Book Review: Birth, Death, And A Tractor

Birth, Death, And A Tractor: Connecting An Old Farm To A New Family, by Kelly Payson-Roopchand

This book is an interesting one not so much for its content itself but rather for what it means in the larger sense of talking about farming in the United States. This is a book whose setup deals with several related subjects at once. For one, there is the effort of the author and her husband to raise a family and start work on a farm after both of them had gotten an education in agronomy. For another, there is the dynamic of the two of them being new farmers long in academic expertise but short on practical experience in making a farm work, both of them buying an old farm from an elderly farmer who was unable to keep farming due to the usual “last farmer” problems of not having children interested in farming and finding farming to be not very profitable business. It appears that if small-time family farming is to survive in the United States without drastic changes in culture and economics that one will likely need to have a ready supply of optimists to replace those driven out of family farming by the economics of it all. This book would seem to indicate that this is at least a possible model for maintaining a farming population on such grounds.

This book is about 200 pages long and divided into four parts and numerous small and unnumbered chapters. The book begins with acknowledgements an author’s note. After that the author decides to begin at the end, by talking about the story, the road, as well as periods in 1976 and 1930 where there was some sort of enchantment and wonder about the beginning of affairs at this particular farm, including the efforts of the author to raise her family and start farming as well. This part of the book is title fall. The second part of the book, titled winter, switches back and forth between the winter of 2009-2010 in looking at the various farming boys and girls over the course of generations in 1874 and 1895. After that comes the third part of the book a look at spring and the weaving of cloth, and a switch between the spring of 2010 and events in 1916 and 1935. The fourth and final part of the book then looks at summer and the potential of ripeness where the author talks about the contemporary farm and also discusses events in 1939 and 1952 and the farming efforts at that time. The book then ends with an epilogue as well as two appendices including suggestions for further reading (i) and the poem “The Rhodora” by Ralph Waldo Emerson (ii).

Aside from the larger conceptual theme of this book, the interest of a book like this depends on how one feels about the writer herself. I must admit that my own feelings about the author are somewhat mixed. The author talks about her children and her farming and her relationship with her husband, and it is perhaps telling that the husband himself disappears from long stretches of this narrative, to the point where the reader wonders why he is so camera shy in the inset photos and whether or not the author separated with him at some point of this narrative. Whether or not that was the case, this is a book that offers the chance to see the life of a farm over the course of a period of time in 2009 to 2010 of about a year. This book is at its most interesting when it is talking about the past and about the legacy of earlier generations of farmers, and at its least compelling when it is talking about the author and her own life and family. This is to be lamented, but such it is.

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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