cover image Pastoral Song: A Farmer’s Journey

Pastoral Song: A Farmer’s Journey

James Rebanks. Custom House, $28.99 (304p) ISBN 978-0-06-307327-2

In this lyrical ode to traditional farming, Lake District farmer Rebanks (The Shepherd’s Life) describes growing up on a small family farm during the rise of industrial agriculture over the past 40 years. As a boy, Rebanks learned from his grandfather to love the seasons of labor centered on the land, even as his stressed-out father exhibited the physical and economic hardships endured by farmers. The narrative interweaves tender reflections on the rhythms of farm life with pointed discussions of the differences between traditional (fertilizing fields with high quality cattle “muck,” laying hedgerows by hand) and modern (heavy pesticide usage, separating crops and livestock) methods. Rebanks also details his father’s distrust of environmentalists “who clearly had more comfortable lives than he did,” and his own awakening to the importance of healthy soil through Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring and government-funded ecology programs. Ultimately, Rebanks argues in favor of combining modern and historic practices in order to restore biodiversity and lessen the impact of climate change. Shot through with lyrical prose (the deeds to his grandfather’s land “are like giant cardboard butterflies unfolding their wings”) and intimate family memories, this is an immersive and stimulating call for change. (Aug.)