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It's a Long Road to a Tomato: Tales of an Organic Farmer Who Quit the Big City for the (Not So) Simple Life Paperback – Bargain Price, August 3, 2010

4.2 out of 5 stars 34 customer reviews

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If one is fortunate enough to live near one of the more than 3,700 towns or cities that support a regular farmer's market, then one has undoubtedly met the likes of Stewart, an upstate New York farmer who transports his harvest of organically grown exotic vegetables and herbs to New York City's venerable Union Square Greenmarket, where he has won loyal fans and attracted the attention of both the Food Channel and PBS. But to visit a farmer's market is to see only the tangible result of a ceaseless cycle of planning, planting, weeding, and harvesting. Stewart's beguiling and enlightening collection of essays recalls both the triumphs and tragedies, the demanding reality and the rewards of pursuing a way of life that 20 years ago Stewart decided would be infinitely more satisfying than the corporate ladder he was climbing in Manhattan. Carol Haggas
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


"Beguiling and enlightening"

"Keith Stewart’s essays afford a fine way ‘in’ to the compelling realities of life on a small organic farm in the twenty-first century. His writing is precise and evocative: immediacy bound with a strong meditative underpinning that is an enduring pleasure to read. Like all really good writing, it illuminates a great deal more than the subject at hand."
—Sally Schneider, syndicated columnist and author of A New Way to Cook

"Keith’s writing reads with the force and love of nature’s elements—strong, refreshing, beautiful, and true. It’s as fresh as his delicious carrots, and as poignant as his incomparable garlic!"
Leslie McEachern, owner of the Angelica Kitchen, New York City

"Keith Stewart has been providing New Yorkers with magnificent vegetables for two decades. Now, as if to prove he can do anything, he provides all Americans with a compelling story about his own approach to farming. And at precisely the right moment, just as millions of people across the country are rediscovering the pleasure, and the importance, of eating close to home."
Bill McKibben, author of Wandering Home and The End of Nature

"To combat urban crowding, copies of It’s a Long Road to a Tomato should be airlifted into major cities. The captivating charm of organic farming, so deliciously described in Keith Stewart’s essays, would surely have hordes of city dwellers packing their bags. Stewart’s stories transport me into the precious and full life of an organic farmer. I more than appreciate it; I now feel part of it."
Jeffrey M. Smith, author of Seeds of Deception

"Keith Stewart opens this engaging book by transforming himself abruptly from midlife executive into novice organic farmer. The twenty years that follow on an upstate New York farm are sampled here in true-life tales that—without denying the sometimes harsh realities of the small producer’s life—leave the reader in no doubt of the joys that keep this small farmer on the land."
Joan Dye Gussow, author of This Organic Life

"Ever dreamed of living on a farm or growing your own food? Here’s the clearest picture of what farm life really looks like. The romance of a pastoral life isn’t shattered by Stewart’s depiction of the gritty reality of farm life. They coexist, side by side, mirroring Stewart’s organic and integrated approach to farming. Stewart’s book is a gift to cooks. Now, each time I cook with food from a farmer I know, I have a deeper and clearer idea of what really goes into growing healthy and delicious food and why our farmers are heroes."
Peter Hoffman, chef/owner of Savoy Restaurant, New York City

“[A] heartfelt chronicle, sobering and amusing by turn. Although focused on the particular, it transcends Keith’s Farm and illuminates exactly what it is that we are putting on our plates, whether we shop at Keith Stewart’s stand in the Union Square Greenmarket or at a farmers’ market elsewhere. It’s a delicious read—but what makes it an important one is that it has so enriched the ongoing conversation about food.”
—from the new foreword by Deborah Madison


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 344 pages
  • Publisher: The Experiment; Revised and Expanded Second Edition edition (August 10, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1615190236
  • ASIN: B0062GKV4G
  • Product Dimensions: 7 x 0.9 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (34 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,866,318 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
Just looking at the cover of this book makes me wish it was summer, and I could find a homegrown, red, ripe, juicy tomato.

I'm a cold-weather gal, so wishing for summer is not something I do often. But there is something very earthy and very appealing about Stewart's memoir of his organic farming life. (The fact that it is illustrated with woodcuts done by Stewart's wife, Flavia Bacarella, doesn't hurt-I love woodcuts. And how about that name? Seems like I could be earthy and appealing, too, if my name were "Flavia.")

