Monday, January 17, 2011

Book Review: A Time to Plant

Besides serving a parish, raising two wonderful daughters, and cooking our family meals I also love gardening. During these long cold winter nights all I can think about is planting my Spring garden with garlic, onions, lettuce, spinach, oh, Spring seems so far away! There is nothing better than eating a salad which was grown right out in the backyard or biting into a fresh tomato sandwich on homemade bread slathered with a thick layer of mayo, well, maybe not that thick, we all have to watch our cholesterol! My garden is much smaller than Kramer's but you can still grow quite a lot of vegetables in a small garden.

Last week I was reminded about the joys of gardening when reading Kyle Kramer's new book published by Ave Maria Press (2010) called A Time to Plant: Life Lessons in Work, Prayer, and Dirt. First of all I love the cover art, it is both mysterious and inviting at the same time; a man looking out across a vast flat field. Kramer is a farmer, writer, and the Director of the Lay Ministry program at St. Meinrad Archabbey, a Benedictine monastery and seminary in Indiana.

When reading Kramer's book we learn that this field wont' remain barren for long. No. At a ripe young age of 27 Kramer set out to purchase some rough terrain in Indianna and not only build a barn with also served as his apartment, but also to plant a small family farm. We learn about the ins and outs and the trials, troubles, and tribulations of farming told from the angle of a neophyte. We read about Kramer's apartments sans bathroom and running water let alone electricity! We also learn about soil amendments, building problems, and soil erosion. Kramer doesn't hold back either. One of the most memorable moments comes about mid-way through the book revealing his near nervous breakdown as he must finish his house while at the same time work the land.

This book is more than a gardening journal, but a thoughtful and prayerful look at what it means to be a steward of God's creation. Kramer wants to sustain himself by living an ascetic life eating from the produce from his garden and leaving as little of a carbon footprint as possible. He even installed a composting toilet, now that is roughing it if you ask me!

Through his journey Kramer also has a love interest who later becomes his parter in this new life that they have created. I don't want to give too much of the plot away, needless to say Kramer is a good storyteller. A few times I caught myself reading and re-reading some of the funny ones, like the time when he was getting his apartment, "girl friendly."

While reading A Time to Plant I kept wanting more. I wanted Kramer to reveal more of his personal side as far as the details of his own upbringing. Through the course of the narrative he glossed over his life without delving deeper. I wanted to know more about his own domestic life before farming, perhaps some of the reasons why he wanted to live such a radical life-style and at a young age too.

A Time to Plant is a great read if you are remotely interested in gardening/farming, spirituality, and stewardship. When I finished the books I started counting the days to the last frost date in our growing zone, the time when I can start planting our Spring garden.