Friday, January 10, 2014

Growing A Famer (book review)

As the weather lately promotes a lot of indoor time and thus plenty of reading, I decided that I would start reviewing books that I have read.  The most recent piece that I finished is Growing a Farmer by Kurt Timmermeister.  This is one that I just happened across at the local library and being a chef was intrigued by the fork motif on the cover.  Once I got home and opened it up it was clear I'd be able to finish this one.
The book reads easily, no long winded exhortations on subjects that are difficult to follow or stories that seem to go on pointlessly as with some other "farmer" books I've read in the past.  The author simply lays out how he got started in farming and how his little plot of land evolved over the years and how he himself evolved as a farmer.
Timmermeister began as a young restaurateur of sorts with a small cafe' in Seattle selling in house baked goods and of course coffee (what else would you expect from the Pacific Northwest?) eventually upgrading his business as he got older and more experienced until owning a full blown seven day a week restaurant.  During this time he also began looking for a home to purchase and one with some land to it as he wanted to pursue growing food.  What he found was a less than perfect parcel on Vashon Island just off the coast of Seattle, Washington.  This is where the author begins to bide his time between the restaurant business and starting a farm business.  Finally he comes to the conclusion to sell the restaurant & stay in farming, utilizing the restaurant money to support himself over the next few years as he gets more adept at producing food.
It was interesting to read of the regular setbacks and problems with wildlife he faced as he did not romanticize things but laid out his distress and occasional thoughts of giving up, I enjoyed the realistic perspective of the whole endeavor.
As the author was raising animals for meat as well as eggs and milk, it was good to read about the difficulty he had with putting animals down but approached it with great reverence for the beasts and the life they were giving up.  As he went on to describe the entire process of slaughtering butchering chickens and pigs with great detail, it was not disturbing or gross but very respectful, focusing on the use of the entire animal rather than just the very few "good cuts".  I was somewhat bothered by his philosophy about feeding pigs.  He states in the book that pigs, much like humans, inherently know not to eat their own and that if given a pile of pig insides left from butchering, along with leftover chicken parts, the pigs will bypass the porcine bits altogether.  However, he did mention that if the parts are cooked that they then just become "meat" and the pigs do what they do best-eat.  He did not practice this heavily, it seemed, but I found it nonetheless unsettling.  I would never think to feed any part of an animal, cooked or raw, to it's own species regardless of their own willingness to partake it just doesn't make logical or ethical sense especially if the animal itself is to be consumed by people.
Aside from this one point of contention, the rest of the book was fun to read, I particularly enjoyed the farms weekly Sunday dinners that had to consist almost entirely of items from the farm.  This was not an incredibly difficult practice as the farm was home to a wide array of foods.  Timmermeister raises chickens for eggs & meat, pigs for meat as well as lard, cows for milk which is made into butter and cheese, fruit trees, berry brambles and of course a large vegetable garden.  Virtually everything you would need for a large dinner party was within reach on this small island farm.  These dinners along with the sales of cheese are what keep the farm afloat and while not necessarily "profitable" it keeps the bills paid and keeps the farm and farmer doing what they love.

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