Miraculous Abundance: One Quarter Acre, Two French Farmers, and Enough Food to Feed the World
Perrine and Charles Hervé-Gruyer
Chelsea Green Publishing
Some books engage the mind. Others energize the hands. Miraculous Abundance does both, while also nourishing the soul. In an age of more-better-bigger-faster, authors Perrine and Charles Hervé-Gruyer provide a blueprint showing how to get more from less, how smaller and slower achieve better results based on their experiences at the farm they created in Normandy, la Ferme du Bec Hellouin.
The eclectic nature of the farm’s growing methods will give everyone from the novice to the experienced grower new and original options to consider. While no section of the book is an exhaustive treatment of any particular topic, each provides enough information for the engaged reader to pursue more on a particular topic if so inspired, and it is hard not to be interested in all topics after finishing each chapter. Permaculture, forest gardening, and bio-intensive gardening dot the book’s landscape, inviting readers to consider the immense possibilities that regenerative agriculture offers: a glorious diversity also seen in the numerous personalities that cross the story’s scattered pages.
While the book is inspirational, it is also clear-eyed as to the realities of the tasks at hand. Charles and Perrine do not idealize the challenges and hard work of food production. The authors’ own mistakes were many, and are not glossed over. The fact that they survived their first decade of farming while accruing a good bit of debt after excelling in and leaving earlier careers in law and psychotherapy is not ignored or underplayed. As such, for anyone hoping to farm or grow food for a living, the tales told of both successes and failures are an invaluable resource to learn before you leap. So much good counsel is offered in the book in so many areas. Some of it we wish we had better heeded or been aware of before starting our farm!
Scattered throughout are discussions of the economics and energy involved in food production. Here Miraculous Abundance provides some startling perspectives. European and U.S. agricultural methods currently consume nine or more calories (usually of fossil fuel) in order to produce and get to people’s plates just one calorie of food. This incredible over-dependence on cheap energy makes modern food systems highly fragile and the people who depend on them hang in a precarious and perilous situation. For comparison, studies in China have shown a return of forty calories of food for each single calorie of fossil fuels used (page 141).
The book speaks deeply to many modern problems beyond just economics, such as the lack of fulfilling work for older people, the dearth of healthy local food sources in many communities, and few opportunities for youth to engage positively with nature. An integrated farmstead can provide all of these things for all parties. The book touches on the problems small producers face in terms of a hostile regulatory environment and highly subsidized competition (page 191), pointing out that agricultural change must be accompanied by political and regulatory change. The kind of food future we need is currently hampered by forces working far beyond the local communities. I also greatly appreciate the authors’ views on autonomy, decentralization, community interdependence and similar concepts.
I have only two tiny quibbles with this wonderful work. First, I wish the book had more pictures, especially pictures spread throughout the chapters. The sixteen-page photo spread is lovely, but often when knee deep in a particular chapter, I wished that ideas presented or parts of the farm being explored were highlighted in pictures on the same page to allow me to better capture the ideas and beauty of the subject under consideration.
My second quibble regards the authors’ rosy comments about the farming practices of the Amish. It appears that the same misunderstandings and faulty assumptions I see among many Americans about the Amish have spread overseas. Sadly, the Amish, while generally eschewing many forms of modern technology, includes members who have adopted some of the worst practices of industrialized agriculture. I have seen horrid animal care, horrendous soil care, and the use of the most horrific chemicals and modern tools by some Amish farmers. They may not use a phone, but these members of the Amish community will gladly use pesticides, herbicides and a host of other chemical concoctions. One of my Amish neighbors who strives to be truly organic asked our family how we keep junk food away from our kids, especially at community gatherings, where he said most of the food their community eats and shares is highly processed: full of white sugar, white flour and rancid processed fats. To assume that all Amish agricultural practices are by definition beneficial and benign is dangerous. Just as the term “natural” on a food label means almost nothing today, a food identifying itself as a product of Amish farming can offer no blanket assurance of safety or superiority.
Dr. Price directed, “You teach, you teach, you teach.” But first one must “learn, learn, learn.” Miraculous Abundance shows us how the end result of that learning is not only the opportunity to teach others, but the possibility to enrich the health of people and our planet at the same time. Two thumbs up to this wonderful work. May it inspire us all to go big by going small.
This article appeared in Wise Traditions in Food, Farming and the Healing Arts, the quarterly journal of the Weston A. Price Foundation, Spring 2016