A Bushel’s Worth: An Ecobiography
My dictionary does not include “ecobiography,” nor does spellcheck recognize the word. But one definition of “eco” is “not harmful to the environment,” while “biography” means “a written account of someone’s life.” Thus, “ecobiography” is a perfect locution to describe Kayann Short’s new book. A Bushel’s Worth juxtaposes the author’s current life on a small farm with the lives of her grandparents who farmed larger spreads in North Dakota two generations ago, and balances the two together. A Bushel’s Worth also examines the healthiness of sustainable farming, not only for our bodies but for our souls, and contextualizes that balance as well.
Short and her husband, John, farm ten acres in the Rocky Mountain foothills. (Not to worry, I checked with the author. Because of the century-old irrigation ditches curving through their property, Stonebridge survived the horrendous 2013 Colorado floods with minimal damage. Although many of their close friends have suffered greatly, their beloved farm is fine.) They engage in what is called “Community Supported Agriculture.” Short explains: “Stonebridge is a ‘share-the-harvest’ CSA,” which means all the food produced is shared equally among their ninety subscribers. Each week of the growing season, the members receive whatever that week’s harvest has produced. Spinach, onions, tomatoes, zucchini, winter squash, pumpkins, and more, as summer moves into fall.
Not long ago I reviewed Gary Romano’s Why I Farm for “Bookin’ with Sunny.” Another fierce advocate of sustainable farming, Romano raises organic food for restaurants and for sale at local Farmers’ Markets. Short’s affection and respect for the land is similar to Romano’s, but her enterprise is quite different, without monetary exchanges and with an emphasis on the importance of community. Stonebridge subscribers gather to work the land together, to enjoy the fruits of their efforts, and to share their experiences. A Bushel’s Worth describes a wonderful variety of community activities, beginning with sowing the first seeds of spring, transplanting the seedlings, serving pancake breakfasts to a hundred people, pruning the apple trees, painting the barn, moving an abandoned granary onto Stonebridge land, repairing broken equipment, sharing recipes, and enjoying songfests on the porch.
At the same time she describes the activities at Stonebridge today, she drifts back to her grandparents’ world. Short loved to visit their farms when she was a girl, and she has salvaged many of their treasures and even some of their words. Interspersed with her own stories are tales of another generation, as Short compares and contrasts their lives with her own. Like Romano recalling his grandfather, so Short remembers the women in her family who worked hard to feed their husbands and the ravenous hired help. Their lives were not easy. Whenever Short finds her own efforts exhausting, she thinks of her grandparents and recalls their talents and their abilities to make the best of whatever came their way.
A Bushel’s Worth is an important book for several reasons. In its pages, Short offers profound and well-reasoned arguments in favor of sustainable farming and for the consumption of healthy, organically grown food. She also makes a strong case for the value of community, for living in harmony with others, for sharing largess and sharing the hard times, too. In fact, while reading the recent news of Colorado’s flooding, I have been imagining Kayann and John opening Stonebridge to their friends, giving sustenance, and embracing them in time of need. That embrace sums up my overall response to A Bushel’s Worth—it is a book full of love that hugs not only the land but other people, too. – Ann Ronald