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Farm Girl

Farm Girl

Sandy: Many of you know by now that I have a serious farm fantasy.  My favorite documentary (you MUST watch it) is shameless farm-porn. Catch it on Netflix: “The Biggest Little Farm,” winner of the 2019 Documentary Oscar.  I’ve watched “BLF” multiple multiple times; I can’t get enough of its exuberant, soul-satisfying take on a newbie farm couple learning how to raise literally every farm animal and crop (nutso idealistic) in their desire to create a self-sustaining and reliant ecosystem. All within their own acres. 

ANYWAY, this memoir I’m recommending - Farm Girl -- is a return to simpler Depression-era Wisconsin farming - by FAR -- than that depicted in the “Littlest Farm” documentary, but Beuna Carlson’s spare, charming memoir of her childhood on the family acres outside Plum City (western Wisconsin) is a delightful, full-hearted piece of the good ol’ days.  I LOVED it. I realize (my darling Emma) that it lacks the raw, desolate perspective Dorothea Lange offers in her 1936 Migrant Mothers, but it’s Beuna’s true Wisconsin story:

Buena Carson was born in 1926 and she and her three siblings were free to roam through the 80 family-acres of rich, fertile Wisconsin cropland, pasture and woodlot while their parents shielded them from the worst economic woes of the period. Her memories, mostly rosy, are punctuated by descriptions of the era’s terrible droughts. “We could hear the cattle bawling as they searched the dry pastures for a bit of grass,” she recalls, and “we saw the leaves on the stunted corn plants in the sun-baked fields curl to conserve moisture.”

“Farm Girl” is split into two sections — one covers her family, the other focuses on the seasonal rhythms that define life on a farm (my favorite).  That section is divided into thematic chapters, some as short as two pages: “The Party Line Telephone,” “Butternuts and Maple Sugar Candy,” “Sunday Dinner,” “Long Underwear” (“nothing, nothing separated the farm kids from the town kids like the dreaded long underwear … the scourge of Wisconsin winters”) (Kirkus). Carlson is fond of her memories but she’s tough too: she’s got the same brisk “let’s get it done” tone my Scottish grandparents did. Farm Girl stands along The Farm in the Green Mountains by Alice Herdan-Zuckmayer as one of my favorite memoirs ever.

When Bunny Coburn was growing up, neighbors came together in times of hardship. No matter the trouble, they faced it with determination, camaraderie, and resourcefulness. In the midst of the Great Depression, despite record-breaking heat and crop failure, growing up on the family farm was nevertheless filled with bucolic pleasures.
Farm Girl is Beuna "Bunny" Coburn Carlson's loving tribute to the gently rolling hills of western Wisconsin. With an inviting and fluid voice, she shares intimate moments of happinesses from her childhood: collecting butternuts for homemade maple candy, watching her father read by the flickering light of a kerosene lamp, and the joy of finding a juicy orange at the bottom of a Christmas stocking. Underlying each vignette is the courage of a strong family surviving adversity and finding comfort in one another. Hers is a memoir that readers can dip in and out of with pleasure.
Publication Date: 
May 26, 2020