Moving back to the land is a well-shared dream. We have many aspiring back-to-the-land types here at Some are horse people and you have to be a pretty positive personality to keep a horse. Others are students of the Under the Tuscan Sun school of literature. In these books, under relentlessly sunny skies, the narrator buys a 200-year-old farmhouse with a view of the next picturesque village somewhere in France or Italy, plants a vegetable garden and a vineyard, benefits from the wisdom and advice of old men and women from the neighborhood and falls in love with a dreamy young successful professional, usually of the opposite sex and from the nearby village.

Photo by John Weiss on Flickr

We enjoy these books as they are meant to be enjoyed. As daydreams replete with great flavors, wonderful smells, good honest wine, they exude humor resulting when the foibles of the villagers collide with the inexperience and clumsiness of the authors. These books are a celebration of minor accomplishments, of coming to grips with the good life and different priorities in Tuscany, Provence or somewhere similar. They make us feel successful and happy.

This literature overflows into newspapers and magazines. In the New York Times a very pleasant article entitled Living Off the Land by Brent Bowers explored the subject of  “Niche Farms Reap Rich Dividends for Entrepreneurs Who Have Patience.”

Even statistics are brought to bear in support of this happy premise.

“In one measure of the growth in smaller farms (although it does not include all ‘natural’ operations, the number of organic farms in the United States more than doubled to 8,500 in 2005 from 3,600 in 1992 and the land under cultivation more than quadrupled, to 1.64 million hectares from 374,000 hectares, according to the US agriculture Department’s Economic Research Service.”

“ ‘Organic farming has become one of the fast-growing segments of the U.S. agriculture,’ a recent report from the Service noted. Another study by the service found despite consolidation in the sector, tiny farms are holding their own. The number of farms with annual sales of more than US$250,000 in inflation adjusted dollars rose to 152,000 in 2002 from 85,000 in 1982. While midsize and small farms with revenue between US$ 10,000 and US$250,000 declined, operations with sales of less than US$10,000 rose 14% in those years to 2.5 million from 2.2 million.

“Robert Hope and agriculture department researcher recommended the slow and steady approach being taken. This could be a good time for entrepreneurs to start a farm, he said, “particularly if they have other sources of income.”

Please pass the salt: “…operations with sales of less than US$10,000 rose 14% in those years to 2.5 million from 2.2 million”? I think this really means that a number of people started vegetable gardens in their back yards.

A book from this universe prompted an article in the New York Times entitled, The Death of the Idyll by Frank Bures. The book was entitled The Wisdom of Tuscany, by Ferenc Máté. Over the years I have enjoyed Máté’s books. They are great reading for a cold rainy night. Bure’s thesis is that “for many years now, the northern edge of the Mediterranean has been besieged by Anglophones searching for the good life” all guided by these books but that, “perhaps mercifully”, that era is coming to an end. Bure says that The Wisdom of Tuscany makes it all but official. The idyll is over.

For Bures, The Wisdom of Tuscany is not a book troubled by much. Bure writes that Máté has taken the idyll genre to its logical conclusion and “has merged travel with self-help.” To fall in love with a fantasy is one thing. But reality is another. Bures writes: “I love Italy but Italy is also a dark and complicated place, as are all places if you care to look. And while there is surely much wisdom to be found in the hills of Tuscany, there is also much foolishness.”

Into this body of literature, with refreshing boldness, comes a book that we liked very much. Trauma Farm by Brian Brett is memorable for many reasons. The book, like its author must be, is tough and honest. This is no dream from an olive grove near Cortona. Consider this quote from the book. “No, I’m not optimistic about our prospects. My health is a mess, my joints below the waist are corn flakes, my liver is shot, and my blood pressure is through the roof. Sharon and I are both as high-strung as piano wires, and that can make for a chancy relationship. Our finances are dicey because of our farming habit .… we last renewed the mortgage, increasing it for the third time in ten years—a standard business practice for a farmer and another hazard of expensive island living.” How’s that for a jolt of reality?

Described as “a healthy dose of sanity marinated in the absurd,” Trauma Farm is a memoir of Brett’s life on a small, mixed farm on Saltspring Island in British Columbia.

Reading the Book, you ache, feel the cold, have some fun and endure difficult times with Brett’s meditations of farm life. His approach was carefully considered. As Brett says, “How do you write the natural history of a farm when such histories tend to follow a linear logic? When a farm isn’t logical?” The editor’s grandfather successfully answered the question, “How do you make a successful small farm? You start with a large one.” This is familiar ground here at and one of the reasons that we liked Trauma Farm so much.

The author takes the opportunities of farm activities to reflect on the problems of farming, the destructive nature and inhuman practices of agri-business and the absurdity of the way our food is produced and marketed. “Local food production, healthy food, whether certified organic or just more local and fresh, is under threat from globalized agri-business. Systematically, over-regulation with a bias toward globalized agriculture, is shutting down the infrastructure that underpins local agriculture.”

Trauma Farm is close to the bone. The reader is confronted with the life-and-death cycle of farming, with the fickle and arbitrary power of nature, the rewards of hard work well, the evolving relationships of the family and of new generations and the encroachment of urban life. As a reflection on life enhanced by the contrast of this viewpoint, Trauma Farm will reward any reader. The question “why does he (for only a man would choose to) live like this?” is asked and implicitly if not expressly answered. This farm and the life it creates are rich, varied and unique experiences … lived well. Troubles are endured. Rewards are not fabulous but they bring a reality completely missing in the city. As one reviewer put it, “As is the case with most small independent farmers these days, they don’t make a living from the farm, but they have made a life.”

Incredibly, Trauma Farm presents a compelling case for a rural life. It is realistic, in its own way measured and blunt. You have to be a little crazy but…

We recommend that you read this book…and then that you read it again. There is plenty to learn about moving back to the land in this book. More significantly there is some pretty good wisdom here.

A Certain Somewhere is an anthology of essays about places important not to the reader but to the authors. Described are places some of which are well- known and some of which are obscure The sense of place here is powerful and impressions are well-explained and well-established. This is travel literature for adults interested in realism and not the contrived fantasy of well-organized resorts. You may never — no, you will never — go to some of these places, but you will enjoy the experience of them.