Gaining Ground {A Book Review and Giveaway}

In the mid 1990’s, Forrest Pritchard’s family farm made a profit of eighteen dollars and sixteen cents.

“Our family farm was broken. I made up my mind that, somehow, we were going to fix it.”

Forrest embarks on a journey to save their family’s piece of heaven in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. From hauling firewood across the county and up 2 flights of stairs, avoiding police in a trailer with no lights, to riding in the front seat with a goat, Forrest Pritchard of Smith Meadows Farm shares his experiences of saving and making a living on the family farm.

Thousands of dollars in debt for several generations, Forrest not only overcomes the strain of family opinions, but also the lack of knowledge and many failed attempts. His story resonates deeply with struggling farmers.

“The desire to fix things – to try our best, at least – seemed to run in our family’s blood…

We rarely got it right the first time. We often didn’t get it right the second or third time, either. But we never stopped trying, never gave up on living the life we had always dreamed. We grew simple food, and honest work nourished our spirits. Ours would be a story of never-ending labor, unexpected setbacks, and daily revisions and corrections. I always loved a challenge.”

I laughed and cried with him as he shared his story through this book. His sense of humor and personality shines from cover to cover. I was hooked from the first sentence and didn’t want to put it down until the last page was turned. Are you looking for encouragement while working your own piece of earth? Or perhaps you’re still the dreamer wanting to find your place on the ground? This is the book for you.

I was honored to be sent a copy of this book and after reading it, knew that I would be committing a crime if I didn’t tell you all how much I enjoyed this story. Full of descriptive prose, subtle and not so subtle humor, and emotional highs and lows, Gaining Ground: A Story of Farmers’ Markets, Local Food, and Saving the Family Farm has fast become a favorite. I hope that you will take the time out of your busy farming life to sit for moment to read it!

 About the Author:

forrest pritchardForrest Pritchard, 38, is a professional farmer, writer and public speaker. Holding degrees in English and Geology from William and Mary, Forrest studied under George Garrett with the University of Virginia’s MFA program. He has been published in national magazines (Mid American Review, New Delta Review, Acres USA, etc.), and his farm, Smith Meadows, has been featured on NPR and the Washington Post. One of the first “grass finished” farms in the country, Smith Meadows has sold at leading farmers’ markets in Washington DC for fifteen years. His book Gaining Ground: A Story of Farmers’ Markets, Local Food, and Saving the Family Farm was named a Top Ten Book for Summer 2013 by Publishers Weekly.

Visit his website

And now the Giveaway!

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Happy Friday!


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About Sheri Salatin

Sheri is married to Daniel Salatin. She is the marketing director at Polyface Farm and stay-at-home mom of three children. Sheri is passionate about clean food and is enjoying working the land along side her husband. When not farming, Sheri can be found reading, writing, sewing, baking and serving in her church family.
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53 Responses to Gaining Ground {A Book Review and Giveaway}

  1. Hannah Kilpatrick says:

    Probably the funniest things that happen on our farm is when the goats get out and won’t stay in. Especially when my two week goat kids found a way to jump out of the fence that was 2-3 times taller than them. It’s not funny at the time, but afterwards you can laugh at it.

    • Jer says:

      We used to tie our ram out to eat weeds in the summer while the rest of the sheep grazed in the pasture. One time I thought it would be fun to to tease him. I would step inside the reach of his chain and wait for hoim to charge at me before he got to me I would step back. He would hit the end of his chain and get flipped around. It was very funny to a young boy I don’t remember how many time I did that, too many I guess. The last one I stepped back he hit the end of the chain… and the chain broke. My dad was close and he said my eyes got as big as dinner plates. I scrambled up the truck I was next to and my dad came over laughing and got the chain fixed and I left the ram alone.

  2. Sallie says:

    We don’t have a farm yet so I can’t answer the first part of the question but one of the things I’ve learned that I never heard of before was using chickens manure (through the use of chicken tractors or rotation) for fertilizing the garden area.

