Have you ever thought about selling everything you own and buying a farm, longing for the simple life? I have. But after reading Joan Donaldson's latest book Wedded to the Land: Stories From a Simple Life on an Organic Fruit Farm, I understand that life on a farm isn't easy or simple. This collection of essays weaves through Donaldson's life, revealing the effort and dedication necessary to operate a farm while illustrating the beauty and fulfillment of being a farmer.
Donaldson, a citified college student, falls in love with a man whose family has farmed the Lake Michigan area for many generations. The first essay begins with Donaldson's husband introducing his new bride to their farm, an organic blueberry farm. As I read, I felt like I was walking beside Donaldson and her husband, John, listening to him narrate the history of a farm that took decades to grow. I smelled the clove-like scent of the peat moss bog as they walked along the rows of blueberry bushes.
In the essay Dignity, I saw the human side of migrant workers. The fruit needs to be picked, and it's hard work. Donaldson puts a face on the workers who labor in the fields and shows how it is a family event with the laborers bringing their entire families along to earn money.
While the parents toil in the hot sun picking berries, the smaller children roll and tumble down a nearby hill, aptly named Blueberry Hill. Donaldson describes how the children entertain themselves with only their imagination and a cardboard box. When the working day is over, John grabs his piano accordion and Donaldson gets her button box, an Irish accordion. Her lyrical prose dances across the page while children and adults swing and twirl to the music.
Whether a late frost threatens the blueberry crop, or a drought scorches the field with its fiery breath, or a hay baler breaks before a rain storm, the events of life can make or break a farm. Donaldson's essays illuminate the way farmers work together during difficult times to help each other survive.
As I read about Donaldson's life at Pleasant Hills Farm, I took a step back in time. She lives off the grid, uses solar panels and hand-pumps water into her home. With its blueberry bog, peach orchard, and bank barn, her farm is a tribute to cultivating the land like they did in bygone years. Being a farmer's wife isn't glamorous, but Donaldson paints such a beautiful portrait of her life at Pleasant Hills that we know she believes that the difficult task of cultivating the land is well worth the sacrifice.
Wedded to the Land has changed my perspective on farming. I now see the hardship, the anguish, the sweat put into each piece of fruit. I savor each bite. I understand that farming truly is a labor of love, and I am grateful for the commitment each farmer makes so I can enjoy a ripe peach or a handful of blueberries.
For almost forty years, Joan Donaldson and her husband, John, have farmed organic blueberries near Lake Michigan. Her essays have appeared in Mary Jane's Farm, Victoria, Michigan History, and The Christian Science Monitor. Her latest novel, On Viney's Mountain, represented the state of Tennessee at the 2010 National Book Festival. Visit her website.
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