2015 Reminisces; 2016 Forecasts

2015 was.  My wife and I welcomed a daughter-in-law and three new grandsons.  The grandsons were at the wedding (yet to be born) and no, the new daughter-in-law is not one of their mothers.  In November I lost an uncle.  My mother’s health has been tricky.  Life ebbs.

2016 is.  The UN has decided this should be the Year of the Pulse.  More on this from this quarter – you can rest assured.

Brian Miller just put up a piece at the South Roane Agrarian where he took a look back at the year gone by and highlighted  titles from his “reading this weekend”… little snippets he adds at the end of his regular offerings.  In this January 1 post he also offers a picture of a shelf in his library.  I’ve seen the library, or at least one room of it.  The pictured shelf is nice, but hardly does justice to the whole.  But titles and authors would not be discernible if he showed even one wall… so a shelf is a nice touch.  Click on the picture and have a look at the titles.  Wendell Berry is featured prominently.  No surprise if you know Brian.  But seeing the titles reminded me of several I can reach out and pull from my little collection.

Berry on the bookshelf

                              Some books from my stash

I have to admit I staged this lineup… and it is missing a couple titles I wish I’d had room for.  But you get the gist.  I don’t think it legible, but second from the right – The Soil and Health, by Sir Albert Howard (first edition, alas… not signed by the author).  Closer to the middle is Ford Denison’s Darwinian Agriculture (first edition, and signed by Ford… my son was a graduate student at U Minn when Ford got it published).  If you have to choose between them, go with Howard.  Ford’s book is pretty good, but Sir Albert is, well… amazing.

Other 2016 forecasts?  Well, I know a certain couple living in this general vicinity who will reach a milestone age next fall if the fates allow.  She’d rather I not be any more specific, and I can honor that.



  1. Hi Clem, and happy new year to you. Nice to see some of your books and find a few in common – Berry, Gould, Callicott, Kahnemann. ‘Crop tolerance to suboptimal land conditions’ sounds like it’s one that I really ought to have…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The Callicott is mostly because of your piece on Genesis (and that I was able to find a copy for a great price 🙂 ) Kahnemann was a gift – and an excellent one at that. I have some Leopold that didn’t make this pic, which like Berry is always something soothing for the soul.

      Crop tolerance… is an American Society of Agronomy special publication from 1979. I was still in grad school then. Even though it is quite dated now there is plenty to soak up here, and with Google Scholar one can easily take a seminal paper and find what has cited it in the intervening 25+ years.

      You might especially like Table 2 of the first chapter – it lists economic plants and their ecological distributions. The table goes on for 32 pages. Your recent list of species in the Vallis Veg garden is missing one or two of those on this list.

      Actually I’m glad you picked up on this volume because I hadn’t opened it quite a while. There is a nice chapter on edible legumes that will fit nicely with some things I’m putting together for GP in honor of the UN’s Year of the Pulse.


  2. Clem,
    Nice copy of Howard’s work. What edition? And what is the title next to it, looks like Fate of the Fields? I read Third Plate by Barber. But I found it too padded, could have been a more interesting 125 page book. That happens more and more, that contemporary writers pad out what could have been a great short monograph on a subject into bloated editing jobs.

    Anyway, great news on the three grandsons. And I’m sure your new daughter-in-law is glad for the clarification.
    Our Tennessee best for 2016!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The book by Sir Albert is a first edition. It’s in fairly decent condition. It served a tour as a library book in Waco TX, but seems no worse for wear. I picked it up at a second hand book store in Columbus, OH. How it made the trek is a mystery. A good friend in Indiana loaned me a copy many years earlier (also a first edition) and I was mesmerized. Seeing a copy at the book store – one of those purchases that required no second thought.

      The book to the right is ‘The Face of the Fields’ by Dallas Sharp. It’s a 1911 collection of nine papers he had written (some of which were earlier published in Atlantic Monthly). The ones I’ve read thus far remind me a bit of Berry and Leopold, but he preceded both. Found this one in an antique store in LaSalle, IL. Sharp also published a few titles such as “Wild Life Near Home”, “Roof and Meadow”, and “The Lay of the Land”.

      Have to agree with your assessment of “The Third Plate” – it had more potential. Though after slogging through something like “Goodbye Descartes” I find it nice to have a quicker paced read. And I also like the notion that chefs and city entrepreneurs have a role in building out a sustainable food future. Production and plant breeding are merely one aspect, and given my background it was useful to see his perspective.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Happy New Year Clem.
    You have a nice collection of books there! Have you read, or own, any of Louis Bromfield’s stuff by chance? He was a very interesting fellow IMO. I have actually gone through his personal library–it was pretty impressive.


    1. Hi Jim,
      I don’t think I do have any of Bromfield’s work here. And now that you bring it up I think that’s an oversight for an Ohio based agrarian. I am aware of Malabar farm, and have been meaning to visit and take a closer look at what they are up to there these days.

