food that can be purchased at a farmer's market just cannot be found anywhere else (unless, you grow it yourself at home), not to mention the direct communication between consumer and farmer. Hopkins ponders their asking price for radishes - and concludes that they are actually priceless.
After being vegetable farmers for some time, the author and her boyfriend expand their farm to include chickens, sheep and goats. I really enjoyed some of the funny stories that the author shares about all the animals. I was both cracking up and disgusted by the story of their killing one of their roosters for meat (they had both been vegans until they got the chickens for egg-laying). As novice farmers, and vegans, they had no idea what they were doing ("picture two idiots with a blunt knife") and turned to the internet for guidance. I loved how the point was made that they wasted no part of the rooster, and made sure his days were happy before his death. Life and death on a farm (or homestead) are a fact of life, but good animal husbandry is the difference between them and a factory farm.
I was intending to visit some local farmer's markets last year, but never did (but we did visit a local farm for fresh corn, veggies & u-pick strawberries). This year, especially after reading this book, I will make sure to hit the farmer's market, not just once, but maybe I'll just do all my summer shopping there. Buying local, from the people who grew it and picked it that morning, is the best way to eat, for our health and for the environment. As one of Hopkins' farmer's market customers tells her on a stormy morning, "if you you guys have to be here, we have to be here too." If we all support our local farmers, they'll be here to stay.