I’ve been interested in farming lately.
Maybe it’s a symptom of feeling claustrophobic and stressed in my chaotic suburban life. There’s something soothing — very appealing — about being in the country, and it’s just that sentiment that led me to pick up Richard Horan’s Harvest: An Adventure into the Heart of America’s Family Farms.
Horan’s story is one of a writer and teacher who embarks on a quest to explore organic farms across the country, meeting colorful characters and exploring various aspects of farming in the months he’s away from his Oswego, N.Y., home. Harvested crops include green beans, tomatoes, wild rice and cranberries, and his locations range from the High Plains of Kansas, to Michigan, Ohio, Maine, California. Horan’s quest is national — and the locales were what most appealed to me about the book. I’m an armchair traveler, you know.
I was sold on needing to read the book when I learned one of Horan’s stops was in Winters, Calif., site of my magnificent hot air balloon ride, where he harvested walnuts. In Winters last May, my boyfriend and I had marveled at the amount of agriculture blossoming in the countryside. Our balloon instructor (driver? guide?) talked about the many crops grown in the foothills of California, and I was enchanted by it all. It’s hard not to imagine a different life in California — one in which we actually take notice of the earth . . . and really depend on it.
That’s sort of where Horan is coming from, too. He wants to get back to basics. He wants to work with his hands, get dirty, get involved in something that doesn’t involve a classroom or book or electronic device. He wants to just be into it. And you know what? I really respected that.
Something about Harvest felt disjointed, though. While I liked following his adventures from one town to the next, the narrative felt sort of weightless — as though Horan had no real point to it all. Combined with the distracting footnotes on many pages, I found myself wondering what I was supposed to “get.” We didn’t spend enough time with any of the farmers or their families/helpers to really connect with them, and maybe that’s where the book veered off for me. Just as I become interested in one gregarious, up-and-at-’em farmer, we were bound for Michigan. Or some such.
Horan is certainly adventurous, pitching in and using all manners of devices (or just his plain hands), but I didn’t fully connect with him as a narrator. I appreciated that he was giving a voice to some of those hardworking folks who harvest and provide food for the rest of us office drones, but I never felt invested in the story. I finished the book and liked it well enough, but something was just . . . missing.
Those interested in farming practices, travel and the state of American agriculture might find Harvest more enjoyable than I did. While Horan can certainly write and I appreciated his observations, I wanted more.
3 out of 5!