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Book Review: Gaining Ground by Forrest Pritchard


Several weeks ago, a young farmer named Forrest Pritchard contacted me and asked if I would be willing to review a book he had just written. He told me that he farms his family's land in the Shenandoah Valley in Virginia and sells meat and produce at the local farmers market.  And that he had written a book chronicling how he saved his family's farm.

I was intrigued. Being an aspiring writer myself as well as an aspiring farmer (albeit it on a very much smaller scale and never as our family's sole source of income), I happily agreed to read Forrest's book.  I mean, this guy is a real farmer.  He raises cows and pigs, chickens and crops.  And he does it full time.  As a seventh generation farmer, he was determined to make a go at organic farming to preserve an American tradition that is fast dying and nearly impossible to make profitable. All this despite the fact that he was a recent college graduate with no intention of returning to the farm initially and practically no hands-on experience.  

As you delve into his book, Gaining Ground, you will learn right alongside Forrest, as he bales hay, raises chickens and takes pigs to be butchered. He also shares the economics and feasibility of turning a profit from hours, days and weeks of hard work.

His book is at times humorous, at times heartwrenching. Bittersweet in sections, but inspiring throughout. The foreward written by Joel Salatin speaks volumes to the caliber of the book, but by the time I had finished Mr. Pritchard's own introduction I realized that this man can not only farm; he can also write. 

If you read only one book this summer, make it Gaining Ground.  The book touches heavily upon the current commercialization of food that is consumed in this country.  It celebrates a self-taught farmer determined to attain a sustainable way of life on his family farm.  Publisher's Weekly has named this book one of the Top Ten Reads of the Summer. From the Publisher's Weekly review:  “Pritchard’s engaging memoir opens with him, new English degree in hand, deciding to take over the family farm after fall harvest profits fail to materialize. What follows is a remarkable odyssey of food from farm to table; a classic against-all-odds narrative that will have readers changing their shopping habits. Pritchard is a born storyteller with a shrewd ability to make lively everything from his father’s battle with a rogue pig to simple chores like selling firewood or bailing hay." 

Forrest Pritchard is a professional farmer who serves customers at local farmers' markets every weekend. His poems have been published in national literary magazines, and his farm Smith Meadows, has been featured on NPR and in the Washington Post.  

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