Book Review: Pastoral Song: A Farmer’s Journey

book by James Rebanks

reviewed by Jillian Moreno

I’ve read this book twice, first when it was released in England last year, and just recently I listened to the audiobook. My first read told me it was important information, but I let myself be carried along, entranced by the storytelling.

The deeper information about farming and how farming has changed hooked me, subtly but deeply. I started reading more about farming and sustainability as articles came across my various feeds.

When I listened to the book for my second read, the importance of sustainably growing food and raising animals is all I heard.

James Rebanks is an excellent writer; he can put you squarely in a moment or a place. He currently farms and raises sheep and cows with his family. This land in the Lake District in the north of England has been in his family for 600 years, and he gives it the respect it deserves.

The book is divided into three sections.

Nostalgia presents the type of farming he remembers from his youth, how his grandparents farmed. It is rotational farming, working with and preserving the land.

Progress is the farming he saw in his teens and twenties, his father’s farm. The farming focused on increased production at the cost of everything else; the health of the land, the animals, the farmers, and the consumers can be damned as long as inexpensive food is on the shelves. This is the era of giant tractors, pesticides, growth hormones, and single crop farms. Much of the world still farms this way.

Utopia closes the book. This is the farming Rebanks and his family currently practice. It’s mostly back to the ways of his grandfather, with modern “progress” only where it makes sense to the bigger environmental picture.

He doesn’t sugarcoat how hard this type of farming is. He works with environmental agencies and receives subsidies to farm in favor of the land and animals, to restore and maintain the biodiversity of his land, but he still has to do work away from the farm to make ends meet.

This is the type of farming we should be striving toward, and this book gives me hope it can happen if we respect and focus on the well-being of the land, animals, the farmers, and our own health.

James Rebanks gives me hope for the future of farming and our environment.

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