Content Tagged ‘Louis Bromfield’

Shepherd: A Memoir named 2015 Ohioana Book Award Finalist

June 9, 2015 | 20 Comments

Tending what remains

May 13, 2014 | 8 Comments

I was concerned going into my panel Saturday, “Return to Nature: Nonfiction,” at the Ohioana Book Festival. Although farming still brings many of its practitioners into intimate daily contact with the natural world, let’s face it, farming is now seen mostly as hostile to nature. A necessary evil, at best. Yet so much else seems grandfathered in its deleterious environmental effects! Am I being thin-skinned here? I can’t tell.

As a former farmer and author of a book that portrays farming, I’m sure of one thing. Farming has become an exotic activity in America. People have heard too much to fully trust the mainstream, which engages in what’s become mysterious. But those seeking alternatives often seem lost. There they stand, looking at labels—pay extra for organic? what does grass-raised mean? are cage-free eggs better? And I’m among the uncertain: the man who knows too much. I know that organic farms are only as good as the farmers who run them. That such farms can be a sham, abuse the environment. And I fret about monster farms taking over the value-added organic market.

On balance, I’ve decided, a vote for organic-sustainable-pastoral-humane methods, the odd scammer among them notwithstanding, is a vote for a better system and will foster its emergence. Surely we’re all coming to know these things.

Such musing didn’t prepare me for my session with my lone fellow panelist (our third speaker was a no-show). A panel on nature and farming can mean anything. I was wondering about reading one of my rapturous landscape descriptions, when the moderator’s introduction turned me in a different direction.

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A true farmer & a good writer

December 4, 2013 | 14 Comments

During the years I worked on Shepherd: A Memoir, I learned that literary folk interested in country matters wanted to know my agrarian pedigree was pure. Maybe that I had one. Those early draft-readers wanted assurance that I’d read Wendell Berry and Wes Jackson. At first this irked me. Sure, I knew their work. Their writings on agriculture and American society have informed my thinking from early adulthood; Berry’s Jayber Crow is one of my all-time favorite novels.

But why was it crucial that I let readers of my story know that?

From the start, Shepherd explored my boyhood hero worship of Ohio farm memoirist Louis Bromfield; and my being influenced as a practitioner by Bromfield’s more pragmatic eco-farming successor, Joel Salatin; and my discovery of Charles Allen Smart’s classic memoir, RFD, set in the same region where I ended up struggling to become a farmer. Plus my day job was in publishing, so there was plenty more about books in my memoir.

I finally decided that concerns about my literary lineage were a kind of backhanded praise. As if those readers were saying, “This book is by a writer, not just some farmer.” So I dutifully mentioned Berry and Jackson.

Now it strikes me as odd that nobody mentioned E.B. White.

It is not often that someone comes along who is a true farmer and a good writer. White was both.

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Reading my father’s book at last

June 10, 2013 | 14 Comments

My father got enthused about hydroponics—growing plants in sterile sand, gravel, or vermiculite and fed by liquid fertilizer—while serving during World War II in the Pacific, where the U.S. Army established several vegetable farms. Family lore has it that Dad was the first American to land an airplane in Tokyo after the war ended. He was twenty-six years old on August 28, 1945, when he flew in Major General Kenneth Wolfe, who had directed the start of the heavy bombing campaign against Japanese cities. Outside Tokyo, which had been devastated by subsequent firebombing, Dad witnessed the development of a vast hydroponics facility.

At Chofu the army built a glass greenhouse that covered 232,000 square feet—over five acres—more than twice as large as any in the world. U.S. Signal Corps photographs show a gleaming structure that stretched to the horizon in a series of peaked glass roofs. Workers seeded lettuce, tomatoes, and other crops into gravel beds periodically saturated with 75,000 gallons of liquid fertilizer. Other crops apparently were grown hydroponically outside the greenhouse in special beds.

Soldiers longed for fresh vegetables, but they were forbidden to eat local food, grown under centuries of “unsanitary and primitive fertilizing practices,” Dad writes in Success Without Soil: How to Grow Plants by Hydroponics. This allusion to the use of human excrement was in contrast to the hydroponic plants grown in “sterile gravel and pure water.” He adds, “I wish that those who are not yet convinced of the value of soil-less growing could see the harvests taken from those fifty-five acres of concrete.”

Dad saw an opportunity—this was modern farming. The future, in fact: all variables were under control.

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Revising, from the top

July 13, 2011 | 10 Comments

Last summer, in Italy, I stood gaping before Michelangelo’s David and reflexively took a photo—no flash, but forgetting that all tourists’ photos of him are banned—and got chastised. Supposedly Michelangelo said he made the immortal statue by just chipping away what didn’t look like David. I’ve thought of writing as having to first create a block of marble, then pounding it into a narrative. Which must be an evident metaphor, because Bill Roorbach mentioned it in his blog’s recent advice …

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