Sara, my host site supervisor, and I were at the office one afternoon dropping off soil samples we had collected from an almond orchard in Colusa county. Just as we were heading out, she reached into her dusted bookshelf handing me a few books on agriculture. While all seemed to be favorites, she made note to describe one as an “iconic agricultural read”.
At first glance, it didn’t look like a one-of-a-kind novel to me; I couldn’t identify the title or author for the cover was a blank, black canvas branded with a sticker that read “thriftbooks”. Only when turning it on its spine did I see in delicate, gold writing Pleasant Valley by Louis Bromfield.
Pleasant Valley is a personal recount of Bromfield’s life farming his beloved homeland of Pleasant Valley, Ohio. After living as an expat for more than thirty years, Bromfield returned to Ohio in 1939 with his wife and children. Upon arrival, he purchased three neighboring farms that would become widely known as Malabar Farm.
Malabar Farm was unlike the typical American farm in the mid to late 1900s, one point of difference being its physical location. Tucked away in northern Ohio, Malabar expanded across fertile valley bottoms, hills covered with wild forests, and deep sandstone bluffs--all interspersed with streams and lakes. One can just imagine the stark contrast between Malabar’s landscape and the leveled, rectangular fields of a midwest farm.
The farming practices implemented at Malabar were also uncommon in American agriculture. Bromfield’s early focus was on restoration given the poor and worn-out condition of the farm when first acquired.
To revitalize agricultural soils, he planted green manures and other cover crops, integrated livestock, and severely minimized the use of the standard plow. In addition to tending the crop-producing fields, he cared for the timber lands, native pastures, and natural springs knowing that the health of these resources was essential to the vitality of the farm.
While I enjoyed reading about the day-to-day operations that took place at Malabar, I was most inspired by the philosophies and ethics Bromfield lived and farmed by. He claims that any good farmer needs to be a little “teched”. To Bromfield, being teched means “loving his land, animals, and trees and understanding them all. It means farming for the pleasure and satisfaction it brings, knowing that success and profit are incidental” (88). In addition to being teched, Bromfield was always learning from others whether it be specialists with the Soil Conservation Service, the widower farmer who lived close by, or his Aunt Mattie and her stories about Johnny Appleseed.
We as agriculture enthusiasts are lucky to learn from Bromfield’s farming practices and agricultural ethics and values. That being said, we must not forget that Bromfield began his professional career as an author and are so grateful to him for documenting his agricultural experiences, just as he has done in Pleasant Valley.