^ *sung like the opening of the song Memories from Cats*
Ok, so I confess: I kind of love memoirs. Not all memoirs, I’m admittedly shallow when it comes to that type of reading. I tend towards the humorous and most definitely skew towards female writers. Oh, I’ve read memoirs written by men and enjoyed them, but I (unsurprisingly) tend to find women more relatable. Shocker.
Of late, and by this I mean for the past year and some, I’ve had a real thing for farming or homesteading memoirs though I didn’t start so narrowly. It actually originated with my admiration of the DIY and the Maker movement and a desire to emulate that philosophy. One of the first DIY memoirs I read was Made by Hand by Mark Frauenfelder (German name like woah), I feel certain there was a blog post I’d read or something to precede it because it wasn’t one of the (many) books I saw on the shelf and was curious about. I really enjoyed reading it and sharing the humor, heartbreak, and triumph that came with trying to live a more involved life for himself and his family and it was a great kick start into other books in the genre.
I liked the DIY books I read, but understandably they’re usually more about actually doing than reading about someone-else’s experience doing. While it’s nice to see countless books on how to do things and encouraging people to do things, I often feel most inspired to try something myself when I get to share the experiences of someone else trying the same thing. I finally hit upon a book that I feel was the gateway into my obsession with homesteading memoirs, Jenna Woginrich‘s Made from Scratch. It’s her first book and some would say her best. It’s a series of essays about various steps she taken to make her life more sustainable like the pleasures of bee or chicken keeping and baking bread. Each of these essays is then accompanied by a small instruction set to try doing it on your own. I wouldn’t recommend using it as your only source save for maybe the bread recipes, but it’s a nice place to get started.
Since then I’ve read a bunch of books on the subject of homesteading and farming, some that are a bit more general or slightly narrower of focus like My Garden, the City, and Me which is ostensibly about container gardening organically in London (and it is), but it’s also about learning to love some simple pleasures. I’ve read and enjoyed to some degree all of Jenna’s books, but I do have to say that I think Made from Scratch and Barnheart are her best. Be warned she’s a bit preachy in Barnheart and can come off as obnoxious, annoying, or irresponsible (which she occasionally is) but I still found it a very entertaining read and kind of appreciate that she’s very flawed in some ways.
I’ve also read The Wisdom of the Radish by Lynda Browning. This and the two by Catherine Friend Hit by a Farm and Sheepish are interesting because these aren’t slow builds to a farm or more involvement, they both dive right in and in all honesty neither one of them had pictured themselves working a farm. While I enjoyed Lynda’s voice and her book was good, it’s really Catherine’s work that hits home with me. I don’t have her aversion to dirt and animal bodily fluids, but I tend towards the bookish type as well. I think her journey is one of the most engaging because while a farm is the last place she pictured herself she comes to love it and it ends up helping define her in very profound ways. Also I’m a crocheter/knitter and future spinner of yarn so the idea of owning fiber animals tickles me fuchsia.
At this point I’ve probably read more than I really remember, plenty that didn’t really leave much of an impression on me and I’m still finishing up Farm City by Novella Carpenter so I can’t give it a thorough review just yet, but I really like it so far. It’s impressive what she accomplishes on an abandoned lot in the inner city of Oakland, CA. So far she’s raised chickens, turkeys, ducks, geese, rabbits, bees, and an impressive garden that she eats from almost entirely as part of a month-long experiment. And what’s more she suffers many of the same set-backs are more rural farmers that one wouldn’t necessarily consider a problem in the city. Her bee hive dies mysteriously, a stray dog gets to her poultry killing all the ducks and geese, livestock runs away and she has pests in her garden. But she also encounters problems most other farmers don’t encounter, people stealing from her garden is a big one along with the looming threat of her squatted land suddenly no longer being available to her.
She is also in some ways more involved with others because she does live in an apartment in the city, so her neighbors are in very close quarters to her and she still finds like-minded farmers who’ve made a place for themselves in the city as well as some outside of it. I might do a more thorough review once I’m done with it and make a list of my favorite farming memoirs, though trust me this is far from the only memoirs I read and I might get into that another day.