A meander, with hoe, through organic vegetable patches, lost orchards, seed catalogs and produce markets with a dedicated gardener in search of a small farm.
From experiments “trying to live off the grid” in Washington state after college to raising produce on semiurban plots around Portland, Maine, Buchanan has always followed his passion for heritage plants: the ugly heirloom baking apple, undersized pear, thin-skinned tomato and other relics of the old family farm lost or marginalized by bottom-line-obsessed agribusiness, environmental degradation and government regulation. In this combination of memoir and treatise for the back-to-the-farm movement, the author laments the loss of 90 percent of America’s crop diversity over the last century. What that means to the average supermarket shopper is dinner without a world of region-specific savors—the fruit of what the French call the terroir. Seeking inspiration and the perfect place to start a market garden, Buchanan made research forays to thriving organic farms and nurseries in New England, talked with seed collectors, visited a USDA gene bank and hunted for heritage apple trees by highways and in backyards. He ponders the relevance of agricultural diversity in the contemporary world and the role individuals can play in keeping heritage varieties in our markets and on our plates. Buchanan ended up swapping work for equipment and the use of small parcels of tillable land around Portland, where he continues to battle late blight and caterpillars to raise a varied crop of rare apples for his own brand of raw cider. It’s a catch-as-catch-can lifestyle, but it’s deeply satisfying to Buchanan and demonstrates the way forward for a new generation of farmers and locavores.
A specialized look at the small-farming movement, written with appealing self-knowledge, diligent research and occasional flair.