On occasion, being broadminded folks, we allow the non-reader to visit our home. They are frequently confused as to why someone would possess a couple of thousand books. The farming and gardening section, alone, in my home library contains approximately 300 titles. Seeking to expose some dark awful secret, they ask, “so, you’ve read all these books?” “No, not all,” I reply. They nod their head, having confirmed something. I nod mine, having confirmed something as well.
However, clearly, I do love to read. Here are five titles that inspired me to want to farm.
Country Life: a handbook for realists and dreamers (Paul Heiney). A book that falls broadly in the category of coffee table book. It is the type of work that launches a thousand would be farmers. Pictures of spotless and well-maintained barns and farms, gleaming piles of produce, pictures of cured hams and bacon, beautifully plowed fields, rosy cheeked little kids, populate the pages. And, heck, even the mounds of manure looked well-scrubbed in this book. Nevertheless, as a work to inspire dreaming and then buying a farm, it does its job remarkably well. And, it manages, despite its overly idealistic tone, to provide some solid information. We bought our copy a couple of years before we bought the farm. Soon we found ourselves spending our downtime cruising the backroads of Tennessee looking for a place of our own.
We Farm for A Hobby, and make it pay (Henry Tetlow). There have been hundreds of these farming memoirs published. Middle class family chucks the city life and moves to the country. And, on the whole, as a genre, they work. I had this on my shelf for over ten years before I pulled it down and read it, maybe a year before the title above. Written in the 1930’s it had all that was needed to suck me in to this life. It seemed so reasonable, economical, and fun. Written with a wry sense of humor, Tetlow covers all the essentials of a small diverse farm operation.
Lost Country Life: how English country folk lived, threshed, thatched, rolled fleece, milled corn, brewed mead (Dorothy Hartley). Using Thomas Tusser’s instructional poem on English farming, she provides an encyclopedic assembly of farm life in the 1500-1600’s. Following the calendar, it covers the whole of the farm and village productive life, with plenty of history and wit added for texture. Beautifully written, completely engrossing, I highly recommend that I reread it.
A Farm: reflections of yesteryear (Philippe Dumas). A beautiful collection of watercolors that document the daily life on a farm that belonged to the artist’s wife’s grandfather. Each print illustrates a part of the life on a large and highly diversified farm before the arrival of the automobile. A lovely way to spend an evening is to turn the pages in this book.
My Summer in a Garden (Charles Dudley Warner). The next-door neighbor of Samuel Clemens, the author wrote this charmer in 1870. It covers a single season in his vegetable garden. Warner was a newspaper editor and clearly an influential man, even General Grant pops into his garden at some point. But, he did all his gardening himself. And, he has a fine self-deprecating sense of humor about his successes and failures. Which, of course, is the mark of a true gardener or farmer, that ability to laugh at oneself.
Each of these titles is still available, although the Dumas title is now at a dear price.