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A Farm Dies Once a Year: A Memoir Hardcover – April 1, 2014

3.8 out of 5 stars 45 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

Back in the mid-1970s, when the notion of eschewing mainstream society and living off the land was still very much in vogue, Arlo Crawford’s parents—his father a long-haired Vietnam vet and his mother a self-described hippie—purchased 75 acres in southern Pennsylvania they quickly dubbed New Morning Farm after a Dylan song and devoted themselves to growing and selling organic vegetables. Four decades later, Crawford, now in his thirties, became disenchanted with his city lifestyle and decided to revisit the still thriving farm where he grew up, committing himself to working there through at least one growing season. This alternately charming and sobering memoir of his year toiling alongside his parents, apprentices, and the girlfriend who reluctantly joined him describes the challenges his parents faced in the early years as well as his own in getting reacquainted with the rural, crop-centered routine. Anyone who has ever wondered about the origin of organic produce will get the inside story in this beautifully written and intimate portrait of life on a modern family farm. --Carl Hays

Review

“[Crawford] writes about that season [when he returned to his family's farm], which unexpectedly became a time of reconnecting with the rhythms of farming, investigating the twenty-year-old murder of a local farmer, and coming to understand the hard, unpredictable life his parents chose. He provides an unembellished but evocative account of the romantic myths, harsh realities, and genuine allure of American rural life.” ―The New Yorker "Page-Turner" blog

“Moving…Elegant and richly detailed… Seemingly minor details anchor scenes, lending authority to Crawford's voice…Nostalgia suffuses this book, but it isn't regret or a longing for lost innocence. Like the rest of us, Crawford is merely surprised to find two lives overlapping--the past and the present.” ―Washington Post

A Farm Dies Once a Year, is a must-read… It is in fact the vividness and economy of the author's narration -- his attention to detail in a language that is lean and colorful -- that makes this book, along with the subject itself, such compelling reading. Often earnest, A Farm Dies Once a Year is punctuated with a wry humor directed sometimes at Crawford, sometimes at his parents or others, but always good-natured.” ―Washington Independent Review of Books

“Terrific stuff―a great setting, a motley set of characters…We come to admire Crawford’s hardworking father and mother, who are the kind of farmers who have trained hundreds of farm apprentices and have fans at the farmers’ market who will stand in line 20 deep for the chance to buy some of the farm’s corn or green beans.” ―San Francisco Chronicle

“With sincerity and insight, Crawford's description of the rewards and punishments [of farming] feels clear-eyed and true. When he writes about picking strawberries…you can't help but appreciate the exquisite moment of biting into the sweet, red fruit that much more.” ―LA Weekly

“This promises to be a different kind of memoir from the "back-to-the-earth" stories of starry-eyed urbanites leaving high paying jobs for the dream of a farm in the country. Arlo's tone is meditative and measured; less idealistic and more realistic.” ―The Kitchn

“If you're a professional guy living in a major American city, you've probably run through the farm-to-table circuit, and maybe even (secretly) entertained thoughts about moving to the country for that good ol' agrarian life. Arlo Crawford, a food journalist, tried just that, leaving his job at a Harvard museum and moving to rural Pennsylvania.” ―GQ

“A beautifully told story...In this one season of life, Crawford's writing about the work, people, nature and his family legacy reveals much about a simple life, and reminds us all to appreciate life's riches. Read A Farm Dies Once A Year slowly, and then maybe remember to thank a farmer.” ―Seattle Post Intelligencer

“In straightforward language as honest as an apple [Crawford] describes the life his parents chose…The ups and downs of one summer, reflected off the ups and downs of one man's life, make for a story that has stayed with me longer than most novels. I even found myself getting teary near its end, when an unexpected bounty of raspberries redeems New Morning Farm.” ―Minneapolis Star Tribune

“[A Farm Dies Once a Year] is less about the intricacies of farm life (though it does have many delightful details) and more about Crawford's relationship with his home…a meditation on the patience and will it takes to live off the land…If there's a simple truth at the center of Crawford's memoir, it's that some years are better than others. Accepting that fact is harder than it seems.” ―Grantland

“After finishing Arlo Crawford's memoir A Farm Dies Once a Year, I found myself wanting to quit my desk job and do something that involves working with my hands…the narrative is as much a curious look at the intricacies of organic farming as it is a rich, poignant portrait of Crawford's family and their relationship to the land and their neighbors.” ―Amazon's Omnivoracious

“Locally sourced, organic, farm-to-table foods might be popular now, but Arlo Crawford returns to the Pennsylvania farm he grew up on to tell a story that will give you a whole different point of view about life on the farm.” ―Jason Diamond, Flavorwire

“From the moment he straps on his Red Wings and returns to the soil, Arlo tends to the details of the story with the same tenacity that his father dedicates to his tomatoes. A book that will briefly make you reconsider a life behind a desk.” ―The World's Best Ever

“Arlo Crawford's memoir is flat-out beautiful. His account of his hard-working, eccentric, lovely parents and their Appalachian farm and its amazing vegetables is more riveting and moving than I would have thought possible. I've never seen the American farming life described with such passion and honesty. A Farm Dies Once A Year is about more than one small family farm: it's about what makes a meaningful life. I loved it.” ―Kate Christensen, author of The Great Man and Blue Plate Special

A Farm Dies Once A Year is both a quietly powerful chronicle of work and a subtle, considered meditation on what it means to belong. It's a testimony to the strength of dreams and the devotion required to carry them out; to the eternal negotiations necessary between a place's storied past, its insistent present, and its possible future. Arlo Crawford's utter faith in the world he describes and his exacting, vivid prose make this book a treasure. ” ―Jane Brox, award-winning author of Five Thousand Days Like This One and Brilliant

