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Growing a Farmer: How I Learned to Live Off the Land Hardcover – January 17, 2011

58 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

Successful baker, chef, and restaurateur Timmermeister�s leap from food preparer to food producer should not have been a large one, yet the steps he took to become a working farmer were monumental. Starting with the purchase of a modest but woefully overgrown tract of land on Washington�s Vashon Island, Timmermeister quickly became ensconced�some would say mired�in the vagaries of self-sufficiency. As he set out to transform his acreage into a viable farm, raising vegetables, fruit, livestock, and even bees, Timmermeister had more will than wisdom, and he recounts his failures and setbacks with disarming honesty. Yet though his hodgepodge of animals and equipment was assembled in a haphazard fashion by relying both on the kindness of strangers and the miracle of Craigslist, somehow it all works. Think of it as the Little Farm That Could. With pluck, luck, and admirable determination, Timmermeister not only manages to supply his paying customers but, more importantly, succeeds in feeding his soul. --Carol Haggas


What sets this book apart is its practical, calm, confidence-inspiring tone. The message is: Farming may not be easy, but just do it. — Los Angeles Times

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 335 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company (January 17, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393070859
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393070859
  • Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 1.1 x 8.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (58 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #248,581 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Kurt Timmermeister was born in 1962 in the heart of Seattle, no where near farm country. Anticipating working in foreign service, he graduated from the American College in Paris with a degree in International Affairs. While in Paris he realized his love of food and restaurants far surpassed his affinity for government work and he returned to Seattle to begin a career in food service.
A series of restaurant jobs both in the kitchen and dining room gave him the early hubris to open his own café at the age of twenty four. For eighteen years he ran a series of ever larger Café Septiemes while at the same time beginning his education in small scale farming. In 1991 he moved to Vashon Island, buying land that was to eventually become Kurtwood Farms.
The farm began as four acres of overgrown blackberry brambles with rusted-out cars and cast-off junk hidden beneath the canopy of weeds. Little by little the four acres was cleaned out and planted with fruit and nut trees, vegetables and herbs. Once more land was acquired, pastures were created and fenced and sheep, pigs and cows arrived. By 2004 with the restaurants behind him, Kurtwood Farms had become his full time job.
Soon a professional kitchen was built to begin processing the food grown on the farm and to create a space for friends to gather for dinners of ever greater quality and scope. Progress on the enterprise continued with a Grade 'A' dairy licensed in the newly built dairy buildings and a cow barn raised to house the bovine producers of that milk.
Kurtwood Farms is now home to a small herd of Jersey cows, a motley crew of sheep, happy free rooting pigs, an ever changing flock of chickens, geese and ducks, a guest room and sofa often filled with Seattle's best cooks and Kurt and his two dogs Byron and Daisy.
Kurt now produces fine, farmstead cheeses at the farm from the milk of the Jersey cows: Dinah's Cheese, a traditional Camembert-style, bloomy rind cheese and Francesca's Cheese, an Italian-style hard cheese aged in the newly-dug underground cheese cave. He is also the author of Growing a Farmer: How I Learned to Live Off the Land, a memoir and how-to guide to creating and running a small farm, published by W.W. Norton in 2011.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

62 of 66 people found the following review helpful By Helen on January 17, 2012
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This book, and the author's attitude throughout the book, left me feeling very confused. On the one hand, I really agreed with some of the author's points and outlooks about farming. On the other hand, sometimes I thought the author seemed to have a pretty callous lack of responsibility as regarded his animals, which really rubbed me the wrong way.

To start off with the good points:

~ I liked how the book was broken down into discussions of the different eclectic aspects of the author's farm. All of the different animals (sheep and goats, bees, cows, pigs, and fowl) and the garden were each given their own chapters, and the author outlined his journey learning about and dealing with each of them.

~I liked how the author recognized and appreciated the importance of good clean food - and a lot of his discussion is about food. He said, "My wish for this book is to add a perspective on the food we eat: where it comes from, what goes into producing it and how it was traditionally prepared." In my opinion, he accomplishes this goal very well.

~I agree with and deeply respect the author's outlook on slaughtering animals, and his description of the process and the care that he takes with it was hands-down my favorite part of the book. As a small farmer myself, I am familiar with slaughtering animals and have a very particular way that I like to get things done - as efficiently and with as little pain and suffering to the animals as possible - which the author also made a big point of.