  3. Laura Spicer says:

    To keep with the goat theme, the funniest thing that happened was when one of our goats escaped (via squeezing under a shed), ran up to the house, and reared up at her “enemy goat” in the sliding glass door!

  4. Sanket Bakshi says:

    Nice. I can’t wait to get my hands on this book. Me and my wife have been thinking about starting to get into poly culture farming for a while now and things take so long to work out!

  5. Lisa says:

    Learning that miracle grow is no miracle! My husband came from a dairy farm long line of farming, me the city. So I began to learn to garden by my mother inlaw. Well 9 yrs have passed seens I started gardening, 4yrs of Micacle grow and Round-up:( Now for the passed 5 we have gone natural, the table is turning I am sharing what I am learning about ‘natural farming/gardening’ with her! She didn’t put round-up on her garden now for the pass 2 yrs!!! 🙂

  6. Scott Peets says:

    I was born and raised in a city with some exposure to small farming. I have learned that everything I had learned and knew was not the correct way to farm. I have also learned that by solving the food (growing, eatting, etc…) issues in our country we inevitably help other causes like pollution, fossil fuels, and sustainability. Im glad my eyes are open!!

  7. Lawre O'Leary says:

    Never have lived on a farm, but grew up in a family which sold farm machinery. John Deere tractors, DeLaval milkers, you get the picture. As a child we would “go to the farm” with Dad. He tried to make it at lunch time, because the food was always good! Once or twice we came home with a kitten. Good memories.

  8. Jo Hannah says:

    This books sounds great! Every bit of encouragement and comaraderie along the farming journey/adventure is life-giving. Wednesday, while spending seven hours with a sow in labor (eight healthy piglets—hooray!), I finally had the opportunity to finish Joel’s book, Everything I Want to Do Is Illegal. Gaining Ground looks like a great option for my next read!

  9. Stephanie says:

    I would love to read about the trials of making a profitiable farm. We are a family looking for information and encoagement as we try to figure it our hobby farm and dreaming of bigger things. Thank you for the chance to win the book.

  10. Ann Marie B. says:

    My husband and I have a little acreage and we are working to have our own farm, little by little. We’re both from the city and have little experience but it is something that we both feel strongly about: to be self-sustainable and live off the land. I know we have years to learn and I expect to have ups and downs but right now I’m absorbing all the information and guidance I can get. We have a 3 yr-old son and we would love to pass on the farm and knowledge to him.

  11. Kate says:

    I love reading inspiring books like these of other people stories, they are definitely encouraging and what helps me keep going.

  12. Michelle says:

    My husband and I were both born city kids but when he was medically retired from the army we decided to move to the country, we found the right spot of land and within a year had decided to farm it, it was kind of a backwards way of doing things. We believe everything happens for a reason and everything has fallen into place. We have only 17 acres but are able to rotationally graze chickens, sheep and turkeys on our land and are soon adding a heritage breed of beef cattle and meat goats. We are so grateful for the cards falling as they have

  13. Annette says:

    My favorite times all happened when I was young. Maybe that’s because at that age, we kids lived for the moment and our only worries were how we were going to fill our days during summer vacation. My dad and brother took care of the farm. My brother was married with three kids of his own. My brother and I were 21 years apart (eight kids in my family with me being the youngest). He had a daughter a year younger than me. We were like sisters. We had so much fun growing up on the farm together. We’d go in the corn crib and climb mountains of corn. We’d climb the elevator that brought the ear corn into the corn crib. The corn crib was divided in half. One side was ear corn, the other side was oats. We’d love to climb into to oats barefoot. We also loved playing in the hay mow. We’d build forts and hideaways with the bales of hay. We had a huge rope attached to a rafter at the top of the barn. It had a huge knot at the end. We’d sit on that knot and swing on the rope. Talk about fun! Especially when the barn was almost empty from hay. We’d put the remaining bales in a stack, climb the stack with rope in hand, stand on the rope with our feet on the knot and off we’d go. What a ride sailing on the rope! I cherish my memories on the farm. Dad has passed on. My brother lives on the farm. My niece and I are still close. We live many hundred miles apart, but we see each other as often as we can.

