February 2009

You’ll be dreaming tomatoes after reading Tim Stark’s Heirloom: Notes from an Accidental Tomato Farmer. Though I’m not certain you’ll be dreaming of your own farm.

Stark’s memoir is a gritty, yet passionate look at the life of an organic farmer. Stark lives the life of someone reaching back into history only to find himself surrounded by a buzzing modern world. He toils haphazardly between the two, loving bits of each in his own way. He farms the land on his boyhood home in Pennsylvania, driving regularly to New York City to deliver his produce to the city’s top chefs.

He learns organic farming methods from Mennonite neighbors, battles modern fertilizing practitioners from his childhood, dines in the fine restaurants where his veggies are sold, learns to forage for wild greens with his global cadre of laborers, and rarely gets a full night’s sleep.

Simply written and hard to put down, Heirloom depicts the challenges organic farmers face, and also the passion that drives them to toil on. It is both glory-filled and heart-breaking simultaneously. Stark illustrates the heroic qualities in all organic farmers and the sacrifices made to eke out a living—and to bring those gorgeous, rainbow heirloom tomatoes to the local farmers’ market.

You’ll be inspired. You’ll laugh at Stark’s wit. And you will possibly cry as the story skips from the Ireland potato blight to the current-day extermination of quality farm land as it turns into the newest big box store.

One thing is certain: your appreciation for organic produce and for your local farmer will be raised.

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Deep Economy: a book review

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