If you've never lived on a farm, you probably have little idea of what it takes to harvest crops on a big enough scale to make a living from it. During the growing season of 2011, Richard Horan decided to find out just what's involved with bringing in the harvest on family-owned American farms. Harvest: An Adventure into the Heart of America's Family Farm tells the story of what he learned.
Here's the publisher's summary:
Novelist and nature writer Richard Horan embarked on an adventure across America to reveal that farming is still the vibrant beating heart of our nation. Horan went from coast to coast, visiting organic family farms and working the harvests of more than a dozen essential or unusual food crops—from Kansas wheat and Michigan wild rice to Maine potatoes, California walnuts, and Cape Cod cranberries—in search of connections with the farmers, the soil, the seasons, and the lifeblood of America.Richard Horan got the idea of taking part in America's harvest after listening to a radio show in which United Farm Workers president, Arturo Rodriguez, asked that more Americans apply for farm labor jobs. But Horan didn't want to work for mass-commercial organizations and didn't want to commit to the possibility of being involved in labor union politics. Instead, he decided to volunteer on small farms to learn about 21st-century harvesting methods.
Sparkling with lively prose and a winning blend of profound seriousness and delightful humor, Harvest carries the reader on an eyeopening and transformational journey across the length and breadth of this remarkable land, offering a powerful national portrait of challenge and diligence, and an inspiring message of hope.
After planning his travels around the harvest schedule and getting permission from the farm owners, Horan worked out a plan that took him to 10 farms and 8 states from July to October 2011. He followed the growing seasons of such diverse crops as wheat, rice, blueberries, tomatoes, and walnuts.
Horan writes in a very conversational style, even addressing his readers directly at times. This makes Harvest easy to read and engaging. For each farm visit, we meet the owners and crew, learn the methods of that particular harvest, eat a meal or two, and get a sense of the farm's environment.
Based on Horan's profiles, it's clear that today's farmers cannot be stereotyped and that they are hardly isolated from the greater world around them. Some are activists, some are conservative, and all are hardworking.
Horan's experiences as a laborer were also varied. Although his harvesting stints were mostly positive, everything was not always wonderful. Some crews were standoffish, he missed out on harvesting grapes, and some of the offered living conditions made him uncomfortable (at one point he opted to check into a hotel instead of using a dusty, buggy cabin and outhouse).
The best part of Harvest is getting a glimpse of the 10 farms, learning the different techniques of harvesting, and meeting the people. Some of the environmental concerns Horan outlines were also interesting, especially the legal issues that organic, traditional, and small farmers are having with Monsanto in terms of seeds and GMO products.
Unfortunately, Horan's farm visits were very short. After all, he was there specifically to bring in a particular crop, and that meant he was in the fields for only a few days (or so it seemed) at each place. Thus we don't get a full feel of the rhythm of the growing season and lack a wide-angle perspective of modern farm life. Horan doesn't downplay his own political views, so depending on where you stand, you may be fascinated or frustrated by some of what he writes.
The trademark PS section of this Harper Perennial edition contains photographs of the farms and excerpts from questionnaires that the host farmers filled out, providing more details about the people Horan met during his summer as a field laborer.
Richard Horan's Harvest is a good jumping-off place for anyone who is curious about modern-day small farms all across America. By the time you finish the book, you'll be grateful for the people who work hard to grow your food, and you'll also understand how much today's small farmers value their land and their way of life.
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