  14. David Smith says:

    Funniest thing? Oh boy, so many. One episode I recall, we always used to play “army” when we were kids, using the barn and surrounding buildings as our battle and command posts. One time we decided that chicken eggs made great hand grenades, so we raided the coop to stock up on ammo. You can imagine the mess that resulted from our battles…and the trouble we got into.

  15. Kimberly says:

    I don’t own a farm but do have a raised bed garden that I add on to each year. I love perennial crops and open pollinated plants. I grow organically and try to gain more knowledge each year on gardening.

  16. Lisa says:

    Our first attempt at loading pigs…everything was wrong about our set up and everything went wrong loading them. Actually they never got loaded by us and my 18 year old daughter almost got run over by a 300 pounder! Live and learn!!

  17. Rachel Millios says:

    My grandparents had a 250 acre farm when I was growing up. They had taken all us grandkids for the day (there were about five of us at the time, now more than 30). I remember hearing the cows, a little louder than normal; looking out the window and eating lunch, there stood one cow in the yard (all the way from the pasture/barn which was on the opposite side of the road)! Her friends were on their way to the yard, too. So with five little grandkids, and my grandpa gone, my grandma somehow managed to get the herd back in the pasture and my uncle (who was still young enough to be living at home at the time) repaired the fence.

  18. Connie says:

    The most surprising was how little space you can turn into a self sustaining lifestyle. Our “Micro” farm called Home On 2 Acres, is slowly rewarding us and we are never without as long as we let the land and animals work properly on or small piece of heaven. I have never been happier than when I went broke and discovered the life I always wanted was here the whole time.

  19. Jim Papa says:

    I love reading about farming. I long for the day when I have my own farm. For now, I will settle for 6 hens and 1,000 sq ft garden….

  20. Sophia says:

    I think the funniest thing I can remember from living on a dairy farm way back in the mid-1970’s was when my brother came to visit. We wanted to give him a taste of some of the real stuff so gave him the chore of taking the manure spreader out. Someone forgot to let him know to close the top so that the manure would be flung out of the side. So as soon as he started spreading, the stuff when straight up in the air and right back down again. My brother returned shortly, covered head to toe in you-know-what. We thought it was quite funny anyway! ;-}

  21. Guillermo Romero says:

    The power of the simple wire. I got a big surprise when I saw my steel posts set in concrete bend by the tension of a wire fence forming a “V’ shape at the gates. Never again, now I use counter-posts, no matter how big and powerful the tension posts are. But it is always a lesson for me to see a fence gate I had to built using also “V” form. A lesson on forces, vector and the like, but more importantly : about how fragile is what we believe as strong and indestructible.

  22. Well, we’ve only had our farm for about a month now, so not too many funny anecdotes to share yet. Then again, I laugh to myself just about every time I’m doing something in the yard, because this is all so completely new to me. After a decade+ in the IT industry, I’ve now jumped head first into the farm life. Joel & Polyface Inc. have been a major inspiration in that decision, and we appreciate everything you folks do!

  23. Lisa O'D says:

    I love the journey to becoming a farming family. My husband and I ate future farmers and laying the foundation of knowledge to begin now. We love visiting farms and talking with farmers and reading everything we can. Thanks for the chance to win this book!

  24. Elizabeth Moon Gabet says:

    I grew up with farms surrounding me but my dad wasn’t a farmer, he was a minister who gardened, cultivating food and souls. From observing and interacting with farms, animals, soil, plants, humans, I formed a lasting sense of the interconnectedness of all things and the miracle of life. Always, always life is striving to grow into all it can be. We can either co-create with it or fight it. The love and resilience of life is to co-create with it and what a mysterious, miraculous journey it is.

  25. Diana says:

    Just the other morning, I saw our little bantam leghorn rooster standing on TOP of our broad breasted white turkey 🙂 I had to do a double take! They make me laugh every day.

  26. Carlye Mader says:

    I am excited by Mr. Pritchard and the change that he has made. His testimony gives me hope for the world!

