I didn’t actually read this book. It was one of the many audio books I listened to on my half-hour commute to and from work for three years. I think it would have been a more academic read if I’d actually had the book in hand, because it is a one-year chronicle of Barbara Kingsolver and her family (writer Steven Hopp and two daughters) living as “locavores.” Though my very infantile gardening habit currently pales in comparison to the things that Kingsolver journalistically records in this book, every once in a while I think I might attempt to expand my garden and have considered purchasing and using this book as a resource.
Essentially, they move to a farm in Virginia, and vow to only eat food that has been grown or raised within fifty miles. They allow themselves one “luxury item” each (coffee, hot chocolate, dried fruit, and spices) and bring a few things like olive oil and certain grains which are obviously from out-of-town. In addition to their own vast garden, they raise chickens, shop at local farmer’s markets, and trade with neighbors. They bake their own bread, clean and eat their own turkeys and roosters, and at one point, Kingsolver begins making her own cheese, which turns into a Friday night homemade pizza tradition.
Essentially, the book reads like a personal journal slash farmer’s almanac slash foodie magazine. It is organized chronologically and provides tons of information on growing crops, raising animals, and preparing and preserving food. Kingsolver’s voice is periodically interrupted by short essays from Steven or one of her daughters, which provide recipes along with commentary on controversies like CAFO’s. I loved it.
It is funny, because my husband grew up on the farm that has been in his family for four generations. Though his experience was not one of “living off the land” in the extreme way Kingsolver describes, he can remember the rows and rows of canning jars, filled with sweet corn, pears, green beans, and homemade spaghetti sauce. He’s talked of the dirtiest farm animals in the world (chickens), riding motorcycles at age five, making forts in the rafters of the barn, and Tony the Pony. But then, every time I mention how fun and healthy it would be to have some land and a huge garden and animals (and eggs!) he reminds me that the life of a farmer is anything but stress-free.
In many ways, this book was like reading a real-life and modern version of Little House on the Prairie. There is something primitive and instinctual (and probably Biblical) about the desire to grow food. I would not consider this book a lighthearted or entertaining read, sometimes it was painfully slow. But it was informative and interesting, and at the time, it helped me escape the condo-life I was living. I imagined, for a little while, days full of sun and free of social media.