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Summer Reading: Gaining Ground

What are you reading? Have an answer? You do now, it's Gaining Ground. Whether you grew up on a farm, want to live on a farm, or just really like to grow food and raise animals, Gaining Ground will capture your attention and make you want to personally thank a farmer. This inspiring memoir by Forrest Pritchard is filled with humor and heartache yet rooted in the reality of producing food in our country today.

Truth be told, there are a lot of bad "farm memoirs" out there. It seems everyone is trying to live up to Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver or The Dirty Life by Kristin Kimball, which is a large task. Neither book can be read as a "how to" but both serve a bit as precautionary tales of success. If you haven't chatted up folks at the farmers market before, read this book to have a good starting point for a discussion.

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Pritchard's book follows his post-college return to his family's somewhat defunct farm as he eventually decides to learn how to be a farmer with hopes of keeping the farm going in a new, sustainable way. "Our family farm was broken. I made up my mind that, somehow, we were going to fix it."

Gaining Ground could be summed up with two words: integrity and artisan-ship. Through the trials and tribulation surrounding the task of finding a processor for his farm-raised meats to branding a stand at the farmers market, Forrest and the family commit to doing it "right" and creating food that has a truly "human touch."

Through highs and lows of making a "go" at farming, Forrest Pritchard amassed humorous and heartwarming tales that make this book engaging, educational, and one you'll want to pass on to friends. (It helps that he has a degree in English.) From the complicated family and "farm" family relationships that are a reality of any small farming operation to close calls and trials -- reality is not sugar-coated by the author. If you've ever started your own business you'll find many of the scenarios very relatable. At one point, the farm manager tells the family they've made "eighteen sixteen" and they think that means $1,800. Alas, it's $18.16. And, if your parents have ever wished you'd find a "steady, secure" job you'll relate to the tug of war that Pritchard engages in with his family and himself.

Eventually as the farmers market and locavore crazes take off (mid-'90s) and the current concepts of sustainable farming come into focus in the author's life. It's clear that Pritchard's tale is both self driven and yet parallel to many shifts and changes in food production in the United States that many of us have observed. As Pritchard's farm, one of the first "grass finished" farms in the country, turns a corner towards success.

Even if you eat locally, organically and tragically hip there is something to be learned about food from this book. If you want to spoil the ending one quick google search of "Smith Meadows farm Virginia," reveals and a mini-empire many years in the making. If you've never farmed, read this book to gain insight into the source of your food. The book has been named a "Best Book of Summer 2013" by Washingtonian, Publishers Weekly and NPR's The Splendid Table, so you know it's been vetted.

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