Friday, June 28, 2013

Book Review: Gaining Ground, by Forrest Pritchard

Gaining Ground
When I saw a press release about this book prior to its publication, I knew it was one that I wanted on my reading list.  (As a disclaimer, Forrest Pritchard is a follower of Joel Salatin's so you know upfront what you'll get here - a strong focus on animal husbandry and allowing the products of his farm to reach his customer unadulterated with additives, chemicals or "unnecessary messing with.")

I found the story interesting and well written; Forrest isn't shy about the lack of experience he carried into his farming career or the mistakes he's made.  I've heard some elements of his story from other farmers, as his exploits and theirs follow a similar path.  Many farmers have told me of trouble selling their produce and meat in their own communities, of being forced to travel a good distance to a heavily populated city center in order to be fairly compensated for their labor. As Forrest writes, "Talent at home goes wasted."

One of the most interesting episodes to me is his attempt to finally clear out the synthetic fertilizer that had been stored on his ranch, with the outcome leading me to wonder how many farming families have been harmed simply by proximity to these chemicals.  There is also a heartfelt discussion on the ethics of raising animals for slaughter - I have renewed respect for sustainable livestock farmers.

Forrest is at heart an entrepreneur.  He tries different avenues to create income from the farm, from firewood to eggs to meat, and his first foray into the world of farmers markets is heartbreaking. He struggles with unscrupulous butchers, customers who expect everything for nothing, and equipment that is past its prime and held together with baling wire. I enjoyed the descriptive narrative around the growth of his business and the genesis of his farming manifesto.  In 1997 he had his last factory farmed cheeseburger, and the mental shift that accompanied this decision had its origin in his closer proximity to the food chain.  That may be the key for our small farmers, with the current popularity of backyard chickens and vegetable gardening increasing exposure to livestock and homegrown goodness.  

Gaining Ground is a feel good story that has an underlying message - a message to take what you have and make a difference.  As Joel Salatin says, it's an important book for those who will never farm, because Forrest's story is played out daily across this country in the lives of small farmers.  Until the consumer understands the value of their purchase when they buy from a small, sustainable farmer, and the impact it has on our local economies, our local food infrastructure will continue to grow slowly.

Two thumbs up!

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