A memoir delivers essays about leaving the rat race behind to start a small farm in Australia.
In 2006, Featherstone (Small Farm Success Australia, 2018, etc.) and her husband left their city jobs to commit to a farming operation on 89 acres outside Nabiac in New South Wales. With their three young children in tow, they approached the venture with curiosity and energy and worked at acquiring new skills. “I’m going to teach myself to be useful,” the author vowed. For instance, she kept bees even though she was allergic to their stings, and many of the straightforward recipes for vegetarian food and all-natural toiletries in the appendix incorporate honey and/or beeswax. They raised chickens, sheep, goats, and cattle to keep the grass under control and sold their products at four farmers markets per month. Eventually, they applied for government funding to make their farm a tourist attraction—a bee farm with insect-friendly plants—but in the meantime they made money by running the place as a “farmstay.” It was a busy life that suited this “hybrid hippy workaholic,” as Featherstone self-deprecatingly describes herself. Her tone throughout is one of good-natured exasperation, starting with their first farmstay guests’ kids’ shooting cap guns at her rabbits. Another highlight is the entertaining story of the German “Wwoofers” (agricultural workers who volunteer in return for room and board), nicknamed “Sour” and “Dour,” who nearly ate them out of house and home and did almost zero work. Many memorable anecdotes feature animals, from an encounter with an Eastern brown snake to the rescue of Daffy the cow from a water hole. Featherstone has an ear for striking and funny turns of phrase, like “Most lambs have a bucolic baa, a sweet, milky tinkle, but this one is Fran Drescher on a megaphone.” The author makes it clear that small-time farming is grueling work for little reward—“The problem with the simple life is it’s false advertising”—and toward the book’s end, a decade on, she’s exhausted. Yet hope remains that sustainability is worth pursuing and things will look up.
A charming but realistic look at the modern farming life.