Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Review – Farm – the making of a climate activist

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Serena Kirby, ARR.News
Serena Kirby, ARR.Newshttps://www.instagram.com/serenakirbywa/
Serena Kirby is a freelance reporter, writer and photographer based in regional Western Australia. With a background in public relations, education and tourism she’s had 30 years experience writing and photographing for local, national and international publications. Her current focus is on sharing stories from the sticks; its people, places and products and the life that lies beyond the city limits. She enjoys living in a small town while raising a tall teenager.

A good place to start reading Farm is at the back. That may sound counterintuitive but by taking a look at the extensive bibliography you’ll quickly see how intensely researched the book is which adds weight to the arguments and questions it presents.

While Farm is a memoir that chronicles the journey of Nicola Harvey and her husband after they leave their city lives to farm cattle in rural New Zealand, it is far more than that.

It’s actually a deep dive into food, farming and climate change and the many challenges Nicola faced while trying to become a cattle-farming environmentalist.

Farm definitely explores some big topics. It looks into the prevalence and impact of manufactured fertilisers and what Nicola calls “the religion of productivity” where farmers of the “Boomer era” followed the belief that “more fertiliser grew more feed, more feed meant more animals and more profits”. Nicola outlines her belief that ‘traditional farmers’ of the past gave little thought to what environmental damage their practices could create in the future.

The book also poses questions about food production, food consumption, the food industry and the impact of big supermarket chains on consumer choices and farming profitability. Nicola investigates plant-based food proteins, looks at the nutritional value of these non-meat options and questions how eco-friendly these alternatives actually are.

Linked to food consumption is Nicola’s investigation into the rise in ‘flexitarianism’ (a primarily vegetarian diet with some meat and fish consumption) which is signifying a shift away from our identity as a red meat-eating nation. Supporting this is Nicola’s foray into various diet regimes and her sharing of some of her favourite recipes.

There’s even information on different ways of dealing with farm waste, animal waste and meat-production waste. With there being around 1.4 billion head of cattle globally the amount of methane gas these animals produce is considered a large contributor to climate change and this book tries to sort the fact from the fiction in the methane-debate.  Sadly Nicola found out early in her farming venture that “if you’ve got livestock, you’ve got dead stock” so the book looks at the reality of losing animals you’ve carefully raised and the ethics of “producing to kill”.

These are just a smattering of the ‘meaty’ subjects this book covers and the author cites hundreds upon hundreds of quotes from interviews with farmers and experts along with details from countless reports, articles and scholastic studies.  Nicola’s depth of research will make your head spin.

But there is another layer to this book as it’s interwoven with more personal and emotional elements of Nicola’s life on the farm. There’s the relationship struggle she and her husband experience as they learn, adjust and experiment with new farming techniques while they try to stay financially afloat and the loss of a baby through miscarriage.

Nicola also writes about the isolation and conflict she experiences, with her family and the local farming community, by making a stand to “not blindly follow the old ways of farming” and you can certainly feel her frustration with those who show resistance to change.

Of course, as every farmer is at the whim of the weather, you cannot write about life on the land without referencing the seasons and Nicola cleverly inserts these into the book to give a sense of the passing of time.  The seasons are also used to highlight the regenerative agriculture ethos of working with, not against, nature.

While there are many thought-provoking academic statistics and scientific facts supporting changes in how we farm, the book’s biggest take home message is that trying to be a cattle-farming, meat-eating environmentalist means trying countless things and learning through your failures. 

I certainly recommend this book to anyone stepping into the realm of regenerative agriculture and to anyone interested in the challenge of meeting global food demands while still caring for the planet. It is by no means a light read but it is, without doubt, a worthy and enlightening one.

Author: Nicola Harvey
Publisher: Scribe 
ISBN: 9781922310545
Buy through Booktopia

This book review is supported by the Copyright Agency’s Cultural Fund.


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