Reading The Wisdom of the Radish: A Book Review | Civil Eats

Reading The Wisdom of the Radish: A Book Review

The life of a farmer is hardly mundane. There is constant work, little time off, and yet the seemingly homebody, non-lucrative career choice certainly isn’t short on hustle and bustle. As someone who is by no means a farmer, more a macro-gardener who tries to make some extra income from our one-acre excess, I am doubly impressed with Lynda Hopkins’ The Wisdom of the Radish. Her ability to balance life’s components makes her head first dive into the hardships of organic farming particularly triumphant especially since she has written a book to prove it.

Like any good story, this one begins with a love affair. A young, idealistic couple fresh out of grad school fall in love. They travel, dream, and come up with a wild vision for getting their hands dirty in a meaningful way: they move back to the boy’s hometown of Healdsburg, California and start a small farm. So begins Foggy River Farm and the real work that ensues.

The Wisdom of the Radish may seem like another utopian Northern California tale of happy harvests and sparkling sunshine, but in fact, Lynda Hopkins’ earnest, genuine writing tells a story of struggle. Yes, the two farmers are in a rare position of privilege (Emmet’s dad let them live and farm on part of his vineyard), and yes, they have been taught to value theoretical and actual possibilities for change in our broken food system. But the way in which Hopkins captures their learning curve, fully re-counting failure after failure, resentments and bitterness, speaks to the truth of strenuous labor and the commitment one must secure toward a challenging mission.

This book is also not just a personal story. The recounted experience is backed by thorough research, financial and historic data, and social commentary. Hopkins received a BA in creative writing and an MS in environmental science. She delivers her personal narrative with an amazing blend of research, journalist savvy, tender integrity, and humor.

At times, her graphic descriptions can be jarring. In writing about chicken slaughter, Hopkins skillfully reminded me why I don’t care to eat meat. Maybe the power of this section stems from her affinity for science or her argument for getting face-to-face with your food choices. As Hopkins was vegan up until raising her own chickens, she raises a solid point for debate and offers insight on many more in Radish: our current food valuation system, social accessibility, “organic” pesticide use, to name a few.

Ultimately, a reader who has dug into her own backyard garden and has uncovered some of the many challenges that come with farming, will find this book intriguing for its truthful portrayal of real life. But just because I can relate to the idiocy of massive labor output for little return (see “corn drying project”), I enjoyed The Widsom of the Radish for its personal evolution and solid evidence for why we all should keep fighting for the things that matter to us.

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Amber Turpin is a freelance food and travel writer living in the Santa Cruz Mountains. A long time Good Food advocate, she has owned, operated and helped launch several food businesses. She is a regular contributor to Civil Eats, various Edible magazines, and the San Jose Mercury News. Read more >

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  1. I think you decided the next book I'm going to read. Environmental scientist/creative writer writes about what so many of my friends are doing or want to do, and is a former vegan who now raises chickens. It sounds really good and really interesting. Thank you!

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