Farming around the Country: An Organic Odyssey
Brian J Bender, NorlightsPress, Nashville, IN, United States, September 2010For a year, leaving a high school science teaching job behind, author Brian Bender worked as a volunteer on 12 smal-scale organic farms across the United States, from Vermont to California and from Florida to Oregon, from livestock to produce, from the subtropics to glaciers, with a bit of couchsurfing in between. Through a factual as well as engaging first-person narrative, the reader is immersed in the life of an educated and sensitive Woofer, witnessing the natural beauty and daily chore of organic farm life, off-grid and communal living with opinionated, gracious and difficult hosts and fellow volunteers from all walks of life, the good times and the hard times: “I often felt my well being ranked below the tomato plants”, “Joan proceeded to lecture me on my place as a guest, and then she tossed fresh linens on the floor and ordered me to change the sheets”, “Debbie was one of the rare flower children who came out of the 1960’s with her dreams and her mind still intact”, “Chestnut Hill reflected the only bit of beauty Sam cared to share with the world, and if an ugly slug or obnoxious crow attempted to mar the scenery, Sam squashed the opposition”. All with a good dose of detached and self-deprecated humour which makes this quite lengthy account an enjoyable and educational read. Certainly recommended for those thinking of taking a year off to ‘Woof’ or similar, those farmers thinking of hosting volunteers, for travel writing fans and indeed for anthropology / sociology enthusiasts. Short chapters on such as the ones on the Appalachian trail and Vipassana meditation provide delightful distractions while a short passage on raw milk, will certainly convince the reader to try it.
The following, a quotation from a host recorded by the author, must surely sum up the spirit of genuine organic farmers and Woof hosts: “to educate as many young people as possible about living on the land, living sustainably, living in community, living meaningfully, living aware of nature, growing your food, developing meaningful relationships, enjoying life, inspiring others and being inspired by others, living, living, living, making every moment count, teaching and learning and being real with no B.S.” Then again we also get to read about those, hopefully a minority, who while operating highly profitable farms and cooperating with high-end chefs, exploit volunteer labour under the ruse of Woofing.
This is not one more dry how-to guide fo volunteers: there are no guidelines and know-it-all instructions, no diagrams, no pictures even: no need - the authors descriptions are as sharp as any. Neither is it a glowing or indirect advertising account for specific farms and accommodation providers, as so much of travel writing these days. It could have been a documentary and it can become a scenario for an alternative off-road movie trip across the United States, showing the rest of the world its other, beautiful, small-size, peaceful side, and that there, through organic farming & living, many are already applying Gandhi’s famous dictum, quoted in the book, “be the change you would like to see in the world”.
The only character, among people and animals, that is not described in detail, until the final chapters of the book is perhaps the author himself. By the end of the book we can deduce with confidence that this has indeed been a real, eye-opening journey, that he is indeed “happy”, “always learning” and “forever changing”. Hopefully happiness will not stand in the way of more travel and writing.