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Harvest: An Adventure into the Heart of America's Family Farms (2012)
by Richard Horan
No current Talk conversations about this book.
Maybe it’s a symptom of feeling claustrophobic and stressed in my chaotic suburban life. There’s something soothing — very appealing — about being in the country, and it’s just that sentiment that led me to pick up Richard Horan’s Harvest: An Adventure into the Heart of America’s Family Farms.
Horan’s story is one of a writer and teacher who embarks on a quest to explore organic farms across the country, meeting colorful characters and exploring various aspects of farming in the months he’s away from his Oswego, N.Y., home. Harvested crops include green beans, tomatoes, wild rice and cranberries, and his locations range from the High Plains of Kansas, to Michigan, Ohio, Maine, California. Horan’s quest is national — and the locales were what most appealed to me about the book. I’m an armchair traveler, you know.
I was sold on needing to read the book when I learned one of Horan’s stops was in Winters, Calif., site of my magnificent hot air balloon ride, where he harvested walnuts. In Winters ourselves, we marveled at the amount of agriculture blossoming in the countryside. Our balloon guide talked about the many crops grown in the foothills of California, and I was enchanted by it all. It’s hard not to imagine a different life in California — one in which we actually take notice of the earth . . . and really depend on it.
That’s sort of where Horan is coming from, too. He wants to get back to basics. He wants to work with his hands, get dirty, get involved in something that doesn’t involve a classroom or book or electronic device. He wants to just be into it. And you know what? I really respected that.
Something about Harvest felt disjointed, though. While I liked following his adventures from one town to the next, the narrative felt sort of weightless — as though Horan had no real point to it all. Combined with the distracting footnotes on many pages, I found myself wondering what I was supposed to “get.” We didn’t spend enough time with any of the farmers or their families/helpers to really connect with them, and maybe that’s where the book veered off for me. Just as I become interested in one gregarious, up-and-at-’em farmer, we were bound for Michigan. Or some such.
Horan is certainly adventurous, pitching in and using all manners of devices (or just his plain hands), but I didn’t fully connect with him as a narrator. I appreciated that he was giving a voice to some of those hardworking folks who harvest and provide food for the rest of us office drones, but I never felt invested in the story. I finished the book and liked it well enough, but something was just . . . missing.
Those interested in farming practices, travel and the state of American agriculture might find Harvest more enjoyable than I did. While Horan can certainly write and I appreciated his observations, I wanted more.
Promising, even fascinating premise done in by inferior writing skills. At some points it is laughably bad, with author Horan addressing us as "readers" with alternating adjectives. He has something bad or petty to say about almost everyone that he encounters. In the final chapter, he does not even "pick one grape," but still finds it necessary to include the chapter.
"Richard Horan has brought us a welcome view of America to defy the prevailing political and financial nastiness. This is a timely and important book." --Ted Morgan, author of Wilderness at Dawn "A lively visit with the dauntless men and women who operate America's family farms and help provide our miraculous annual bounty. Richard Horan writes with energy and passion." --Hannah Nordhaus, author of The Beekeeper's Lament "Horan's new book evocatively describes the peril and promise of family farms in America. I loved joining him on this journey, and so will you." --T.A. Barron, author of The Great Tree of Avalon In Seeds, novelist and nature writer Richard Horan sought out the trees that inspired the work of great American writers like Faulkner, Kerouac, Welty, Wharton, and Harper Lee. In Harvest, Horan embarks upon a serendipitous journey across America to work the harvests of more than a dozen essential or unusual food crops--and, in the process, forms powerful connections with the farmers, the soil, and the seasons.
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Melvil Decimal System (DDC)630.973 — Technology and Application of Knowledge Agriculture & related technologies Agriculture Biography; History By Place North America United States
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If you really want to start a food fight leading to extraordinary vitriole, just mention you are for (or against) organic food, raw milk, GMO, veganism, or whatever. So it's with some trepidation I link to this review in the New Republic about Richard Horan's new book. As someone who at one time in his life milked over 100 cows twice a day for several years, and who now lives surrounded by several 1,000 acre farms (all family owned), I know that things are not quite as simple as the advocates of both sides would have us believe. (Full disclosure: I really, really like big farm machinery - see my photos.)
Ironically, this is an argument that can occur only among those who never have to worry where their next meal comes from. Those who are hungry can't afford to be picky and would be more than happy with road-kill. When anti-GMO types condemn and prevent "Golden Rice" from being introduced, a product that has the potential solve a serious vitamin deficiency where rice is a major staple (http://www.gatesfoundation.org/agriculturaldevelopment/Pages/enriching-golden-ri...) I think we need to reexamine our self-righteous arrogance.
From the review: "Unfortunately, personality and politics get in the way of Horan’s good intentions. The resulting book says a lot about what is wrong with today’s food crusaders—and I distinguish these from the many thoughtful and hard-working people, some of whom are sketchily profiled in Horan’s book, who are trying to help re-balance a food system that is severely out of whack. Our food choices matter, but the food crusaders are so intent on preaching their gospel that they have developed withering scorn for anyone whose answer to the question “What’s for dinner?” differs from theirs.... "But many organic and local-foods proponents assume that they have already attained a moral victory, and everyone who buys conventional stuff can go to hell. A study published earlier this year in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science** found that exposure to organic foods actually makes people less altruistic. Subjects in three different groups were shown pictures of foods labeled organic (like apples and spinach), comfort foods (like ice cream and brownies), or neutral-seeming control foods (mustard, rice, oatmeal). Afterward, participants who saw the organic foods were willing to spend less time helping a stranger in need, and their judgments of moral transgressions were significantly harsher than those who viewed the other foods. The comfort food group was the most generous. Someone please pass me the double chocolate chip."
From an article about the Social Psychological study***: "The findings are especially interesting when considered hand in hand with previous studies, including a 2010 paper in the journal Psychological Science titled "Do Green Products Make Us Better People?" It found that when people feel morally virtuous about purchasing green or organic products, they sometimes experience a "licensing [of] selfish and morally questionable behaviour," otherwise known as "moral balancing" or "compensatory ethics." The 2010 study suggests that such a "halo of green consumerism" makes people less likely to be kind to others, and more likely to cheat and steal."
Note that I'm not sure it's fair to go after those who prefer to eat organic food for feeling morally superior since the same kind of arrogance is obvious in those who ride bicycles, don't drink (that's me I'm afraid,) exercise, own guns, belong to a church, or indulge in any kind of behavior that permits them to create their own little tribe of morally superior adherents. Then again, perhaps this feeling of moral superiority is endemic to Americans, many of whom descended from those little Puritan shits.
**Wholesome Foods and Wholesome Morals? Organic Foods Reduce Prosocial Behavior and Harshen Moral Judgments. Social Psychological and Personality Science, first published on May 15, 2012 ***Do Green Products Make Us Better People? Psychological Science February 2010 , first published on March 5, 2010 (subscription or purchase required, but if you want a pdf copy send me an email and I'll forward one along to you.)