Quote of the Month

When love and skill work together, expect a miracle. John Ruskin

Thursday, December 31, 2020

Sustaining Sustenance

In the northern hemisphere winter is here.  Even though temperatures are chilly, snow blankets the ground, and winds whistle, those responsible for providing our food are hard at work.  They are maintaining, planning, and providing.  Given conditions across the globe during the continuing pandemic, their work has been multiplied more than we can fully comprehend.  We are grateful.

For many of us obtaining food provided by farms in 2020 and in the new year is a challenge.  Sometimes, there are shortages.  Sometimes, we lack sufficient funds.  Sometimes, we rely on others to shop for us.  Reading The Farm That Feeds Us: A year in the life of an organic farm (words & pictures, an imprint of The Quarto Group, July 21, 2020) written by Nancy Castaldo with illustrations by Ginnie Hsu brings new understanding to us about our food. 


Hurray for farms that supply us with the food we eat!
Some farmers grow crops like corn, tomatoes, and wheat.
Some farmers raise animals, like pigs,
chickens, and cows.  Some do both. 

So begins this book heralding the broad spectrum of activities and accomplishments on our farms.  The first two areas focus on farming and feeding and types of farms.  In the discussion of types of farms industrial versus free range and organic versus non-organic are explained.  The remainder of the book is divided into the four seasons beginning with spring.

We explore eggs and breeds of chickens, fruit orchards with a bit on beehives, preparing the soil for spring crops, machinery and tools used on farms, and picking those early spring crops.  Hens, depending on the kind, can lay between 150 and 300 eggs per year. Peas, lettuces, asparagus and radishes head to the farm markets. New lambs are born in the spring and the wool on adults is sheared.  Several types of sheep with exquisite wool are listed as threatened due to their diminishing numbers.

In summer spring blossoms turn to tiny fruit.  Photosynthesis is working in earnest.  People can come to farms to pick fruit crops.  Strawberries off the plant are the sweetest kind.  Corn is planted for harvesting.  Each variety has a purpose.  More time is spent on the beehives and gathering honey.  Did you know hay is cut three times per season?  Did you know by supporting smaller farms we help to increase food diversity?  Did you know a lot of chefs visit these smaller farms to offer farm to table meals on their menus?  When we buy local, we decrease the cost of transportation and help protect our planet.  While insects are vital to pollination, others need to be discouraged naturally from harming growth.

Apples and pumpkins are gathered in autumn.  Like corn, each variety is noted for taste and use.  Numerous households begin to cook the fruits and vegetables into items to be consumed later or to take to market.  Did you know cover crops are planted in the fall to help safeguard fields?  We learn about breeds of pigs, and the value of other animals like alpacas, cats, dogs, and goats on farms.

The arrival of winter brings a new kind of labor.  There is a lot of maintenance to barns, chicken coops, the beehives, and the machinery.  Wood is chopped to heat the house.  Orchard trees are trimmed.  On cold winter days and nights plans are made for spring by looking at seeds to be planted.  Bread is baked.  And all the animals are feed, watered, cleaned, and sheltered against the weather.  On the final two pages there is a discussion on how we can help small farms by the way we shop and eat.  We need to work together so good food is available to everyone.

Whether you were raised in a gardening family like I was, or have never been near a garden, this book written by Nancy Castaldo has much to offer.  The presentation of the facts is conversational and easily understood by younger readers.  It is as if we are there on the farm on a daily basis as participants.  Readers will appreciate the way two topics are flawlessly offered together.  For example, in the section on orchards, beehives are briefly showcased showing us how they are constructed.  Later in summer they are given their own two-page portion.

Each theme is given two pages.  More specific topics in that area add to our knowledge.  In the piece on milking cows, we are educated on milking machines and breeds of cows.  We are told about the milk each gives us, and other products made from their milk.  Here is a passage from that area and the opening for the chapters under the winter heading.

Brown Swiss
Considered the oldest breed, Brown 
Swiss cattle come from the Alpine
pastures of Switzerland.  Their milk
is excellent for cheese production.

Soft snow falls on the farm and all seems quiet.  The growing
season has ended, but the farm is still busy.  There is lots
to do during the winter, inside and outdoors, so that the
farm is ready for the next year.  It is time for the farmer
to catch up on repairs and plan for spring planting.

There is authenticity and a pastoral promise to the artwork we first see on the front and back of the case cover.  The full-color palette is warm and welcoming.  Tiny details ask us to pause and savor each scene.  On the back geometric shapes, like pieces in a quilt, frame these three questions:

Where does our food come from?
What role do farms play?
What's it like to be a farmer?

This is followed by two explanatory sentences.  

On the opening and closing endpapers is a rich, sunny yellow.  Between text on the title page is a resting sheep and a lamb. Chickens, apples, a beehive, and bees enrich the verso and contents pages.

Artist Ginnie Hsu complements and extends the text with her illustrations.  They range in size from double-page pictures to one page and a half, framed with smaller images and to groups of smaller visuals.  Elements are realistically rendered and express animation on the people and animals.  There is a collective camaraderie when people are together.  Even the single workers complete their work with an air of commitment and contentment.  Many of the pictures have small informative labels within them.  

One of my many, many favorite illustrations is on a partial page.  It shows a garden waiting for early spring crops to be harvested.  It features rows of a variety of radishes, red, yellow, and white.  A little girl, pleased with her efforts, has pulled two from the ground, one in each hand.  Running in front of her is a white bunny, scampering away from a meal for the moment.

Your appreciation for those who grow and raise food will greatly increase reading The Farm That Feeds Us: A year in the life of an organic farm written by Nancy Castaldo with illustrations by Ginnie Hsu.  This collaboration brings to readers an outstanding volume to include in your personal and professional collections.  At the close of the book is a glossary of thirty-four terms.

To discover more about Nancy Castaldo and Ginnie Hsu and their other work, please follow the link attached to their names to access their websites.  Ginnie Hsu's home page is a joyous gallery of art.  Nancy Castaldo has accounts on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube.  Ginnie Hsu has accounts on Instagram and Twitter.  At the publisher's website you can view several interior images and download a teacher's guide.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you so very much for this thoughtful review of THE FARM THAT FEEDS US!