After an afternoon touring the fields of Oak Hill Farm, learning how they transplant thousands of onions by hand, seeing the beehives, tasting the carrots, I noticed this book being purchased by the woman ahead of me in line at the Red Barn, where Oak Hill sells produce directly to people. It documents life behind the scenes at Oak Hill, along with other Sonoma farms. The topic was of enough interest to me that I read the entire poorly-written book.
The author is in desperate need of an editor, but excuses himself in the introduction, claiming he has not “cleaned up or beautified the furrows” of his story. No kidding. I choked this book down purely because of the appeal of Oak Hill Farm, and strained myself with so many eye rolls at the pomposity and tone-deaf assertions. His treatment of Sharon Grossi is only the tip of the iceberg (“Did she perhaps want to show her ex-husband that she could succeed without him?” No, you idiot, perhaps she simply liked farming). Let’s just go ahead and label him clueless, with the following examples:
He’s a 65-year old lech:
Just then another young woman arrived, sporting a pierced nose and with her hair in dreadlocks. She had a beautiful mouth… I had to know her name. She was planning to prepare raw food to sell at a three-day reggae festival… “When I set up my booth, it’s all about the visuals,” she said. “It’s all about what attracts the eye.” Everything about her certainly attracted the eye… And right on cue, Marvin Gaye’s voice filled the Red Barn. Shoppers began to sway thir hips back and forth. Genevieve certainly did, and I might have continued my conversation with her if Anne Teller hadn’t arrived just then. p 72-73
“Malu had taken the reins from him at the Sonoma farm, where she now supervised a small crew of workers that included her own father. No one seemed to mind a woman at the helm.” p 127
“Miguel took what was at hand and gave us his best impression of a woman. He grabbed two onions, placed them on his chest, squeezed them, and at the same time puckered his lips and rolled his eyes. He was perfect. ‘Guapo,’ I said, which brought even more laughter.” p 183
He’s a snoop:
“We parked and went inside the workers’ house, where half a dozen men live… Inside the refrigerator were a six-pack of Corona, corn tortillas, and cheese.” p 138
He’s kind of stupid:
When interviewing the owner of Oak Hill farm, “almost as an afterthought, I asked Anne about herself…” Genius at work on page 75.
He’s a bad writer:
I felt that I had been down on the farm too long and that, with the end of summer approaching, it was time for a weekend of riotous city living in “Baghdad by the Bay.” That’s what famed San Francisco Chronicle columnist Herb Caen called San Francisco to capture in a phrase the city’s mix of exotic, polyglot neighborhoods. But with the United States at war in Baghdad and all across Iraq, and with American troops waging a seemingly endless war against terrorism around the globe, the phrase no longer seemed appropriate. p 187
Then thanks for using the phrase and going on an unrelated diatribe.
He’s an elitist:
“We’re going to have to find a different way to consume. We’ll need to think about the environment and our long-term ride on the earth for future generations.” Coming from Sam Josi, the global financier turned chef, these words about consumption and the environment meant more to me than if they’d come from a fiery environmental activist or one of the many San Francisco anarchists who denounce corporations and globalization. p 192
He’s kind of creepy:
On warm nights in August and September, the arms and shoulders of the women were bare, and I was reminded of sensuous nights in Provence and the feeling of the Mediterranean. The most beautiful women in the world shop at the Tuesday night market. It seemed so easy – fair easier than I had imagined – to make a woman (or a man, for that matter) happy with the beauty and abundance of the produce… p 229
Did I mention he’s a bad writer?
That also proved to be true of Arden Bucklin-Sporer, who lives in San Francisco and works for the school district. Arden – the name suggests the Forest of Arden and the word “garden” with the letter “g” lopped off – started and now nurtures the gardens-in-the-schools program… p 156
He’s tone-deaf to his own racism:
Born in 1950 in Mexico, Miguel Barrios has worked in agriculture ever since he was a boy… he came to the United States… He became an American citizen, though how he passed the test I can’t imagine. He speaks barely a word of English.
Miguel’s story is common enough; millions of men and women have stories like his. He is one of many, and in many ways he wears a cloak of invisibility – much like the invisibility that Valde and his son Jesus took on when they wore their hoods in the fields at Oak Hill. Those hoods seemed emblematic of their status in society and their place in our culture… I was surprised by the farmworker habit of covering up the body in both summer heat and winter cold. At times I thought they might actually be seeking anonymity, though my friend Uriel assures me that this isn’t the case. Mexicans cover up to protect themselves against the sun, he insists, not to hide. p 104-105
I can only assume Uriel is rolling his eyes on the other end of the phone line.
I didn’t want to make Miguel and his compatriots into invisible men, and I told myself not to think of him or them as “Mexican.” I listened to them closely and watched them carefully. In a sense, I took photos of them – but without turning them into picturesque subjects. I saw their individuality, recognized their own unique rhythms of work and speech, and grew to appreciate their grace and beauty in the fields. Miguel Barrios was Miguel Barrios, just as Paul Wirtz was not the “German Catholic Farmer” from the Midwest but Paul Wirtz.
This guy’s day job is to teach people how to write. Let that one sink in.