A few months ago I was browsing my local bookstore looking for another Michael Pollan book. I have already read his three most popular books and they didn’t have any other titles so I looked around the section and found Growing a Farmer: How I Learned to Live Off the Land by Kurt Tinnermeister. I decided to buy it based on the concept of an urban Seattle restaurant owner starting a dairy farm on Vashon Island. The book is Tinnermeister’s autobiography of how twenty years ago he sold off his successful café chain to purchase land to start a small scale organic farm.
I really enjoyed this easy to read account of raising bees, creating a fruit orchard, caring for various critters and investing in the idea of farm life pre-high fructose corn syrup. I was in 4-H for nine years so bottle feeding sheep and milking cows is not a foreign idea, but what really caught my interest was the section on raising bees and harvesting honey. No matter how you spin it, the production of honey is an amazing process.
First off, the scheme of starting a farm in the Northwest climate seems ridiculous unless the goal is growing various forms of mold, mildew and mushrooms. Second, making a small scale farm successful in an American culture that prefers high quantity and low price, is a lofty goal. Lastly, you have to be a little nuts to spend your remaining life caring for crops and livestock. There is no family farm nanny to baby sit when a vacation is needed. It really sounds like a challenge but Tinnermeister shares how he overcame obstacles and trouble-shot local farming quirks.
Tinnermeister also describes the difficulties of competing with other local produce venders and federal regulations on whole milk. He includes a section on the pig butchering process and how you become closer to your food when you take part in all elements of its creation. (Raising, slaughtering, processing and baking my own chicken is on my bucket list.) Even if you are not planning to run away from the city and start your own farm project, there is plenty in Growing a Farmer to learn about how our food is made and regulated.