Have you ever wondered what it would be like to start farming? Not just as an experimental hobby or an idyllic-daydream, but as a down-to-earth lifestyle change where you put your economic future on the line? If you’re at all like Lynda Hopkins was just a few years ago, you’re a suburbanite who knows little, if anything, about growing produce or taking care of farm animals. Yet Lynda and her then boyfriend (now husband) did what many adventurous young couples have done in recent years — they started farming.
In The Wisdom of the Radish, Lynda shares stories from her first year as a newbie farmer. And let me tell you, it’s far from idyllic.
Her stories aren’t very romantic or glamorized, but they are thought-provoking and honest. Crop failures, unpredictable weather, and animal predators may seem like bad news, but thankfully those aren’t her only stories. A steep learning curve is aided a bit by the advent of the internet. (If you’re reading this post, you know as well as anybody that forums and blogs are awfully handy for diagnosing problems and getting useful advice.) Perhaps the most meaningful story woven throughout the book is her growing acceptance of what it means to belong to the farm — how tending to the plot of land and routinely caring for the animals roots her, grounds her, and transforms her sense of identity.
The greatest plus to this book? Lynda Hopkins’ storytelling. She’s gifted. Really gifted. Check out a few of my favorite paragraphs to see what a wordsmith she is:
You simply couldn’t ask for a more sensual piece of produce. Round, ripe, firm yet yielding — squeezing a tomato is about as close to squeezing human flesh as one can get. (For all the jokes made about melons, they’re hard and unfriendly, nothing like the real thing.) And consider the color: while melons hide their brilliance inside dull rinds, tomatoes let it all hang out, lustrous and naked.
I grew up eating meat, but it had been about seven years since I’d cooked it myself. To roast the rooster, I had to reach back deep into the memory bank, which in my case was more of a memory colander. I have a knack for remembering stories, but I rarely hold on to the facts that accompany them. So I remembered the arc of the roast: the naked massage with butter, salt and herbs, and the offerings — lemon, rosemary, garlic — stuffed inside the cavity; the frequent checking, basting, and temperature-taking; and the glorious finale when it’s pulled out of the oven, sliced into, and presented flawlessly on a white platter.
But I had no idea how to get from a naked massage to plated, browned bird. I called my mom the check what temperature I should set the oven for, and made up the rest.
There’s no question that we’ll make this work…. Call me crazy, call me poor, call me covered in chicken shit. Call me tired, call me scared, call me satisfied, call me passionate. And did I mention crazy? Go ahead. But before you do, let me offer you a few eggs and a pair of Chihuahua-sized goat kids, and then we’ll see who’s crazy. Trust me, you don’t have to like worms, or even fresh tomatoes. There’s a little farm in all of us.
I’m a bigger fan of fiction books these days than I am of non-fiction. I think it’s the storytelling that draws me in. Stories are less about how and more about why. Stories cultivate the imagination and challenge the heart. Thankfully, this little non-fiction book is full of stories. Good, old-fashioned anecdotes guaranteed to let you live vicariously, smile ruefully, and pine wistfully. Maybe they’ll also help you appreciate where you’re at as well as where you want to be — who you want to be.
I’m glad I read The Wisdom of the Radish. I bet you’ll be glad to read it, too.