Winter is for lovers. Book lovers, that is.
I’m often asked how I got started in farming. The truth is, I read myself into it.
Books planted the first seeds of my organic farming journey. They showed me that this lifestyle not only existed, but that it’s possible.
And while I believe that every season is the perfect season for reading, winter is especially so. All those long nights, the invitation of a good book, a cup of tea, and the warmth of the wood stove really set the mood for reading and dreaming.
The Best Books for the Organic Farmer & Gardener
Before the more technical, production-oriented books, read these first.
Organic farming is so much more than growing food. It’s a way into the world. A way of living that pulls you close to the land and illuminates the natural connections we all share.
It’s also hard. Really hard sometimes.
And because of that, it’s important to grow deep roots into your “why.” When you understand why you’re doing something, when your life sprouts from the soil, you’ll find your way through the hard parts. Growth might slow, but it will continue, and you’ll be all the hardier for it.
With that, here are my foundational books. The ones that lured me into farming, and the ones that have enriched my journey.
Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, by Barbara Kingsolver
This was the book that tempted me back into being an omnivore after six years of vegetarianism. I read it in my junior year of college, and while I kept my vegetarian diet for another year, this book showed me the importance of local eating, including local protein.
But beyond the philosophical and environmental aspects of local, there’s the personal connection, the poetry of place, and the rich life that comes from relationship with plants, animals, and soil.
There’s a new 10th anniversary edition out this year, and I’m eager to pick it up and read the new chapters and takeaways of a local life over the past decade.
The Dirty Life, by Kristen Kimball
As much as this book is about farming, it is also about love.
Kimball takes us on her journey of falling in love with her husband and with the land itself through the small act of hoeing broccoli, the emotional demands of butchering a pig, and the deep rewards of eating a meal she began preparing long before it reached the kitchen.
I read this book after my first year working on an organic farm, and it propelled me to keep going on this path.
Kimball offers a tempered balance of the aching work and uncertainty of farming with the nourishing harvests and lessons that sprout from it all.
Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants, by Robin Wall Kimmerer
I savored this book. In fact, I originally took it out from the library, but ended up buying a copy of my own just a few chapters in. When so much about the world feels out of control, this book offers a way back to connection, relationship, and reciprocity with nature.
An avid gardener herself, Kimmerer writes:
“People often ask me what one thing I would recommend to restore relationship between land and people. My answer is almost always, ‘Plant a garden.’ It’s good for the health of the earth and it’s good for the health of people. A garden is a nursery for nurturing connection, the soil for cultivation of practical reverence. And it’s power goes far beyond the garden gate—once you develop a relationship with a little patch of earth, it becomes a seed itself.
Something essential happens in a vegetable garden. It’s a place where if you can’t say ‘I love you’ out loud, you can say it in seeds. And the land will reciprocate, in beans.”
Farming, a handbook, by Wendell Berry
Every farmer needs poetry. [Everybody needs poetry]
Wendell Berry’s poems have cradled and inspired and grounded me. He reaches from the soil out to the world, to houses and pastures, to politics and culture, and he always humbly returns to the earth.
Among the many lines that resonate, here’s one of my favorites, from his poem “The Morning’s News”:
I will serve the earth / and not pretend my life could be better served. / My life is only the earth risen up / a little way into the light, among the leaves.
Berry has written over 50 books of essays and poems and fiction, and while I’m partial to his poetry, you really can’t go wrong with any of them.
Now tell me: what books have inspired you to grow? Leave them in a comment below—I’m always adding to my book wish-list 🙂