Nonfiction November Week 2 – Be/Ask/Become the Expert

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Happy week 2 of Nonfiction November! I’ve found myself reading exclusively nonfiction this month, which I’m definitely enjoying, but I’m too excited to stick to one book! It takes me a little bit longer to read nonfiction than fiction, so I haven’t finished anything this month yet. I’m getting close, though, on my first read Five Days At Memorial and my audiobook Republican Gomorrah. I have a lot of thoughts and feelings on Republican Gomorrah, so I’m excited to talk about it on the blog, but I’ve also never posted about something that is quite so political. I’m interested to see how it goes!

Anyway, thank you so much for participating! I had such a great time last week reading all of your posts and I can’t wait to read more this week. This is one of my favorite weeks we have planned: Be/Ask/Become the Expert! I’ve decided to do all three.

I want to be an expert in farming! I dream about one day having a lot of land and a small farm and animals all my own. I want to grow all my vegetables and have chickens for eggs. I’ve read a fair number of books about this – the idea of picking up your normal way of life and retreating to something both simpler and more difficult. I also have a lot of books on my TBR that I want to read soon. And I’m sure you have a few suggestions I haven’t thought of yet. I’m splitting these up between three days, so you’ll see “Become the Expert” tomorrow and “Ask the Expert” on Wednesday!

BE THE EXPERT

This is a reprise of a list that I put together for Kim a few months ago, so if it seems a little bit familiar, that is why!

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver

animal vegetable miracleI think it’s safe to say that Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle is now a classic of the farming memoir. Published in 2007, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle tells the story of how Kingsolver and her family grew and raised all their own food for one year. That which they could not produce on their own land had to be acquired from very nearby. While I don’t necessarily think Animal, Vegetable, Miracle is perfect, I do think it is a perfect gateway into both the idea of farming as a way to support your family (through food production instead of through making a profit), but also as an introduction to an entire genre of memoir about living off the land.

You’ll see that each of the books I picked tells about a different aspect of the farming life. Animal, Vegetable, Miracle is about farming for yourself and your family and, in the process, doing something good for the environment and your community as well. If there is ever a time in my life when I have the time and resources  and skills to devote to have a farm that sustains my family, I would love to do it. While this isn’t a technical book or a how to, I”m sure I”ll turn back to Animal, Vegetable, Miracle for inspiration. (Plus: Kingsolver has made me obsessed with one day growing asparagus.)

The Blueberry Years by Jim Minnick 

the blueberry yearsIf Animal, Vegetable, Miracle made me excited to grow asparagus, it’s nothing compared to how much I can’t wait to grow blueberries. In The Blueberry Years, Jim Minnick and his wife give up their teaching jobs and purchase a plot of land in western Virginia. There, they plant rows and rows of blueberries. Minnick had some experience growing blueberries on his family’s property in Pennsylvania, but other than that, they were completely new to farming and they wanted to do it completely organically. They own the farm for ten years, before deciding to sell it and move on to their next adventure.

I think what made The Blueberry Years so compelling, besides the short, vignette-like chapter and Minnick’s personality, which came through in the prose beautifully, was the fact that you knew from the very beginning that something was going to happen to make the Minnick’s want to sell the farm. It felt like a very honest memoir about something that is genuinely difficult. When they finally do sell the farm, it feels both heartbreaking and hopeful. Heartbreaking because you have just spent hundreds of pages with Jim on his blueberry farm, and you want nothing more than to visit it and for it to keep producing blueberries forever. Hopeful, because even though the Minnick’s had a few hard years on the farm, it never felt like they regretted having buying the farm and that farming would be a huge part of their life for years to come.

Tomatoland: How Modern Industrial Agriculture Destroyed Our Most Alluring Fruit by Barry Estabrook

tomatolandIf Animal, Vegetable, Miracle is about starting a small farm to feed your family and The Blueberry Years is about having a small organic farm to feed your community, Tomatoland is about big industrial agriculture and what it is doing to our food and the people who are employed by the industry. Part history, part expose, Tomatoland tells about how the tomato came to be what it is today, a huge industry producing sub-par fruit. Inside are terrifying stories of workers whose rights have been stripped away, because they are often undocumented and have little support or leverage. Pesticides are destroying their health and the environment. Tomatoes are often grown in warm climates and shipped to grocery stores around the US, contributing to pollution. It’s an all around upsetting situation and one that will seriously make you reconsider picking up those tomatoes when you’re at the grocery store next time.

But Estabrook offers hope – there are people who are growing tomatoes on a large scale in a way that does not harm the workers or the land. It’s hard, yes, but it is possible. If people start demanding that those are the kinds of tomatoes that are offered by grocery stores, then there’s a chance that we can turn this industry around. This is a book that seriously opened up my eyes to something I had never thought about. I really love tomatoes, but I don’t buy them in nearly the same quantity as I did before and I try to be knowledgeable about where they are coming from. I think one of the most important things to take away from all three of these books: grow the food, the right way, for the right reasons. Kingsolver’s family goes to an extreme and Minnick’s neighbors are puzzled by his choice to garden organically, but as Tomatoland shows, you have to garden and farm in a sustainable way that’s going to be good for the people who work with the farm, the production of the plant, and for the long-term.

I can’t recommend these three books as three different glimpses into the farming world. Bonus: they are all three in very different styles, so if you know you prefer one style over another and you still want to read about the topic, here are three choices!

Remember, today’s linky is over at Kim’s blog Sophisticated Dorkiness, so be sure to head over there to add your link! I can’t wait to read all your posts!

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13 thoughts on “Nonfiction November Week 2 – Be/Ask/Become the Expert

  1. I really enjoyed Animal, Vegetable, Miracle and the other two are on my TBR list.

    Personally, I find it hard to even grow a pot of basil (!) so I don’t have any dreams of farming but these books teach me to never ever waste food or take it for granted, at the very least.

    1. My boyfriend and I really committed to growing food this year on our balcony and it was really hard! But I am glad we did it and we plan on trying again next year. Hopefully with a year of knowledge under our belt will make it a little bit easier!

    1. Such an interesting topic! I must admit – everything I know about the Romanovs comes from watching Anastasia as a kid and the subsequent hours of History Channel shows I watched about her. Must read more, I think!

  2. Wonderful post! I have mine scheduled to go up tomorrow, but I’m looking at foodie non-fiction from memoirs to travel writing and beyond. I looooved Animal Vegetable Miracle…it’s one of my all-time faves. I have The Blueberry Years on my wishlist, too. 🙂 Great list!

  3. I’m reading 5 Days at Memorial right now too. Just started last night in honor of Non-Fiction November. I’ve also heard great things about Tomatoland. Thanks for doing this!

  4. I love being able to discover a new topic through different nonfiction reads. It’s such a wonderful way to learn about a new process or place or piece of history!

  5. I’d love to have a farm some day too, Lu! 🙂 We grow lemons, tomatoes, and peppers along with a ton of herbs, but there’s not enough room to expand that to more home-grown food. I get really excited about food non-fiction, but somehow have never stumbled onto food memoirs until this year. Tomatoland is on my list, but now I get to add two more books to my to-read list, haha. Thanks for sharing!

  6. Great topic. I loved Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. I have a couple of small blueberry bushes in my garden — although I only get to eat a couple each year before the birds get them (I’m working on that) — so I really want to read Blueberry Years. A friend of mine read Tomatoland and quit eating tomatoes except for locally grown. So now I’m afraid to read it. At least not until I’m in a position to can my own tomatoes.

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