  27. Katrina says:

    In our kitchen there is a glass doorwall that faces the pasture where you can see pens of sheep and calves and sometimes our mini donkey. Once the light goes on its seems that every one of them start calling. They know that we will be coming out to move pens or feed grain. We always open the door and give them a shout out that we will be out soon. We find this endearing and funny at the same time. Our guests that spend the night, although not too frequent, don’t get the same enjoyment out of this morning ritual as we do. Especially since it happens at 6 a.m.

  28. Tina Good says:

    I can so relate to not getting it right the first, second, or third time. We are city people born and raised, but we are trying to transition to the country lifestyle on our 2 little acres. This is the third year at attempting a garden; the weeds and drought won the battle the last two years, but I think the third time’s the charm and we’ll be more successful this year! I would love to read this book for the encouragement that we can be successful…eventually.

  29. Lori Havens says:

    We just helped our son, Bryan, to purchase a farm, and he moves in just a few days. I’ll be there through the summer to help, as will his brother. So we are waiting to load up with funny farm stories! The amount of hard work ahead of us in the coming months will not be a surprise, though 🙂

  30. Heather says:

    The funniest thing that happened was when my 10 year old son was blow drying his heifer at the county fair. He didn’t pay attention and aimed the dryer at a fresh pile of poop. He sprayed me and our pastor’s wife with poop. It was the 5th day in a row of poop for me, but the first for our pastor’s wife. She wasn’t too amused. I barely contained my laughter.

  31. Lauren says:

    The funniest thing that has happened recently (one funny story of many) was when our dog, Denali, decided that she wanted to escape our fenced property. We have no-climb woven wire goat fencing all around, so the dogs do not have a chance to get off the land unless we take them somewhere. One day recently, Denali went missing. My husband searched high and low for her, and up and down the dirt roads, but she was nowhere to be seen. Finally, after some time had passed, he heard a faint little far-away whimper. He followed the sound, which became more pitiful by the minute. Finally, he located Denali, who had gotten herself stuck inside the trunk of a hollow tree that had fallen across our fence the night before. She thought she had found a tunnel to freedom, but instead found herself hopelessly wedged inside the rotting tree, unable to back out or go forward. My husband had to tear the entire side of the tree trunk out to rescue her. Needless to say, she hasn’t tried to escape again.

  32. Ann Stoll says:

    I’m sure I have many funny stories to tell, but what I’ve learned is that it takes a lot of work. It’s not just showing up at a market with smiles for all to see. Customers have no idea what it takes to get there, to be dependent on what the weather is going to do, and how the physical body will hold up. I’ve learned I can’t deal with a 6000 sq. ft. garden alone. It really wants to stay a pasture. I love the work and wouldn’t change a thing. I’ve also learned that it is never dull. If anyone thinks working a homestead is boring, they need to spend a week at one, with animals. ha

  33. Jessica says:

    Since I don’t have a farm yet… what I have learned so far is a lot actually! I follow several farm blogs (living vicariously through them) and have read several of Joel’s great books. I think the most important thing I have learned is that bad things will happen, but they only help you grow stronger as a farmer. Farming isn’t romantic and easy.

  34. Allan says:

    i grew up across the street from my grandparents 350 acre farm where there was always something that needed worked on and i quickly became my grandfathers right hand helper. my best memories are working on the farm next to my grandpa. my grandpa tought me alot of lessons about life through that farm like to always work hard, do your best, and never give up. all the lessons i learned from my grandpa have benefited me in my life and especially now that me and my young farmily have started a 12 acre farm of our own and i hope that my two daughters will enjoy and benefit as much from farm life as i have

  35. Catherine Griffice says:

    My youngest daughter (43) is raising chickens and she got them by mail as chicks. When I asked her when would she be getting eggs, she answered that they have to be about 5 months old….who knew?

  36. Tanya says:

    The funniest? Or not so funny at the time? Slipping smack dab in the spring muck while helping dad chase cows. Gross. The most surprising? How disheartened and sad I felt after trying to help a troubled guilt give birth and realizing her piglets were stillborn.

