Monday, September 5, 2011

A New Trend? City-Folk-Turn-Farmer Memoirs

I like natural trends. Not trends like what's currently going on in YA with vampires in particular and the supernatural in general. Editors and agents are looking for "the next Stephanie Meyer", or they're looking for post-apocalyptic teen novels a la The Hunger Games. These aren't really trends, because they're forced. People are hitching their wagons to successful books and crossing their fingers. These books certainly sell, and there are likely to be some gems among them, but I prefer trends that happen more organically, without anyone noticing until there are already a dozen books out there. Those are the book truly speaking to the zeitgeist.

And here's a new one I've spotted: farm memoirs. And not just any farm memoirs, but formerly-urban people who've turned to farming, often because they've fallen in love with a farmer (although usually that farmer is also an ex-urbanite.) I know people have mentioned this trend, as in "it's another farm memoir", but I haven't seen anyone looking for the next farm memoir, or talking about what a successful sub-genre it is, or discussing why these books are what we seem to want to read right now. A combo of the bad economy and the foodie movement would be the obvious answers, but I think in addition, it's a generational thing. We've gotten to the point where stable young-ish adults in their 30s and 40s (those with the financial wherewithal to embark on such an endeavor), have very romantic and nostalgic views of farming life, since we are so far removed from it. We haven't experienced the trials of our grandparents and parents who may have had to sort carrots for 12+ hours a day in wintery Pennsylvania without heat, or who almost died when they fell off and rolled under the combine, or who remember the filth and backbreaking work 365 days a year, only to barely scrape by. I visited the family farm three years ago (my family owned it for more than 300 years, but went bankrupt in the late 1960s/early 1970s, losing the entire property. All these pictures are of the farm.) My father had a lot of stories to tell but if you really listen to the stories - not just to the parts about how delicious the food was - it wasn't the least bit enticing for any of us. It sounded like a difficult, painful, tedious life.

That said, I always like to read about other people doing things I would never want to do myself. Therefore, I have a few of these on my shelf, a couple under my belt, and have run across several more. So I thought I'd do a round up of them here, in case you like this sort of thing as I do:

The Orchard: A Memoir by Theresa Weir
A street-smart city girl must adapt to a new life on an apple farm after she falls in love with Adrian Curtis, the golden boy of a prominent local family whose lives and orchards seem to be cursed. Married after only three months, young Theresa finds life with Adrian on the farm far more difficult and dangerous than she expected.

The Dirty Life: A Memoir of Farming, Food, and Love by Kristin Kimball
Single, thirtysomething, working as a writer in New York City, Kristin Kimball was living life as an adventure. But she was beginning to feel a sense of longing for a family and for home. When she interviewed a dynamic young farmer, her world changed. Kristin knew nothing about growing vegetables, let alone raising pigs and cattle and driving horses. But on an impulse, smitten, if not yet in love, she shed her city self and moved to five hundred acres near Lake Champlain to start a new farm with him.

The Bucolic Plague by Josh Kilmer-Purcell
Suddenly, Josh—a full-time New Yorker with a successful advertising career—and Brent are weekend farmers, surrounded by nature's bounty and soon, a fledgling business, born of a gift of handmade goat-milk soap, blossoms into a brand, Beekman 1802.

Farm City: The Education of an Urban Farmer by Novella Carpenter
Novella Carpenter loves cities-the culture, the crowds, the energy. At the same time, she can't shake the fact that she is the daughter of two back-to-the-land hippies who taught her to love nature and eat vegetables. Eventually she moved to a ramshackle house in inner city Oakland and discovered a weed-choked, garbage-strewn abandoned lot next door. She closed her eyes and pictured heirloom tomatoes, a beehive, and a chicken coop.

It's a Long Road to a Tomato: Tales of an Organic Farmer Who Quit the Big City for the (Not So) Simple Life by Keith Stewart
Already in his early forties and not entirely content with his lot, Keith Stewart traded life in New York’s corporate grind for an upstate farm. Starting as a one-man operation, short on experience and with modest expectations, Stewart soon found that the agrarian life, despite its numerous challenges, suited him well.

This Life Is in Your Hands: One Family, Sixty Acres, and a Family Undone by Melissa Coleman
Melissa Coleman delivers a luminous, evocative childhood memoir exploring the hope - and struggle behind her family's search for a sustainable lifestyle. Coleman’s searing chronicle tells the true story of her upbringing on communes and sustainable farms along the rugged Maine coastline in the 1970’s, embedded within a moving, personal quest for truth that her experiences produced.

See You in a Hundred Years:Discover One Young Family's Search for a Simpler Life . . . Four Seasons of Living in the Year 1900 by Logan Ward
Logan Ward and his wife, Heather, were prototypical New Yorkers circa 2000: their lives steeped in ambition, work, and stress. Feeling their souls grow numb, wanting their toddler son to see the stars at night, the Wards made a plan. They would return to their native South, find a farm, and for one year live exactly as people did in 1900 Virginia: without a car or electricity–and with only the food they could grow themselves.

The Pioneer Woman: Black Heels to Tractor Wheels -- A Love Story by Ree Drummond
Ree Drummond tells the true story of her storybook romance that led her from the Los Angeles glitter to a cattle ranch in rural Oklahoma, and into the arms of her real-life Marlboro Man.

Have you too noticed this trend? Do you like to read these back-to-the-farm books too? Do they inspire you to plant a garden or go to the farmer's market? Do you like these books more for the romance of moving somewhere impulsively for love, than for the farming aspect? Do you think this is crazy and these people should all just eat a bagel on the subway and get over it?


Christy said...

I have noticed this trend, but of the ones you listed, I've tried reading only the Melissa Coleman book, which unfortunately I did not care for. (Mostly, I did not care for her writing style.)

The author of this article in Lapham's Quarterly has also noticed the trend and notes the same thing you do about how nostalgia for farming sometimes glosses over how hard that life really is:

Carin Siegfried said...

@ Christy, that was a really cool article! Thanks for the link! Luckily the Coleman book is not one that I have, as based on reviews I've already decided it's not quite for me.

Jeane said...

Definitely noticed the trend. I've read See You in a Hundred Years, The Bucolic Plague, Farm City and The Dirty Life, of the ones you've mentioned. And now added the others to my list! I enjoy reading these books, probably because I love gardening and dream of farm life, but I know it would be way too hard for me.

Kristen said...

I am a total bandwagon jumper as I fall for these "themed reads" every time I see them. They half make me want to cultivate a garden on the side of my house but since I can't even keep tomatoes alive on my deck, I have so far confined myself to the books. And as you might suspect, I have loads of them on my shelves. ;-)

Booksnyc said...

Very good analysis of the latest literary trend! Of the books you mention, Bucolic Plague interests me the most - I have seen their show on Planet Green and they are funny characters whether on a farm or in the city!