A few weeks ago I picked up a copy of Gaining Ground: A Story of Farmers’ Markets, Local Food, and Saving the Family Farm, intrigued by the title and the foreword by Joel Salatin (a farmer and author well known in local/sustainable/permaculture circles). Forrest Pritchard tells the story of his journey to becoming a self-sufficient sustainable livestock farmer in a time when precious few farmers can actually make a living at it. It’s a memoir that shows one example of what a self-sufficient model looks like, and the bumpy road it took for Pritchard to get there.
Pritchard’s writing is friendly and personal, using lots of dialogue to make you feel like you’re overhearing the scenes. In the book he faces all sorts of obstacles: naysayers in his family, government regulations, a lack of local butchers, and quirky farmhands who make life more interesting. I felt myself getting frustrated along with him as he described his first few marketing experiences in which nobody bought anything. (“Come to the St. Charles Farmers Market! I’ll buy your stuff!” I yelled to the pages.) But of course this is a story about progress, and it slowly builds to a happy conclusion as he heals the land, finds people to help, tries new animals and techniques, and learns what is most important to him.
The story dragged a bit in the middle, settling into amusing stories and anecdotes that lacked the forward motion of the first half. However, it ended on a strong note, emphasizing that sustainable farming isn’t a destination but an ongoing journey.
The book was an entertaining and informative read for someone who’s interested in what a smaller, more family-oriented future of farming might look like. The book made me extra excited to hit up the farmers’ market again in the spring!