T.E.A.M. – Together Everyone Achieves More (Especially on a farm!)

T.E.A.M. – Together Everyone Achieves More (Especially on a farm!)

by Joseph Bonfadini

In an age in which most of us are too busy to realize what we are eating on a daily basis, let alone where it actually comes from, Barbara Kingsolver and her family set out to find out the reality of eating only locally and homegrown foods for a single year. An odyssey that takes the Kingsolver clan to places it probably never thought completely possible. In the book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle Kingsolver (with much help from the rest of the family) takes us all on a journey of edible enlightenment.

Packing up and heading east from Tucson, AZ, the Kingsolver’s seem to have a pretty good idea of what they are getting into when heading to the family farm in Virginia, and without a doubt the Kingsolver’s as a whole gained a lot of knowledge from this experience, but the daughters learned the most. The younger Lily learned the value of both the chicken and the egg, while the elder sister Camille gained a much broader understanding of how fresh vegetables taste, and even became a huge fan of dreaded asparagus: “Now my family laughs about my days of asparagus hatred, especially since I’ve become such a veggie hog, they have to move the dish out of my reach so there might be a chance of having some leftovers” [1]. She had gained an appreciation for the homegrown vegetables. She also is very aware about the make up and nutritional content of the foods which add a nice touch. Her insight is that of a teenager, and it gives another perspective of the situation as a whole. This helps tremendously for the younger audience and her recipes make the story somewhat tangible.

Throughout the book, Kingsolver’s husband, Steven Hopp, brings a more realistic aspect to the book. This is another effective tool. He uses solid statistics and lends credence to Kingsolver’s claims. Personally, I enjoyed his parts the most. The reality of his claims really hit home. An example is when speaking of the economic efficiency of smaller scale farms, Hopp states: “According to USDA records from the 1990s, farms less than four acres in size had an average net income of $1,400 per acre. The per-acre profit declines steadily as farm size grows, to less than $40 an acre for farms above a thousand acres” [2]. The factual based evidence that Hopp interjects helps cynics (like myself) to believe the claims being made. He also posts websites where the reader can go and find out more information on the topics he brought to the table. These were also the parts of the book that I learned most from. This is just another example of how the family works together on this project. As far as genre, this book would fall into the non-fiction and documentary categories. It’s real life, and that’s what makes it most intriguing.

Obviously not every family in America can do something like this, and that’s where I think the book misses a bit. Unless you have a substantial amount of land, this is not possible. Also, being a successful author with adequate financial means helps tremendously. The average family of 4 could not pull this off simply because of economics. Kingsolver does a decent job of listing alternatives for eating better, such as local farmer’s markets, but overall unless you are a farmer already, or you are in a very prosperous economic situation, this type of lifestyle would be virtually impossible. Even with the means to make it happen, it’s not easy. Kingsolver hints at how hard this is to maintain: “Farming is not for everybody; increasingly, it’s hardly for anybody. Over the last decade our country has lost an average of 300 farms a week. Large or small, each of those was the life’s work of a real person or family, people who built their lives around a promise and watched it break. The loss of a farm is a darkness leading to some of life’s bitterest ends. Keeping one, on the other hand, may mean also working in a factory at the end of a long daily drive, behind and ahead of the everyday work of farming” [3]. Again, this is hard work, but something Kingsolver thinks is worth it.

Overall, the book is entertaining. Kingsolver’s comedic relief keeps the reader smiling. The use of the husband and daughter make the book more appealing to men and younger persons, and that is effective. I would recommend this book for anyone interested in learning about the ways of factory and family farming, but also to someone interested in seeing how a family sets a goal, and then goes out and attains it. A single person could not do this and each family member plays his or her part. This combined with Kingsolver’s clever wittiness, and you have a very entertaining read.

[1] Barbara Kingsolver, Steven L. Hopp, Camille Kingsolver. Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. New York: HarperCollins, 2007. 48. Print.

[2] Kingsolver (2007), 84

[3] Kingsolver (2007), 119

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