  37. Leah says:

    The thing that made me laugh the hardest was when one of my hens flew on top of the chicken run and couldn’t figure out how to get down. It has a peaked roof and eventually she stepped out off the peak and slid her way down the side, squaking at the top of her lungs the whole way. What surprised me the most was the magnitude of peace and gratitude I experienced when I found my first eggs!

  38. cat says:

    obviously, the time the gator crawled out of the pond onto the back porch.

  39. fences don’t mean a thing if they really want out lol

  40. Amanda says:

    So far, we are only backyard farmers, but when my son was little (3?) a chicken jumped off the coop and landed on his head. The expression on the little one’s face was priceless! 🙂

  41. Jennifer says:

    I grew up on a cattle and tobacco farm in Western KY. We would all go to the tobacco fields when is was time to cut. We would leave my Granny at home as she would cook our meals (they were to die for!, that’s all I thought about when I was in the field). She had told us that she would honk the horn of the truck if she ever needed us. She didn’t drive and this was waaay before cell phones. So we are out in the fields working hard one day when we heard a horn just a honkin’ away….we all looked up scratched our heads and said, who is that crazy person?, forgetting what Granny had said. When we get back to the house later and she is in a tizzy. She had been walking into the house when a Black Rat snake that had crawled up the door jam had bit her as she walked back in the house. She was terrified of snakes and was honking like crazy afraid she was gonna die! We all had a good laugh but she wasn’t laughing!

  42. Vanessa Lloyd says:

    Trying to put up some cows that got out and save my husband from leaving a job site. Well got the cows put up and had to call him home anyway to get my truck out of the ditch I got stuck in trying to get up the cows.

  43. Sarah says:

    Funnest thing so far. . . oh my. . . it is a close tie between my husband wrestling our first turkeys and chasing cows around the yard. We had no idea turkeys knew how to box, it was like fighting a kangaroo. The biggest one got loose and he just had it by the neck in a death grip. He was ready to strangle that guy a day early. When we got our first cows they were going through some separation anxiety from their moms 1 mile down the road and busted out of the barn, and four 1000lb cows completely jumped over a 50″ cattle panel fence like an Olympic Equestrian event and another 3-strand barbed wire fence to join up with the neighbor’s herd only to find their mothers were not there. Took 3 hours (2 days later) to round them up in an open pasture and get them back into the barn. This time we kept them locked up for 2 weeks – long enough for them to be “bonded” to their new home. We are still “green” but learning all the time, and it is a humorous process.

  44. Dean Davidson says:

    The thing that strikes me as funny is when people tilt their heads to emphasis the puzzled looks on their faces when you inform them that you have retired from a perfectly good job to begin your quest to farm the land that has been waiting for you to devote your full attention too. They only see the work, the time and money spent, and the demands of stewardship and husbandry. I smile and chuckle to myself, they do not see or feel what I do when I walk the land, watch new seeded ground emerge or marvel at the birth of a new addition to the fold. They think I am burdened by the farm, and that is the funny part; I couldn’t be more liberated.

  45. Wendy cole says:

    One of the funniest things that happened on our farm is when our little girls get in with our baby pygmy goats and they jump up and try to eat their hair or jump on their shoulders.

  46. josh says:

    Funniest? Being awakened at midnight to find out why my dog is barking like crazy, then chasing a muskrat around the house with a hoe, at midnight, dressed in combat boots and my wife’s sleeveless teal vest with a fur-fringed hood. That’s nutso.

  47. Kris says:

    I don’t know if there has been one funniest thing. There have been many things ‘normal’ people would consider odd. . . like the time my hubby came to bed after dark one summer night and said “I just saw a coon go in the barn” Now I had recently lost a bunch of broiler chicks to a raccoon, so I immediately jumped out of bed, cute nightie with red hearts on it and all, grabbed the .22 and headed outside to get myself a chicken killing coon.

  48. Sarah E. says:

    I think the most surprising thing I learn this year on my farm was that grass can put weight on goats just as well as, if not better than, grain. I’ve been mob grazing my herd, and I can’t believe how filled out my does and kids are. 😀 It works!!!

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