In northern climes, the winter can seem much longer than the other three seasons. On the latest Groundhog Day in 2022, we had a reminder of that feeling. Punxsutawney Phil, according to the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club, saw his shadow earlier this week, and the prediction is for six more weeks of winter.
Still, by early February, farmers are thinking spring and making plans. For folks who are connected with a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farm share to a local farm, winter woes are eased by looking ahead to the life of the farm they know. Spring is not that far off in early February for small-scale family farmers who are diligently prepping for the year ahead.
With the wonderful picture book, The Farm That Feeds Us, A year in the life of an organic farm, by Nancy Castaldo and beautifully illustrated by Ginnie Hsu (Quarto Publishing, Mission Viejo, CA, 2020) in hand, it is easy to snuggle down with a youngster and think Spring. Moreover, reading this insightful and colorful picture book is instructive for young and old. There’s no need to be a child to appreciate the vision depicted by Nancy Castaldo and the talented illustrator Ginnie Hsu.
Nancy Castaldo has “written award-winning books about our planet for over 20 years from New York’s Hudson Valley.” Her website notes that her “favorite step in the writing process is conducting research” and that she writes books “to inform, inspire, and empower her readers about the world around them.”
The Farm That Feeds Us is Exhibit A that she has succeeded in informing, inspiring, and empowering readers to be more mindful about where their food comes from. Thumbs way up in our recommendation that readers spend some wintry time enjoying this perfect picture book. No surprise that The Farm That Feeds Us is available in five editions (including one from the publishing house established by Slow Food): in the United States and United Kingdom by Quarto Publishing, in France by Kimone, in Germany by DK Verlag, and in Italy by Slow Food Editore.
Perhaps the most powerful point made in this insightful 80-page picture book is the succinct language used to explain the importance of buying food from small farms in a section entitled “Diversity Is Life!”
Buying food from small farms, Castaldo writes, “allows us to know if farming practices are sustainable and ethical.” And she notes that “There is no better place to experience the goodness of variety than on a small farm.” She doesn’t need to say it, but the message is clear: mono-crop industrial agriculture does not lead to real “choice and goodness.”
This long-term CSA farm share participant can attest to the fact that along with the few hundred other folks who have a share in Roxbury Farm, a few miles from my home in upstate New York, the variety of organic goodness has been extraordinary. Celeriac, watermelon radishes, kohlrabi, fennel, and on and on, are now a part of life, as well as more familiar foods like the sweetest sweet potatoes, beets and greens.
For this older reader, some of the most wonderful pages of The Farm That Feeds Us are those which depict, with Ginnie Hsu’s detailed illustrations (and accompanying written descriptions), the breeds of livestock raised on small farms. For example, it was news to me how many eggs per year are produced by various types of chickens: Hamburg, 200 eggs; Rhode Island Red, 250 eggs; Americana, 250 eggs; Brahma, 150 eggs; Leghorn, 280-300 eggs; Plymouth Rock, 200 eggs.
Similarly, the depiction of various breeds of milking cows was fascinating. Ginnie Hsu has made it easy to see the differences in shape and color of Holsteins, Jerseys, Guernseys, Brown Swiss, and Ayrshires. And Nancy Castaldo’s descriptions of the various breeds are concise and informative. For example: “Ayrshires come from Scotland and have reddish brown spots on their white bodies. Milk from Ayrshires is great for making ice cream.”
Similarly, there are pages depicting sheep breeds (Merino, Icelandic, Cotswold, Lincoln, Corriedale, Dorset) and of pigs (Tamworth, Chester White, Large Black, Hampshire, Gloucestershire Old Spot, Ossabaw Island).
Yes, Old MacDonald had a chicken, cow, sheep, and pig. But what type?
Further, The Farm That Feeds Us is organized by Season, the perfect way to connect the reader to Nature’s changing faces of Spring, Summer, Fall and Winter. This time of year, starting with Winter makes good sense. But for any season, this is a book to savor and reread as time passes.
(Frank W. Barrie, 2/3/22)