Did you read ANIMAL, VEGETABLE, MIRACLE by Barbara Kingsolver? Well, this is a grittier, yet slightly more fabulous, and gayer version of that book - all in a good way. Like lots of people, I read THE OMNIVORE'S DILEMMA and thought how great it would be to leave my city life behind and live off the land. Hell, I still harbor fantasies of leaving New York and moving to a farm to make my own cheese and preserve my own vegetable harvest. Luckily, there are books that remind me of the realities of such a plan:
1. ANIMAL, VEGETABLE, MIRACLE reminds me that it is really hard, back-breaking work to grow all your own food.
2. A PIG IN PROVENCE by Georgeanne Brennan reminds me that, by raising goats (or any living thing, for that matter), you face death and sickness regularly (there's a goat-birthing scene in that one I'll never, ever be able to get out of my head. Ever.).
3. THE BUCOLIC PLAGUE reminds me that buying a farm and working it could, quite possibly, put my marriage in jeopardy.
Kilmer-Purcell and his partner are successful Manhattanites who buy a farm in upstate New York on a whim and, basically, become weekend farmers. It's exhausting and amazing to read about how they juggle their demanding corporate jobs in New York City, a fledgling entrepreneurial business, and the nitty-gritty responsibilities of running a farm on the weekends. As you can imagine, it does begin to crack their 10-year relationship and the unraveling is sad and real.
What I appreciated about this book was the honesty and authenticity of Kilmer-Purcell's voice; at no point did I feel like he sugar-coated anything. I felt like I got a real glimpse of his life: funny, heartbreaking, ironic, difficult, and serendipitous. I mean, aren't all our lives like that?
One of my favorite scenes takes place in Martha Stewart's vegetable garden and Kilmer-Purcell says this:
The problem with perfection, I realized, is that it leaves others with nothing to do but search for flaws. In the Beekman garden, which had been sorely neglected lately, guests can wander and admire the plants and occasionally pull a weed or two. It made them feel useful, helpful, a part of a bigger picture. If the portrait was already completely painted, then there would be nothing left to do other than pick it apart.
Yes. As someone who struggles with perfection issues, I found this endearing and poignant. And it reminded me I should relax and let my dinner guests help me in the kitchen every once in awhile...
The food writing is superb, of course, and the birthday salad scene starting on page 220 is worth the price of admission alone. Trust me.
This book is for those of you looking for a new perspective on the farming experience. And think you might want to chuck it all and become a farmer? You might want to read up first. It can be beautiful, peaceful, and rewarding...but it ain't a walk in the park either.
Eat, drink, and be an armchair farmer.