June 9th, 2008

reading, activism, writing

Book #19: It's a Long Road to a Tomato, by Keith Stewart

When Keith Stewart and his wife Flavia Bacarella (the illustrator of this beautiful book) bought an old dairy farm in New York State, they didn't quite know what to expect. Some idea about change led them to move from the steadiness of a regular paycheck into the uncertain world of organic vegetable farming. But like most new enterprises, they didn't know what they didn't know.

After 20 years of building the soil, which supported the produce, which was sold at the green market in Manhattan's Union Square, which gave them enough income to keep going, Stewart decided to put it all into a book. He went from a total novice to accomplished farmer with many lessons learned along the way.

But the book is more than a simple farm memoir. It's a political statement about the greater good. It seems that we need farms as well as new tracks of suburban houses. Just because his land is worth more now that it was in 1986 when Stewart bought the farm, doesn't mean that the greater good is served by the slicing, dicing, and swallowing up of one more green space. The destruction of farms, farm land, and farm families continues at an alarming rate.

At the same time more and more people are attempting to eat local, fresh, organically grown food. Farms like Stewart's are an important resource if they stay intact and keep being productive. That may not make to much sense to a capitalistic land developer, but in terms of health living and a healthy planet, money is not everything.

Stewart shares the highs and lows of his twenty years, from acquiring his first dog (the dog picked him rather than the other way around), to buying a new tractor, to fighting with the other creatures who also like good veggies and want to eat for free. This enlightening, amusing, and ultimately touching book is a marvel. But since the author discusses the worry that places like his are disappearing, it's also an important book.

Support your local farmer. Remember the saying: No Farms, No Food. That may be hard to believe in this land of plenty, but if the population keeps growing and big business farming just grows what will sell at the highest rate per pound, then we may find ourselves in the same situation that plagues other people around the world. If we put all of our food into our cars in the form of ethanol, what is going to be left over to feed the people? Can we survive on high-fructose corn syrup alone?