What happens when a college professor, activist and feminist scholar who grew up spending summers on her grandparents' farms falls in love with a piece of land and the farmer who tends it? In the case of Kayann Short's book A Bushel's Worth: An Ecobiography, the result is a harvest of life-wisdom, stories and passionate advocacy gleaned from the land and its seasons, the farm and the community it has sprouted, and from Short's family-farm history.
A Bushel's Worth roughly chronicles the seasons at Stonebridge Farm, the organic, community supported farm she and her partner John own and run in rural Boulder County, Colorado. Chapters alternate between Short's roots in her grandparents' farms, and stories of life at Stonebridge, a true community farm where members are deeply involved in farm operations and the land from planting through harvest.
Short opens the book with vignette from childhood visits to her grandparents:
In the rural economy of my childhood, everything had measure. After each meal at my grandparent's farm, plates were scraped into a pail and the remnants topped with milk. Once the dishes were done, my grandmother and I walked to the barnyard to empty the pail into a bowl outside the barn door for the mother cat and the kittens she hid in the hay. Half-wild, they wouldn't come out to eat until we returned to the farmhouse. Sometimes, glancing back, I'd catch a shimmer of quick cat fur as they darted under the door for their food. In this rural ritual, nothing—not the scraps left over from the table, not the steps to the barnyard and back—is wasted. Preserved even now by memory's spare prose, in that crossing a trace of happiness remains.
Like that lesson, Short's prose is both poetic and economical—nothing wasted there either.
In A Bushel's Worth, Short chronicles the weather and other farm events: snowstorms so heavy they blanket the farm and delay planting, harvest days full of laughter and old-time music (and food), human kids learning that the goat emphatically does not want to play with them, the pair of Great Horned Owls who raise twin owlets in the cottonwoods along one of the irrigation ditches, the crashing fall of one of those grand old cottonwoods one windy night, crushing the flower garden under its welter of branches.
But the Y of the trunk's main branches fell perfectly around the metal arbor under which we had stood when we committed our lives to each other. The arbor remained intact, the birdhouse at its apex hanging as before, the nest inside undisturbed.
The haunting sense of longing that permeates the early part of the book ("a trace of happiness remains") gradually yields to a deeper ease in the life Short has grown at Stonebridge, as revealed by this closing passage: "We work. We wait. And the earth gives again. ... We have learned from the earth that when we practice gratitude, not greed, we will have plenty and plenty more to come."
That, perhaps is the heart of the lessons Short explores in A Bushel's Worth: life lived with generosity and graciousness gives us enough to belong—and enough to share.
One small quibble with an otherwise worthwhile book: the word "ecobiography" is a jargony mouthful at odds with Short's deft writing, especially as part of the title. The term apparently stems from Short's academic life and means a memoir of the land and what the writer has learned from it. A Bushel's Worth is that, and more.
Kayann Short, Ph.D., is a writer, farmer, teacher and activist at Stonebridge Farm, an organic, community supported farm in the Rocky Mountain foothills. A former professor at the University of Colorado, she directs memoir and digital storytelling projects and fosters ecobiography as a bridge between her farming and writing lives. Visit her website.
(See another review of this book, here)
Check out our interview with the author of A Bushel's Worth.
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