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Books to Farm By

As a writer as well as a farmer, I've made a point this summer to catch up on reading about farming, lifestyle, self sufficiency, and the back to the land movement. Some books I've read before, some I've been enjoying for the first time, and all are important insights into their writer's perspective on agriculture.

First of all, I'd like to point out that research is key to a successful farm. This summer much of my reading has focused on lifestyle pieces, books about the ideas behind living a self reliant lifestyle and how to succeed on a modern farm. If you're just starting a homestead or farm, it is tantamount to your success to do extensive reading on the specific animals and plants you're planning on growing.

If you're investing in a living creature, whether it be the animals on your farm or yourself and your family by providing them with food, a thorough understanding of that living creature's needs should be considered. I'll take a moment to discuss some of my favorite books on the animals we keep, but you should collect a library based around the livestock on your farm.

The books by Eliot Coleman, especially The New Organic Grower, should the cornerstone of any organic gardener's library. His experience and knowledge of organic gardening is a great resource to draw upon, and his books are comprehensive in their discussion of different kinds of vegetables, fruits, and other plants.

While I don't follow a paleo diet, Diana Rodger's Homegrown Paleo has become a great resource in my kitchen. The book is focused around eating in season, so it is helpful for anyone with a vegetable garden. Additionally, she includes sections at the beginning and end of the book on animal care, gardening, and living a sustainable life.

Storey Publishing offers a wide variety of Guides to... all of the different kinds of farm animals you can imagine. They also have come out more recently with a series of the Backyard Homesteader's Guide to... which are also very comprehensive.

Lisa Steele, who operates the award winning blog Fresh Eggs Daily, is the author of natural chicken and duck keeping books and has a forthcoming book on gardening with chickens, all of which are great for anyone getting ready for a backyard flock.

There are many great books on beekeeping, but if you're going to be building a top bar hive there are two books that tell you how to build a hive and why this type of hive is important to honeybee health. They are Top-Bar Beekeeping and The Thinking Beekeeper.

My favorite goat related book is not a how-to on goat keeping, but an inspiring book about a couple's journey from city living to farm life with a herd of Nubians. Brad Kessler's Goat Song is poignant and wonderfully written, and is a title I simply could not put down until I had finished it.

For the lifestyle choice of self reliance, there are so many wonderful books that are well worth reading. The titles of Joel Salatin are all excellent guides, with great practical information on how to farm intermingling with strong opinions on why farmers are important. Salatin, a self-descibred "Christian-libertarian-environmentalist-capitalist-lunatic-farmer", can come across offensively if you disagree with his opinions, but his strong mindedness is part of his allure. For a particular book, I'd start with You Can Farm.

A classic back-to-the-land title is Living the Good Life by Helen and Scott Nearing. While their opinionated prose can have a similar effect as Salatin's if you find yourself in disagreement, their book contains useful how-to information on living off of the land, and was the catalyst for many in the 1960s movement of self reliant living. The timing of the book, published in 1954, gives a unique perspective how many things we tend to think of as "modern" problems.

Moving further back in time is the classic lifestyle piece, Henry David Thoreau's Walden. Proving that people have been trying to move back-to-the-land since the mid-1800s, Thoreau's book is a classic chronicle of a social experiment, full of beautiful descriptions of his lifestyle and the thought process behind his choices.

A collection of essays written by E.B. White published in 1942, One Man's Meat may not offer as much practical advice as some of these other titles, but it is a personal and touching account of life on a saltwater farm in Maine. White's writing is forever immortalized in his children's book Charlotte's Web, but this collection is all about his real life experiences and offers a candid and humorous look into the author's life as a farmer.

The books of Wendell Berry, particularly The Unsettling of America, are wonderful reads. Berry is a poet and his use of the language is inspiring, while his understanding of the problems that face American agriculture is profound. His arguments are urgent messages to save the rural environments of America through sustainable use, and his message makes him something of a Thoreau of modern day.

Finally, my favorite book of my summer reading has been The Contrary Farmer by Gene Logsdon. Logsdon, who passed away in May of this year, offers opinion and tips on surviving on a cottage or family farm in America today. I loved his book partially because of its combination of practical how-to information on every aspect of farm life, and partially because he has no partial allegiances and simply champions successful methods without getting caught up too strongly in one cause or another. Practical and even amusing at times, Logsdon's writing cuts to the chase, and his title springs from a classic poem by Wendell Berry, the author mentioned above.

There is an abundance of writing on self reliant living and there are still hundreds of titles I have not yet read. My library is ever expanding, and hopefully a few of these titles will help yours expand as well!


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