Gaining Ground – A Book Review

In Book Reviews, Inspirational Stories by James4 Comments

Gaining Ground: A Story of Farmers’ Markets, Local Food, and Saving the Family Farm by Forrest Pritchard is the perfect book for a wannabe farmer. In fact it’s the perfect book for anyone who has had a dream and wondered what the process might be to make dream reality.  It doesn’t have to be a farming dream, because all dreams are achieved the same way: by hard work, determination, and sacrifice. Sure, there are some other things that go into the recipe for success, but I believe these are the backbones, and Forrest Pritchard illustrates this quite well in telling his story of becoming a farmer and saving the family farm. As Joel Salatin points out in the forward to the book, this book is especially important for people who will never farm. Not everyone can or should farm, but that doesn’t mean they should be disconnected from the food they eat and feed their children. As Mr. Salatin says, “Every time we eat, we participate in farming.” Forrest does a superb job in reminding us of this as he takes us down the road of his personal journey into farming.

Who is Forrest Pritchard? 

Forrest Pritchard was a farm kid who didn’t know much about farming. His family farm was managed by various farmers after his grandfather died while his parents worked everyday 9 to 5 jobs in other towns away from the farm. These farm managers tried using industrial farming techniques to keep a profit going, but inevitably little by little the farm was accumulating debt and failing. After graduating college Forrest was faced with the big question we’re all faced with:
What am I going to do with the rest of my life? 

His father encouraged him to get a secure position as a teacher. After all it was steady work with insurance and a pension. It’s safe. After wrestling with this idea for some time and confronting the reality of the situation (Forrest had little experience farming and the family debt was reaching a breaking point) he took a calculated risk: he gave farming a shot. Luckily Forrest was smart enough to realize to make it work he must think outside the box and be open to new ideas. New methodologies.  He had witnessed the failure of the industrial model on the very land he wanted to farm. He knew there were alternatives, and knew he had to explore those alternatives if he was going to have a shot at saving the family farm, and proving to his family and himself that he could turn dream into reality.

 What’s in the book?

The book is the story of Forrest’s progression into where he is today. When he first made the decision to give it a go, he started by cutting and selling firewood which barely turned a profit. He did it alone, and with little enthusiasm or support from the people around him.  Over fifteen years later he’s one of the most well recognized pasture farmers in Virginia. The book is filled with humor and heartbreak. The tales of Pedro the Goat and Blackie the Beast Pig are sure to bring laughs, as are the trials of finding an honest butcher and the right place to actually sell his product. With heart and craft Forrest takes the reader to all areas in the emotional landscape of story; from dark corners filled with doubt, rejection, and humility, to fields of illumination stacked with the fruits of overcoming adversity. Even though it is a non-fiction story, Forrest’s prose inject life into his story in a very rich and satisfying way that is recognized in many a good novel.

Final Thoughts of a Wannabe Farmer 

Reading this book was perfect timing for me. Up to this point my journey had mainly taken me to reading books on technique. Although books on technique can be very inspiring, nothing inspires quite like the personal story. The fact that Forrest had very little farming experience is quite important for the future of farming as I believe and many have said before that future farmers will not come from farms. A new wave of young farmers are already transforming the farming landscape many of them coming from cities and suburbs, and having little to no experience farming. Gradually over time I suppose it will shift to  a more balanced ratio of farm kids carrying on the family business , but as of now the average farmer is sixty years old and his kids have left the farm in the pursuit of “secure” and “well paying” jobs. This of course is the mono-culture or industrial farmer. People are starting to realize however that farming was never the problem, the model was the problem. We are now in the beginning of a renaissance for sustainable farming and having personal stories like Gaining Ground available for to be farmers in my view is paramount. Forrest has not taken for granted his role as a figurehead, and like Joel Salatin before him has stepped up to show others what is possible while remaining humble and helpful to all who seek his advice.

Buy the book via Amazon by clicking HERE (It’s an affiliate link so I get a little kickback if you buy. Thanks!)

Check out Forrest’s family farm, Smith Meadows, by visiting Smith Meadows
Finally here is a short video of Forrest at Smith Meadows showing us their pastured chickens. Enjoy!

Free Range Chickens, Smith Meadows Style from Smith Meadows on Vimeo.


  1. Addye Thole

    Really enjoyed the book review. Reading about farmers like Forrest gives me hope for the future. A great example of how hard work & integrity can produce a pure food source for us all. And I personally believe that those who just won’t embrace change for the better will be seeing alot of hospital walls in their future. Keep on pursuing your dream James!

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