Thursday, February 18, 2010

A Must Read for Every Local Food Junkie

The Last American Farmer by Howard Kohn is one of those books that lingers in your mind long after you've finished the last sentence.

I'm a local food junkie and I love food with story behind it--Mortgage Lifter tomatoes, Fairy Tail Eggplant, Nash's Famous Carrots--but compelling stories about farmers are the icing on the cake.

And to think I nearly returned this book because I thought I'd ordered a book with similar title.

But curiosity stopped me. I turned the book over and looked at the back cover and became intrigued. One endorsement by the Chicago Tribune said, "A stunning portrait. . . . Kohn went looking for one story--his father's--only to find his own." Another by the Washington Post Book World said, "details so gritty one can feel the soil between one's toes . . ." I wanted to dig in and see what this book was all about.

After the first page, I was hooked. The book opens with his father's fall from the farmhouse roof with only his grandchildren there to witness him fall flat on his back. But amazingly, with his elbow split open and his back hurt, he gets up and continues his day as if nothing happened. He drives his daughter-in-law to Detroit to retrieve another truck--a seven hour trip. And later that day, when his family finally convinces him to go to the hospital, doctors there discover this old farmer has fifteen fractures in his spine. Then the doctors realize that 12 of these fractures had already heeled, and they order Kohn's father to wear a back brace made of steel and canvas for six weeks. But in less than a week his father removed the brace and returned home. "You don't use your muscles, they turn to noodles," he had claimed.

I stayed up late reading and the big surprise is the ending and what Howard Kohn discovers about himself. I won't spoil the story for you but I'll give you a hint--it's a message we can all identify with. And isn't that what good stories are?

Kohn chose to leave the farm, to strike out on his own, make his own way in the world and leave the farm behind. As he tells about life on the farm and changes in farming, he uncovers truths about his own choices in life. And as readers we learn what it takes to be a farmer, a steward of the land in a world changed by global influences. In the end we're left to muse about our own roots, what we've left behind and the road we've traveled.

Foodies love a good food narratives, but the story about the farmer behind the food--that's the real story most of us are yearning for. Get this book.

Finn was snoozing long before I was finished. If he only appreciated a good story as much as a good apple pie . . .

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