      How did you come to visit his library? Was it open to Malabar Farm tourists? If so, its an extra reason for me to add such a visit to the bucket list.


      1. I was kind of lucky actually. The Park (Malabar) was in the process of moving his library into a new visitor center and had all the books loaded into boxes down in the basement of his old house. I told somebody I was interested in looking at what he had, and they let me go down there and just look through stuff, unsupervised even. I was surprised myself. He was serious, he really wanted to know the best science at the time regarding sustainability, especially as regards the soil. Had all the USDA Yearbooks, all kinds of stuff.

        They’re all in a nice room now and yes, you can go in there and look at stuff, just tell them of your plans ahead of time.

        I used to go cycling down in that area–some of the best hills in the state are around there. It’s beautiful country, I love it. Last remaining AYH youth hostel in the state is also there, great place itself.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Excellent! This in addition to Brian’s heartfelt endorsement puts the park visit right along side another bucket list item I’ve too long pushed aside. Get the ol’ ten speed out of the barn and make it tour worthy again. Used to ride quite a bit… and the bike is ride able – just not in touring shape (for that matter, I’m not in touring shape either… they sort of go together though).

        The scary image of me riding a ten speed with a scythe strapped to my back toward Malabar… hmmm, perhaps the scythe should stay home for now.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. With your interests, there’s no question whatsoever that you will love the place. Go in mid to late summer if possible–many roadside fruit/veg stands selling terrific produce then. It’s seriously one of the best things in the state. But yeah, leave the scythe in the car


    1. Great quote – thanks Jim!

      The quibbler in me wants to argue with one of the last notions in that quote… that the two central qualities can not be acquired. I will agree they are too rare and they are seminal attributes for an agrarian heart. But I’m of a hope that folk can come to passionately appreciate the soil and their livestock through interaction and familiarity with them. If indeed these must be inborn qualities then I should be extra thankful I feel as I do.

      It looks like I have some book shopping to do 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Louis Bromfield was quite the man. I’m surprised you haven’t visited Malabar farm. It is a state park. And this Tennessee boy has made the trip. Pleasant Valley is a good introduction to his thinking. And the Alan Carlson book I’ve mentioned devotes a chapter to his agrarian thought.


    1. Wow – that shames me into moving it up on the bucket list! 🙂

      Now I have to ask a different question though… Are you a Louisiana boy in Tennessee, or has the bayou become a too distant memory?

      While I’m at it, I’m wondering if there is a bookish person here abouts who might know where a good copy of Pleasant Valley could be picked up?


  5. I got my first edition copy in a dust jacket, signed by Bromfield, for $10 at an antique store in Knoxville.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Shamed and now jealous. You’re being too hard on this one today. But this does make me think some judicious antiquing in the vicinity of Malabar could be worth the trouble.


    1. This looks familiar – as if I started to read it once and got sidetracked. I will say Wendell makes some great points, but I’d also argue he’s guilty of some hyperbole here.

      He discusses Wes Jackson’s notion of “eyes to acres ratio” which I think is a fascinating metric.

      There certainly are fewer folk per square mile in the agricultural rural lands of our Midwest. And while there are some producers guilty of unsound land management I would suggest these are few and likely to be weeded out in due course for commercial reasons… despoiling land worth $10K per acre while corn is south of $4 and soy under $9 is a sure ticket to the unemployment line.

      The effects he describes on rural culture seem spot on to me. And I suppose my own lack of cultural sensitivity leaves me less tuned into the costs Wendell illuminates. Brian Miller often talks about the rural “conviviality” of his rural Tennessee neighborhood (see the blogroll for South Roane Agrarian) – and I can reminisce about boyhood memories of the same in southern Illinois in the sixties.

      Wendell does wax philosophically about modern science toward the end of the piece and makes a very salient point that I mean to discuss here at some point: science today is “invariably limited and controlled by the corporations that pay for it”. There is a book on my reading shelf titled “Contested Agronomy” which works on this theme at length. Some very interesting things there to consider.

      Thanks for pointing to this essay Jim!


  6. Hmm, a Tennessee or Louisiana boy? Can’t one be both? I am by birth, family and culture a Louisiana boy. I am by long residence and landholding a Tennessee boy. But if pushed I’d always plump for the Bayou state. Although I do have roots from two family branches in Ohio. But we don’t speak of such transgressions and moral failures.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think the notion of being both is outstanding. From Louisiana you are now standing out in Tennessee… and from the Volunteer perspective those all important formative years were spent standing out in Louisiana. Outstanding.

      I too have a checkered past for place. And if I follow my genealogical chain of history I come from a long line of folk with multiple geographic associations. Not hybrid vigor in a genetic sense, but hybrid vigor anthropologically? [perhaps we should consult Chris on this]

      And your family branches with spurious ties to Ohio… we hope they may be forgiven if some future judgment might make that necessary.


  7. […] Malabar as much further east.  After having been harangued by Jim Bouldin and Brian Miller earlier this month for never having been to Malabar Farm I made a mental note and figured I’d need to make the trip […]


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