It's an interesting book, with each chapter/essay offering a short perspective on the challenges facing small farmers of all types, as well as different aspects of rural life and farm marketing in New York City's Union Square Greenmarket. On my mental "gardening/rural life books" continuum, I liked it better than William Alexander's horrible The $64 Tomato, in which the author told about trying to kill an opossum in the most bungling and painful way possible; but did not like it as much as Michael Ableman's On Good Land, which seemed to be a bit more personable, or humorous, or something. But in the end I still enjoyed this one very much. I particularly liked its opening:

"Twenty years ago, a little past the age of forty, I was living in a small apartment in New York City, working as a project manager for a consulting firm, wearing a jacket and tie to the office every day. It didn't feel good. I had never aspired to be a member of the corporate world, but somehow that's where I had ended up. I had little affection for the work I was doing and seldom experienced any feelings of pride or fulfillment. Rather, I felt like an impostor, obliged to feign interest and enthusiasm much of the time...Today I am a farmer, a grower of organic vegetables and herbs, and can honestly say that I am a happier man." (pps. 1-2.)

Kind of gives one hope, doesn't it?
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Format: Paperback
Americans have a taste for nature writing that stretches back in a proud lineage, but less so in agricultural writing. Books about farming are too often of the "green acres" school-- as glossy and unreal as the seed catalog's miracle-grown wheelbarrow size tomatoes. What Keith Stewart, and his gifted illustrator-wife Flavia Bacaralla, have given us is not this; it's a rare, genuine memoir of a life bound up, even unexpectedly captured by the rocky and recalcitrant soil of a slatey upstate New York farm. A Long Way to a Tomato is part and equal to John Hersey, carefully grounded with details in sometimes painfully sharp focus, and part Wendell Berry, suddenly breaking from the mundane into the open sky. It is a brave, open and moving account of a place, man, a marriage, and community-- an American farm and farmer at a cross-roads. It could stand for the story of thousands of farms and farmers across the country who do the hard work, make a living, and keep the soul of our land alive.
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I was looking forward to this book and greatly enjoyed the first one hundred pages or so, even ignoring the ill-advised method of punishing his dogs for killing chickens - tying them up with dead chickens around their neck (after beating them with said dead chickens) and then leaving them there with little to eat. As any dog owner with a modicum of common sense can see,chickens are the greatest squeeky toys on earth. They make funny noises, have feathers that fly all over and when they run away from you it is absolutely comical, not to mention the fact that they aren't nearly fast enough to actually escape. That is why the vast majority of dogs in this world would love to kill a chicken if they had the opportunity. The way to prevent this is to keep dogs away from chickens. It's as simple as that.

In one of the later chapters the author seems to be very amused that his free-ranging, adult, un-neutered dog has been breeding females on his travels. Well, duh. When his neighbor is upset about this, the author desparages them. Obviously, it is funny that his dog has been impregnating females and his neighbor is taking things far too seriously. Finally taking his adult dog in to be neutered(the dog had been in his "care" for some time) they discover that he has heartworm disease. The author explains that this is a disease roaming dogs are susceptible too. Yet, he hasn't ever thought of having the dog on heart worm preventative. Indeed, his dog hasn't been to a veterinarian during his stint at the farm. Oh, he did take him to a couple of those free rabies vaccination clinics. As an aside, those clinics are intended for low-income dog owners, not lazy people who don't value veterinary services.
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Format: Paperback
I first encountered Keith Stewart's writing in The Valley Table, the Hudson River Valley's magazine dedicated to the region's farms and foods. The essay, "A Day at the Market," detailed the amazingly intricate adventure that is selling organic vegetables at the farmer's market in New York City. What struck me about the essay was its underlying lyricism. Here the market day begins:

As we pull out of the driveway, the sky is full of stars and there's a new moon to the east cradling the old moon in its arms. At first light of dawn a hazy stillness lies over the land. There's hardly a vehicle on the road as we drive by fields of freshly mowed hay and shoulder-high corn. Shapes of cows loom on the crest of a dark hill. A red fox with an impressive bushy tail and determined gait crosses the road in front of us.

"Cradling the old moon in its arms": Stewart's writing is imbued with this kind of love for the land he works and the vegetables he harvests, as well as a keen understanding of the essential relation between the word and the natural world. I am reminded of Emerson's essay "Nature": "The greatest delight which the fields and woods minister is the suggestion of an occult relation between man and the vegetable..."

Reading "It's a Long Road to a Tomato," which includes "A Day at the Market," I discover that selling vegetables at the stand is the end of a long process of thought, labor, and dedication. Stewart takes us to his farm in Orange County, NY and reveals to us in each essay an aspect of farm life: the value of a good knife, the economics of maintaining a small organic farm, the importance of the sustainable farming community, the dance of the swallows nesting in the barn. I especially enjoyed the essays about the animals living on the farm.
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