Brian Brett’s pseudo-memoir of his small farm on Salt Spring Island is a bit of a strange beast. On the one hand, it has a number of very compelling sections that weave together anecdotes and narrative with a strong critique of current agricultural practices in Canada. But there are also moments when the critique crosses over into soap-box preaching and beating up a straw man of factory farming that left me feeling frustrated and annoyed. I agree that small-scale farming and local communities are the best possible way to fix some of the problems of globalization and industrial production, but I am not certain that the picture of rural life that Brett puts together is as rosy in reality. Rural life on Salt Spring Island seems to be more of a comedy than anything else with everything working out in the end, and communities always coming together to help each other out. Maybe it`s just that I don`t live on Salt Spring Island, but I`m not convinced that rural life necessarily plays out like this. Nor am I convinced that all bureaucrats (a favorite target in this book) are as air-headed, contrarian, or disconnected from reality as Brett makes them out to be.
These faults aside, Trauma Farm is a great read. It moves along at a good clip, giving plenty of information without bogging readers down. The book is set up as a journey through a (very very long) day and moves from dawn to dusk while also moving about the contours of Brett’s farm. I liked this narrative structure and felt that it kept the book moving along. The shortness of chapters and individual sections means that Brett never stays on his soapbox for long (which is a good thing). The mixture of social history, anecdote, poetry, and narrative works well and kept me interested while also dropping seeds of a dream for a small-farm at some point in my future. My partner would love to move back to the farm while I tend to enjoy the city, so the fact that Brett got me dreaming about the farm is impressive in and of itself.
The book is also full of useful information about the food we eat, where it comes from, and what it does for us. Brett advocates a move towards local diets and eating what is in season. Now, I`m already on board with this (at least in theory, maybe not so much in practice given my many trips to the local grocery store instead of the farmer`s market), but he does do a good job of laying out reasons for why this is a wise choice. It`s not just an environmental choice but also one of taste. Food that was picked in your backyard will taste better than food that has been packaged, put into a shipping container, and left around for 40+ days. Some of the best parts of Trauma Farm come when Brett rhapsodizes about his sheep, birds, and produce. More of these sections and less preaching would have made an otherwise good book into an exceptional one. Then again, Brett is a poet and unapologetic about the informal and unorthodox approach he takes.
I would recommend this book to readers interested in local food and farming even if it can be preachy, nostalgic, and sometimes one-sided.
Brett, Brian. Trauma Farm: A Rebel History of Rural Life. Vancouver: Greystone Books, 2009. Print.