Now for the harsh part:

I do understand that this is a story about a journey, not a story about an immediately professional farmer, and I understand that it's not a how-to book on farming and/or animal care.
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30 of 33 people found the following review helpful By Jules on January 20, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Growing a Farmer is a great read. It draws the reader into the farmer's world. Kurt is honest and humble, selfdepricating and rightfully proud. The prose is easy to read and still artfully paints a clear picture of the landscape, animals, tasks, and the experience and results of his farm life. I was so engaged and entertained that I will be reading this again and maybe again and again. It has inspired me to make more use of my 1.5 acres. My husband and I will be taking beekeeping and cheesemaking classes this winter. We are also planning to expand our vegetable garden. Thanks Kurt!!
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16 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Dee Long on February 7, 2011
Format: Hardcover
For anyone who has dreamed of running away from the the big city and corporate life to enjoy life on a farm, Kurt Timmermeister's "Growing a Farmer" is a realistic wake-up call.

It is a fascinating look at his transition from restaurateur to dairy farmer, complete with sobering descriptions of whole animal butchery. You will never look the same again at a glass of milk, a breakfast plate filled with bacon and eggs or a roast leg of lamb after reading Timmermeister's journey to becoming more connected to the land as an organic farmer. His descriptions are poetic without being overly sentimental and the chapter on beekeeping is one of the book's highlights.
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful By McRigel on February 5, 2011
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Soulful mix of memoir and farming how-tos, charmingly written with encouragement and functional insight. It's not all pretty. Crops fall short , deer destroy plants, flies lay maggots in precious meat, bees die in the cold in first attempts of bee keeping. Dreams are challenged on the way to living the good farm life. Yet through it all, Kurt Timmermeister lives his philosophy, finding beauty in the disciplined work and mystery that is farming. Whether you have a green thumb or are all thumbs - if you've thought about starting your own farm, this book has wisdom to share. . . and helps you believe you can do it!
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By KitsuneA on April 1, 2011
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
As someone who grew up in the country and ended up in the city, I have often found myself longing for a bit of land and a large garden, and maybe a few animals. In short, I dream of self-sufficiency. This was a great book because it gave an honest account of the ups and downs that is farm life. I cried when he described having to slaughter his cow. I laughed at his accounts of bee-keeping and honest assessment of his skills as a farmer.

However, as a fellow pastry chef, I found that his adoration and appreciation for food to be immediately apparent and I liked him for it. Describing the simple joys of boiling down apple juice for redux, making his own butter, and collecting honey made me remember why I went to culinary school and why I still cook whenever I have a chance.

It's important to know what goes in to growing our food and to stop settling on over-processed, chemically-enhanced junk. I would suggest this book to anyone interested in the Slow Food movement, farm living, or cuisine.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Opinioned on July 12, 2012
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
The title implies a learning process. But the book and author never develop. The "farmer" continues to do things the same way for twenty years, without learning much more than he needs to "survive."

The book reads in parts like a monologue in a diary, and these I enjoyed. Other reviewers claim honesty and humor from the author. This is true because he is very honest about his naivete, ignorance and love for his favorite things. He laughs at his own idiocy as he learns.
At other times, the book is full of directives I would be afraid of attempting, due to their lack of detail and responsibility.

He claims to be as close to sustainable as possible, and argues that of the few things he doesn't make himself, he will never make his own salt. But he purchases new animals, trees and seeds every year.

He looks to traditional recipes from the old country, then excuses his own inability to duplicate them by claiming he is creating a new tradition that doesn't need to be like the old.

He dismisses others' criticism without thought or research. He knows nothing of guns, but because it still kills his pigs, he's happy with the .30-30 his friend lent him.

The biggest offense was his explanation on how things should be done. He gives the most basic direction, i.e. the ball joint where the leg bone meets the pelvis, but is so dismissive of anything extra because he doesn't understand it. In the chapter on slaughter, the author says the animal on the table is no longer an animal, but a slab of meat, because he lacks the ability to imagine the carcass whole as he butchers it.

His farm's success comes from his weekend dinners, and he has professional experience owning restaurants.
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