When my coworker handed me this book during Non-Fiction November, I couldn’t resist reading it right away. The premise sounded wonderful: Barbara Kingsolver and her family decided to live off the land for one year, only consuming what they grew themselves or what was produced close to their home. Of course it helped that they already had a large piece of land in Appalachia, ready for small-scale farming. If you have read Kingsolver’s Prodigal Summer, then you will certainly recognize the setting. I was very enthusiastic about reading this book, and for a while, it was indeed very interesting.
For a few years now, my family has made an effort to support our local farmers, not only because locally grown, fresh food tastes much better than supermarket fare, but also because in the area we live, farmers need all the help they can get to stay in business. Before reading this book, though, it had never occurred to me that this country could drastically reduce its consumption of oil by simply choosing local produce that has not been transported for hundreds, if not thousands, of miles. One more reason to visit the farm stands down the road, especially if they offer heirloom produce! So far, Kingsolver and I were in full agreement. But after reading about a third of the book, the somewhat preachy tone started to rub me the wrong way.
I had hoped for some anecdotes, some humor, some tips and tricks for the average person. Instead, I found myself slightly annoyed by how perfect everything seemed to be, how smoothly everything was running. Good for the Kingsolvers! I am happy that their experiment worked so well, but I found very little practical advice that would work for me and my family. I am not willing to dig up the backyard to grow vegetables because then the kids couldn’t go sledding there in the winter. I am too lazy to spend my August evenings canning tomatoes and figuring out what to do with all the zucchini. I have no interest in keeping chickens—and I can’t even imagine my kids’ outrage would I suggest keeping a chicken so that we can slaughter it later. I have a hard enough time getting my kids to eat healthy; I don’t need to push the envelope by serving rhubarb in March because there’s no other local produce available.
And just when I resolved to make an effort and go to the all-year farmers’ market two towns over at least once a month, Kingsolver tells me that it is not worth it because the green leafy vegetables I am likely to get there are probably hydroponically grown, rather than in healthy, wonderful, organic soil. But as she herself points out, it can be very expensive to buy local, organic food, especially in the off-season. The only solution to this problem would be to set up a heated greenhouse and grow it yourself. Again, that won’t happen at my house.
I think what bugged me was that there was no clear line here between memoir and advice. If she had simply recorded her experiences of the year, it would have been fine. But too often, the book attempts to give advice that is not practical for most people. So overall, this book wasn’t quite right for me. I will set this one free in the hopes that someone else will enjoy reading it more than I did. In the meantime, I’ll be on the lookout for more books about how I can incorporate local foods into our daily life.