Thursday, March 22, 2012

Non-Fiction: All the Dirt: Reflections on Organic Farming by Rachel Fisher, Heather Stretch & Robin Tunnicliffe

It surprises even some western Canadians to discover that a big chunk of the new food movement had its start there. The 100-Mile Diet, the internationally bestselling book that some would say started a revolution, was penned by a pair of Vancouver writers about their experience trying to eat local for one year. In many ways, the couple were crystallizing a new way of thinking… or perhaps it is closer to the truth to say they were rethinking old ways. In either case, the book sent a heartfelt message that the world was ready to hear: the modern food chain was broken and the only way to fix it was probably going to be at the grassroots. That is, no big corporation was going to swoop in and fix this one. If we wanted a different kind of food, we were going to have to do it ourselves, one hand-grown tomato at a time.

Incredibly, that was 2007. There have been other books since then. Some of them well thought out and important, some clearly trying to cash in on a market that seemed suddenly bottomless and insatiable. It was a brand new field and there was little beyond questions. Did anyone actually have solid answers? As it turns out, the answer is “yes.”

All the Dirt: Reflections on Organic Farming (Touchwood) is the would-be organic farmer’s answer book, though I’m guessing the appeal will go far, far beyond that very specialized group. The three authors -- Rachel Fisher, Heather Stretch and Robin Tunnicliffe -- got back to the land for various reasons, separately, and they tell those early stories in their own words in the book, as well as a lot more.

Ten years ago the trio started Saanich Organics, a farmer-run local food distributor that really forms the heart of a whole food community and is striving to create a viable alternative to industrialized agriculture. But as readers quickly realize, that’s the party line, in a way. No one really starts out challenging the Frankenstein monster that is contemporary corporate food. They get there -- grow there -- one turnip (or apple or rutabaga or beet) at a time. That is, you don’t become an organic farmer for the potential wealth or the glamour. You do it, bottom line, because to do anything else is to not be true to yourself and your beliefs. At least, that was the impression I was left with reading All the Dirt.

“When this journey started for me,” writes Rachel Fisher, “fifteen years ago, I was an idealist, a wannabe back-to-the-lander, with extreme environmental views and a big cynical chip on my shoulder about the excesses of Western society.”

You read that and you figure that this is the beginning of a tale about someone who learned better. Learned the hard way. But you soon come to realize that this isn’t the case at all. Later she writes about her present:
If I could distill the essence of what this life of growing food is all about into one word, that word would be “promise.” The promise of the beauty and bounty the next year could bring keeps the dream at the forefront through the wet, cold winter.
In so many ways, All the Dirt: Reflections on Organic Farming is truly the correct book to read after The 100-Mile Diet. After you’ve been swept away by the soil poetry of that book, this one brings you back to reality. Then lifts you up again. A how-to book with heart and soul. What could be ore appropriate to the topic at hand than that? ◊

Linda L. Richards is the editor of January Magazine, the author of several books and regrets that she was born with a black thumb.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm a city dweller with a little backyard garden and yet this 'How to do it' book for wanabee organic farmers filled me with pleasure. These young women's clarity, honesty, pleasure, disappointment,and elation with what they were doing and the fullness of their lives that shone through every word is just wonderful. It is a pleasure to read and vicariously to share their accomplishments.

Friday, March 30, 2012 at 8:05:00 PM PDT  

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