One Family’s Journey To Becoming Masterful Farmers

Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle was truly one unique story how a family turned their lives completely around regarding farming and the food they consumed. Along with her two daughters and husband, Steven L. Hopp, the Kingsolver’s packed up their things in Arizona and moved across the country to Virginia; they were set to undergo a year-long experiment in which the family would consume food only they ate or that was locally-grown in the area. Through a complete agriculture season, as well as two adventures — one throughout the upper Northeast and the other in Italy — we saw the family’s growing and eating habitats unfold.

I initially thought their journey would be a complicated one. I didn’t think the family would have enough food on their farm, or grow enough of a variety to satisfy their needs without eating similar dishes on a daily basis. I was wrong. Instead, the Kingsolver’s used a wide range of vegetables and fruits in making different dishes. The family really pulled together, everyone having a part in making their dream become a reality. Even during the toughest times — when the family had to pull off a party for Barbara’s birthday — everything seemed to go smoother than initially planned.

The one main thing I believe the family got from their experiment is that anything is possible when their is dedication and a willingness to get things done. Barbara’s birthday party is a great example, and despite it being in a tough part of the year for agriculture, friends and family all pitched in together. She states, “It put us in a bit of a pickle, though, to contemplate feeding a huge crowd on the products of our country this month. If my mother had borne me in some harvest-festival month like October, it would have been easy…Feeding just my own household on the slim pickings of our local farms had been a challenge.” [1] But the community pitched in, and helped pull off a tremendous Memorial Day party. Kingsolver adds, “Our friend Kirsty had grass-fed lamb. The Petersons had strawberries, Charlie had rhubarb, another family was making goat cheese. White’s Mill, five miles from our house, had flour.” They also got a better understanding of eating locally, and a number of examples are shown in the book. The Kingsolver’s stopped at the Farmers Diner in Vermont along their week-and-a-half long trip, a diner that purchases locally produced food that is made within a 70-mile radius.

The family’s adventure got me thinking about a number of things as well. I hear people all the time come into the restaurant I work at and ask where certain food comes from. I never understood why it mattered, but this story caught my attention why it’s important. Food that is grown locally is more appealing to our bodies and healthy than food purchased across the country, as most chain restaurants do because it is a lot cheaper. Kingsolver adds, “Buying your goods from local businesses rather than national chains generates about three times as much money for your local economy. Studies from all over the country agree on that, even while consumers keep buying at chain stores, and fretting that the downtown blocks of cute mom-and-pop venues are turning into a ghost town.” [2]

While the idea of most of us farming to the extent that the Kingsolver’s do is farfetched, there are certain aspects of this book that are certainly relatable to us. Cooking has essentially become a lost-art in today’s society compared to where it was years ago. Simply put, a lot of people think they don’t have enough time to cook; it’s so much easier to run to a fast-food chain or local restaurant and pick up dinner, especially after a long day of work. But the joys and healthy benefits of cooking yourself is slowly becoming extinct. Kingsolver even explains that cooking probably isn’t even the hardest part about the whole process — “For a dedicated non-cook, the first step is likely the hardest: convincing oneself it’s worth the trouble in terms of health and household economy, let alone saving the junked-up world.” [3] The benefits are endless too. And if you’re an interested farmer, there are certain possibilities for you to take under.  Try planting a few seedlings during the appropriate months and you can learn a lot.

This is a nonfiction story about the Kingsolver’s journey into the agriculture world. Hopps’s sideboards and Camille’s recipes also provide additional data, statistics, and useful information that incorporate an informative genre too. They are blended throughout most chapters, as both usually provide side information regarding Barbara’s narrative form in the chapter. I think all three writers are successful in this genre blending too. For example, Chapter 10 — Eating Neighborally — really switches shifts. Barbara uses a narrative in describing the family’s trip to the Farmers Diner in Vermont. Meanwhile, near the end of the chapter, Hopps’ sidebar “Speaking Up” provides information about asking for locally produced food in restaurants and grocery stores. Hopps states, “First: in grocery stores, when the cashier asks if you found everything you were looking for, you could say, ‘Not really, I was looking for local produce’. The smaller the store, the more open a grocer may be to your request.” [4]

If you are a person that enjoys agriculture and farming as a hobby, then this book is a must-read for you. Also, if you enjoy just recreational experiments on a farm, or are someone greatly concerned about your health and what we eat, this book provides endless amounts of quality information on what is good to consume and where you could possibly buy it.

[1] Kingsolver, Barbara, Steven L. Hopp, Camille Kingsolver. Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life. New York: Harper Collins, 2007. 104. Print.

[2] Kingsolver (2007), 149.

[3] Kingsolver (2007), 129.

[4] Kingsolver (2007), 152.

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