Book Review: ‘Gaining Ground’ by Forrest Pritchard

Reader Contribution by Lanette Lepper
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Several weeks ago, my friend Nancy and I enjoyed our second annual girls’ get-away to the Heritage Harvest Festival at Monticello.  We took classes and spoke to vendors and bought seeds and enjoyed ourselves immensely.  One of the free workshops offered was a talk by Forrest Pritchard, which I knew I had to attend.  His book, Gaining Ground, came out earlier with rave reviews online. I am always reluctant to purchase a book unless I know it deserves a permanent spot on my bookshelf, so I hadn’t yet read it.  I was very interested in hearing what he had to say.

I know a lot of farmers, and most of them are obviously more at home on a tractor than speaking to large crowds of people.  Most are soft spoken and choose their words carefully, preferring not to waste them.  Immediately, I knew that Mr. Pritchard was different.  A graduate of William and Mary with degrees in both Geology and English Lit, he never set out to be a farmer.  But it became clear that someone needed to work the land full-time if there was any chance of saving the farm that had been in the family for decades. 

Today, he is a 7th-generation grass farmer in the Shenandoah Valley.  He is an engaging speaker and gave a great presentation on his farming experience. (If you’d like, you can watch him give a similar talk at the Arlington, Va., public library here, in which he also does a reading from the book.)

Once home from the Heritage Harvest Festival, I could not get my hands on his book fast enough!  Fortunately, it arrived quickly and I found myself immersed in the world of Smith Meadows Farm.  Not only can Mr. Pritchard speak, he can write, and very well at that.  This is not a sugar-coated tale of one man’s efforts to save his family farm.  It’s the good, the bad… and yes, even the ugly.  From chopping wood to making hay (or not) and selling at Farmers’ Markets (or not), the reader journeys alongside the author as he attempts to make a profit off the land.  I found myself laughing out loud (Pedro riding in the truck; Princess Forrest), stewing in anger (Donny at Lowery’s), amused (Glenda at the Farmer’s Market in DC), and heartbroken (flavored waters at midnight.)  It was one of those books that I never wanted to end.

“Gaining Ground” wasnamed a Top Ten Book by Publishers Weekly, Washingtonian and NPR’s The Splendid Table, and there is good reason.  Educational, entertaining, and inspiring, it is a memoir that did not disappoint. 

I would highly recommend it to anyone who is interested in supporting farmers and farmers’ markets, anyone who is considering getting into sustainable farming, and anyone who eats, especially those who may balk at the higher prices of real food.  

Lanette Lepper is a beekeeper, chicken keeper, gardener, food preserver, and proud Navy spouse who blogs