Logsdon, Gene. Letter to a Young Farmer: How To Live Richly Without Wealth on the New Garden Farm. Chelsea Green. 224p. ISBN 9781603587259. $22.50.
Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture. Letters to a Young Farmer: On Food, Farming, and Our Future. Princeton Architectural. 176p. ed. by Martha Hodgkins. illus. ISBN 9781616895303. pap. $19.95. ea. vol: Mar. 2017. AGRI
Young farmers are having a moment. These books of essays from legendary names are full of practical advice for those getting started in farming. More than that, they are apologia for the small farmer and a celebration of wisdom transferred among generations. Just like James Rebanks’s best-selling A Shepherd’s Life, the message in these titles is that farming is hard, important, and needs to be taken seriously and thoughtfully (though with appropriate humor). Farmers, young and old, are speaking up for themselves, and everyone who eats can learn something from them.
The Stone Barns Center is a nonprofit that works to improve American farming, foodways, and soil. With Letters, it has compiled advice to young farmers from an impressive array of writers from various backgrounds, including international and urban. Some contributors take the writing assignment more literally than others do, but by including farmers, chefs, activists, and entrepreneurs, the essays form a cohesive vision of contemporary farming, including real solutions for problems such as climate change and jobs in rural areas.
Farmer, blogger, and journalist Logsdon’s (Gene Everlasting; A Sanctuary of Trees) book takes the same tack, with advice based on personal experience and a deep knowledge of farm literature. It is a useful companion to the Stone Barns offering, putting its contributors in context. Logsdon wrote humorous accounts of small-scale farming for decades, and finished this book just weeks before his death in 2016. As a self-styled “contrary farmer,” he tells it as he sees it, and his personality shines through in the idiosyncratic conclusions. His portrait of rural America provides much-needed nuance to the rhetoric prevalent in politics lately. VERDICT Anyone who gardens, particularly for food, will take something away from these books. Actual farmers may not need the advice but will appreciate the pep talk.