“Anyone who has ever wondered about the origin of organic produce will get the inside story in this beautifully written and intimate portrait of life on a modern family farm.” ―Booklist

“Bewitching… Each chapter is a swift read, and Crawford writes sparsely while still including photo-quality descriptions (his use of color borders on hypnotic)… I swear I could see [him] smiling on the page.” ―SmartPlanet.com (CBS)

“A down-to-earth account of life on New Morning Farm… Crawford's account of the work on the farm is matter-of-fact and clear, and his portraits of his hardworking, middle-aged parents are sharp.” ―Kirkus Reviews

“What a beautiful and eloquent memoir this is. It will make you hungry for sun-warm tomatoes, the first summer corn and freshly picked green beans with just a little salt and butter…Fans of prose both literary and mainstream will appreciate Crawford's gift for direct, lucid storytelling that is also imaginative and ripe with vivid imagery…Feast on this great read.” ―York Daily Record

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Henry Holt and Co. (April 1, 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 080509816X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0805098167
  • Product Dimensions: 6.2 x 1 x 8.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (45 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,065,331 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By J. A. Bell VINE VOICE on January 26, 2014
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Why Hemingway? Few adjectives. Why Walden? Well, the rural setting, for one thing. I also think that Arlo Crawford might have reached that juncture where he wanted to live deliberately. Thoreau wrote, "I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived."

At the age of 31, Crawford returns to his parent's farm, builds himself a cabin (ala Thoreau), lends a hand picking crops, lays irrigation pipe, works the farmers market, delivers produce to Washington, D.C. (and more).

He also delves into the murder of a farmer, a family friend, that happened years ago when Crawford was 12 years old. He makes a real effort to unravel the history of this incident, tries to understand it, perhaps reach catharsis. This murder (combined with another traumatic childhood event involving an uncouth neighbor and his dog) made a lasting impression. Hemingway wrote, "The world breaks everyone, and afterwards, some are strong at the broken places."

He writes with admiration about his mother, father and his girlfriend. I came away with an appreciation for these people, for farmers in general, really. The people who grow our food (especially on small family farms) who can make a long-term success of it, have to be very smart, very resilient.

After Arlo sunk the posts for his cabin, his father asked him if they were "true" because the "basic integrity of the building depended" on the posts being square. As it turned out, Crawford's first attempt had to be scrapped. "Finding these kinds of mistakes was my father's specialty.
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This book starts out innocuously as a simple memoir, but engulfs the reader in the noble, difficult life of a farmer from the perspective of his non-farmer son. A beautifully written account of what that life is really like - not the big corporate farmer but rather an artisanal producer who cares deeply about what he does with his life. The side journeys examining the death of his father's friend promised to be awkward but was actually integrated very well. I thoroughly enjoyed this book.
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Format: Hardcover
I liked this memoir. It is a love story for his parents, girlfriend, family and farming. He is struggling to find his place in the world and you feel that. If you don't enjoy farmers markets, stories of farming or gardening you probably won't enjoy it. I wish he had included some photos especially of his shelter he worked so hard on.
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This book is an account of watching a farm for one summer as a detached son. The memoir is the story of a grown son who returns home for a summer on the family farm. Yet it seems to be missing any emotional attachment or really even much interaction with the family. Arlo seems to have maybe 3 brief conversations with his mother over the course of a year- and it seems neither he nor his mother care that their relationship has come down to what needs to be picked today. His relationship with his father is odd. From the way the father is portrayed in this memoir, I can't discern if the father has early onset dementia, or is just physically and emotionally aloof from his son. Again, their only conversations are about which errands to run in town.

It seems the farm hands and apprentices never really form a relationship with the author- and he never seems to try. He builds a wooden platform in the corner of the farm and secretly watches them from the trees. I can only imagine these "apprentices" feel uncomfortable with him. His poor fiance shows up halfway during the summer and is greeted by filth and starting work on a farm all in the same day she gets off the plane. She is then shown to her luxury accommodation, a tent on the platform in the woods. I truly think she must be considering leaving at every moment. Again, the author lacks telling us about any emotional connection with yet another person in his life.

Oddly a remembrance of a brutal murder of a neighbor at the hands of a madman is recollected in this book. Perhaps it is the closest to emotion you will get in this memoir.

I read it through, and it was somewhat interesting to read about the progression of the crops.
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While I am always glad to read another memoir from a small farmer perspective, I found some of the blurry facts undermined the story -- I didn't quite know what was real and what was a convenient amalgamation. Specifically: as a vegetable farmer who lives by the seasons, I could not just accept the description of what was sold at a given market on a given day. It made me question the rest of the narrative, actually, and I didn't want to because I like the premise and the writing.
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Arlo Crawford's memoir, A Farm Dies Once A Year, was a good read, especially this time of year when I visit the local farmer's market twice a week. In the book, Crawford returns to his parents' organic produce farm for a season and records his experiences. What makes this book different various back-to-the earth accounts is that Arlo is no novice to organic farming and doesn't view everything with wide-eyed rapture; he has grown up seeing the day-to-day grind of farmwork and knows that it involves loneliness, financial perils, and backbreaking work, as well as the joy of seeing things grow and the wonders of nature.

By turns lyrical and factual, Crawford's memoir is an enjoyable sojourn into a world many people believe they would like to live in, but who really enjoy their comforts of city living and Whole Foods shopping too much.
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