Is there intelligent life in rural Canada?

Saturday’s Globe and Mail reviewed two new books by Canadian authors on the contemporary rural scene and what it portends for our collective future. Here be excerpts:

“How you gonna keep ’em down on the farm?

Two new books on the rural frontier

Two new books on the Canadian rural frontier

Two new books champion the fate of rural Canada and defend the simpler life that it offers

Reviewed here: Trauma Farm, by Brian Brett; The War in the Country, by Thomas F. Pawlick

When I moved to the country a few years ago, friends and family told me that I was deluded. There was nothing in rural Canada but hicks in plaid shirts and baseball caps, they said. No culture. No shopping. And certainly no cappuccinos.

I had spent years writing articles, books and TV documentaries on the subjects of food, agricultural production and a life in tune with nature. But I had apparently failed to convince those close to me. I was therefore delighted to see two new books that I felt would shore up my arguments for the beauty and the essential value of rural life in modern Canada. Both books, after all, dared to use words like “farm” and “rural” in their titles – usually the kiss of death in our urbanized world.

Now that’s not to say people in Canada don’t have an interest in food itself. There is a growing awareness about how the cheap, fattening and often less nutritious food found in the developed world is produced. Writers such as Michael Pollan, Raj Patel and Eric Schlosser have written persuasively about factory farms, long-distance shipping, artificial flavourings, global marketplaces and rising rates of obesity that are part of the industrial food system. Although these writers explored the fact that smaller family farms have disappeared in the wake of industrialized agriculture, the vast majority of urbanized readers have little connection with that diminished but still important way of life….”

“….The daily tasks of life on his mixed farm propel Brett into passionate rants against the modern industrial food system and a society increasingly divorced from the natural world. A trip to his chicken coop leads to an indictment of the modern, battery-cage barns that house thousands, maybe millions, of runty hens. The view of his sheep on pasture reminds him of the thousands of cattle crowded into feedlots and fed pellets laced with bones, feathers, blood, fish, enzymes, oil, antibiotics and, possibly, contaminants.

Like Pawlick, Brett believes producers like himself are endangered. “The small farm is a dying anachronism in our age, but it is here some of us are taking a rebel stand,” he declares. He writes that modern mythology of agribusiness is mistaken in believing it can control the complexity of the planet. Only by returning to traditional knowledge that grew good food for thousands of years can humans live in sync with the natural world.

We may live in the age of information, Brett writes, but many people know little about the plants and animals around them. The farm, he says, used to be the bridge between wilderness and civilization. It has become a lonely preserve for living with what remains of the natural landscape. The nature that Brett extols is not a romanticized movie version but a complex, life-and-death tangle that simultaneously delivers beauty, laughter and terror. It is a natural world that speaks to all, even the rap-playing, ever-so-modern pack of friends of Brett’s 19-year-old son, who stop to watch two ospreys hunting for lunch, to “witness what was disappearing.”

Brett’s wise and witty meditation on farm life makes a compelling case for a simpler existence in a rural world. Along with Pawlick’s more earnest, journalistic treatment, there surely is convincing ammunition in these two books to persuade urbanites that there is value to living outside the city.

[Reviewer] Ingeborg Boyens lives on a century farm near Woodlands, Man.”

Read the whole review on the Globe and Mail website.

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