The Best Books for the Organic Farmer & Gardener, part 1

winter reading: the best books for organic farmers and gardeners

Winter is for lovers.  Book lovers, that is.

I’m often asked how I got started in farming.  The truth is, I read myself into it.

Books planted the first seeds of my organic farming journey.  They showed me that this lifestyle not only existed, but that it’s possible.

And while I believe that every season is the perfect season for reading, winter is especially so.  All those long nights, the invitation of a good book, a cup of tea, and the warmth of the wood stove really set the mood for reading and dreaming.

The Best Books for the Organic Farmer & Gardener

Before the more technical, production-oriented books, read these first.

Organic farming is so much more than growing food.  It’s a way into the world.  A way of living that pulls you close to the land and illuminates the natural connections we all share.

It’s also hard.  Really hard sometimes.

And because of that, it’s important to grow deep roots into your “why.”  When you understand why you’re doing something, when your life sprouts from the soil, you’ll find your way through the hard parts.  Growth might slow, but it will continue, and you’ll be all the hardier for it.

With that, here are my foundational books.  The ones that lured me into farming, and the ones that have enriched my journey.

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, by Barbara Kingsolver

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, by Barbara KingsolverThis was the book that tempted me back into being an omnivore after six years of vegetarianism.  I read it in my junior year of college, and while I kept my vegetarian diet for another year, this book showed me the importance of local eating, including local protein.

But beyond the philosophical and environmental aspects of local, there’s the personal connection, the poetry of place, and the rich life that comes from relationship with plants, animals, and soil.

There’s a new 10th anniversary edition out this year, and I’m eager to pick it up and read the new chapters and takeaways of a local life over the past decade.

The Dirty Life, by Kristen Kimball

The Dirty Life, by Kristen KimballAs much as this book is about farming, it is also about love.

Kimball takes us on her journey of falling in love with her husband and with the land itself through the small act of hoeing broccoli, the emotional demands of butchering a pig, and the deep rewards of eating a meal she began preparing long before it reached the kitchen.

I read this book after my first year working on an organic farm, and it propelled me to keep going on this path.

Kimball offers a tempered balance of the aching work and uncertainty of farming with the nourishing harvests and lessons that sprout from it all.

Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants, by Robin Wall Kimmerer

Braiding Sweetgrass, by Robin Wall KimmererI savored this book.  In fact, I originally took it out from the library, but ended up buying a copy of my own just a few chapters in.  When so much about the world feels out of control, this book offers a way back to connection, relationship, and reciprocity with nature.

An avid gardener herself, Kimmerer writes:

“People often ask me what one thing I would recommend to restore relationship between land and people.  My answer is almost always, ‘Plant a garden.’  It’s good for the health of the earth and it’s good for the health of people.  A garden is a nursery for nurturing connection, the soil for cultivation of practical reverence.  And it’s power goes far beyond the garden gate—once you develop a relationship with a little patch of earth, it becomes a seed itself.

Something essential happens in a vegetable garden.  It’s a place where if you can’t say ‘I love you’ out loud, you can say it in seeds.  And the land will reciprocate, in beans.”

Farming, a handbook, by Wendell Berry

Farming, a handbook, by Wendell BerryEvery farmer needs poetry.  [Everybody needs poetry]

Wendell Berry’s poems have cradled and inspired and grounded me.  He reaches from the soil out to the world, to houses and pastures, to politics and culture, and he always humbly returns to the earth.

Among the many lines that resonate, here’s one of my favorites, from his poem “The Morning’s News”:

I will serve the earth / and not pretend my life could be better served. / My life is only the earth risen up / a little way into the light, among the leaves.

Berry has written over 50 books of essays and poems and fiction, and while I’m partial to his poetry, you really can’t go wrong with any of them.

bee pollinating organic echinacea flowersNow tell me: what books have inspired you to grow?  Leave them in a comment below—I’m always adding to my book wish-list 🙂

Happy reading!

7 thoughts on “The Best Books for the Organic Farmer & Gardener, part 1”

  1. I loved Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, too! The book that inspired me in college was Edward Said’s “Covering Islam.” It taught me to think critivally, especially about information coming from the media. It taught me a lot about stereotypes and prejudice. Very eye opening at the time!

  2. Pingback: The Best Books for the Organic Farmer & Gardener, part 2 - The Good Heart Life

  3. We seem to have read a lot of the same books. Other that have inspired me are “The Message in a Seed – Guidelines for Peaceful Living”; “Turn Here Sweet Corn”; “Deep Gardening; “The Seed Underground”; “Miraculous Abundance”; “Old Man Farming”; “Edible Schoolyard” and “All The Dirt” to name just a few. I seem to have put together quite an extensive library of farming books over the years (which are shelved above my desk in my home office for daily inspiration) and am always thrilled to add others. I keep dreaming of the day I can put all this into practice on a larger scale than we are doing now. Thank you again for your continued inspiration!

    1. THANK YOU for the book recommendations! I haven’t read any of the ones you mentioned, and now I’m excited to add to my list.
      I keep my books close by for inspiration, too.
      Wishing you a very happy New Year! Thank you for all you grow, no matter what scale it’s on 🙂

  4. Pingback: Putting the garden to bed: 3 steps to help your field rest well - The Good Heart Life

  5. Braiding Sweetgrass is my all time favorite book. I often get tears in my eyes while reading it because it resonates so deeply within me. When I finish the book, I start reading it over again – savoring it once again.
    Animal, Vegetable, Miracle and The Dirty Life were both delightful reads. And one can not go wrong when reading Wendell Berry.
    I am currently reading The Hidden Half of Nature by Anne Bikle and David Montgomery. I had the pleasure of hearing Anne speak at the Acres USA conference last December in Minneapolis. The book project was spurred on when they decided to transform their back yard into a garden, and connects the health of the soil with the health of our gut microbiome.
    I first read your writing on healing from Lyme in the Taproot Magazine (which also brought tears to my eyes).
    The Signature of All Things, a novel by Elizabeth Gilbert, is another favorite read that was a birthday gift that provided many hours of pleasure.

    1. Thanks for your book suggestions! I’m going to add The HIdden Half of Nature to my list 🙂

      I loved The Signature of All Things, too. Elizabeth Gilbert is one of my favorite writers. Thank you so much for reading my essay, too. I’m so glad it resonated with you, and also happy to let you know I’m feeling much better these days. I hope you’re well — happy reading!

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