Pastoral Song: A Farmer's Journey


Pastoral Song: A Farmer's Journey, by James Rebanks

9/30 | Started 02.04.21 • Finished 02.22.22 | 3.5 stars


After reading and hearing some reviews of James Rebanks' other works, I decided to give this one a shot between book club reads, mostly because it was immediately available on my kindle. I went in with no expectations and found it to be delightful in places and quite informational in others.


Dad thought these farmers were forgetting their values, getting above themselves. Most confusing was the fact that they didn’t do any of the things that made farming a joy: the hands-on working with animals and skilled fieldwork. He pitied them, even though they were a lot wealthier than he was, because he couldn’t think of anything worse than being a kind of corporate boss stuck in an office.

Rebanks tells stories of working the farm with his grandfather and later his father during a tumultuous time in the farming industry worldwide. The introduction of synthetic fertilizers and alternative ways of feeding and raising cattle as well as wholesale reworking of the land itself all led to a kind of disillusionment in Rebanks.


The modern world worships the idea of the self, the individual, but it is a gilded cage: there is another kind of freedom in becoming absorbed in a little life on the land. In a noisy age, I think perhaps trying to live quietly might be a virtue.

After the death of his father, Rebanks embarks on his "farmer's journey," the long, slow process of returning the land to its most healthy and productive place. With the assistance of some conservationists, he plants trees, returns the streams to a more natural flow, welcomes the resurgence of wildlife and wildflowers, and gets his hands dirty.


Thankfully, my father never sent me to agricultural college. He was old-school and thought those places turned out people who knew the cost of everything and the value of nothing.

I learned a lot about the evolution of farming and how bigger and more efficient doesn't always mean better. I wasn't ready for the conservationist ethic Rebanks returns to again and again but I did appreciate that he went about it subtly, without beating the reader over the head with it. Instead, he draws the reader in through description and story. I came to love all that he has been able to accomplish on his farm and could see the beauty of it without having ever set foot there.

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