Gaining Ground: A Story of Farmers’ Markets, Local Food, and Saving the Family Farm
By Forrest Pritchard
Lyon Press © 2013
Review by: Ann Adams
I’ve read a lot of farming books over the last 30 years, and I would have to say that Forrest Pritchard’s Gaining Ground was one of the most inspiring farm books I’ve read. It’s well written and doesn’t pull any punches as Forrest tells the story of returning home to the family farm after graduating from William and Mary College with the idea that he would like to resurrect the family farm that is currently being mis-managed by a series of less than stellar farm managers.
His parents work off-farm to pay mounting farm bill debt as they buy Forrest time to figure out his farming practices which turn toward pasture-based livestock operations on the approximately 500 acres of land outside Berryville, Virginia. Smith Meadows Farm (the name that Forrest selects) is an eighth generation farm that was last really farmed profitably by his grandfather who also raised livestock and orchards. Forrest has a deep connection to the land that draws him home and keeps him in the fight to save the family farm when all around him farmers are selling their farms.
Forrest does a great job of setting the stage for why he wants to farm differently than many of his neighbors and how Smith Meadows evolves to raising grass-based cattle, swine, sheep, and chickens and selling those products profitably as well as the resources necessary to do so. If you are a beginning farmer, reading this book will help you see how creating a successful small farm is a possibility, but you need to have certain resources and time to build the business. With a vision and momentum, the family begins to rally around really making a business that can support the family working together. 15 years later they are now selling at 6 farmers’ markets around Washington D.C., have an on-farm store, bed and breakfast, and offer apprenticeships.
Forrest was able to articulate his vision for the farm and find others in his family that wanted the same thing. Together they made it happen. Gaining Ground offers other farmers (experienced and wannabe) a needed morale boost in this urban-focused culture as well as helping consumers understand their role in the sustainable agriculture movement—an area where we need to gain a lot more ground.