"Barnheart..." is "...the state of knowing unequivocally that you want to be a farmer but, due to personal circumstances, cannot be one just yet. So there you are, heartsick and confused in the passing lane, wondering why you can't stop thinking about heritage-breed livestock and electric fences."
I have to admit up front that I dove into this book with mixed feelings. I was really looking forward to it, as I have a severe case of "barnheart" as the author defines it above. However, this was tempered with skepticism. I had seen Woginrich described as an "expert homesteader," and I had to wonder how she had come to earn such a title with her young age and limited experience.
From the very beginning of Barnheart, though, I realized that Woginrich would probably not classify herself in this way. Throughout the book she was honest and forthright when discussing her dreams, plans, successes and failures on this leg of her journey to farmerhood. I did find at times she sounded a bit pretentious, such as when she was discussing the phenomena of weekend farmers in her little area of Vermont. "The rich guy playing farmer, the second-home owners ignoring their property." Just as this was beginning to get on my nerves, Woginrich disarmed me, saying, "And I'm sure I would have fit into the taxonomy of annoying Vermonters myself." She does this several times throughout the book, poking just a little bit of fun at herself even while obviously taking herself and her dreams very seriously.
Barnheart begins with Woginrich's cross-country car trip from Idaho to Vermont, where she has found both a job and a nice little place to continue the homesteading life she began in Made from Scratch. The book takes us through a couple of years with the author, in which she revels in community and place, learns about sheepherding and starts her own little flock, and runs into trouble with an unsympathetic neighbor, among other things. Throughout it all we hear her longing for a farm of her own, and her determination to make it happen.
A lot of things just fell into place for Woginrich—she finds the perfect little place to continue her homesteading experiences in Vermont, for example, over the phone no less. She buys the perfect pickup truck for just the amount of money she has to spend. But in the midst of this, we see how hard she works to make her dream of being a farmer a reality. I appreciate this, as it makes her experiences more meaningful to those of us who are struggling with the same dream. She is pleased when things fall into place almost magically, but throughout the book she continues to learn, working to gain the skills she will need to succeed in her life dream.
Barnheart was usually light hearted and easy to read. At times though, especially near the end, the author gives us a glimpse inside and reveals some of her fears and doubts. This was the clincher for me, pushing the book into top-notch territory. Her optimism and luck propelled her through most of the book, but when she comes home from a weekend away to find a devastating letter tacked to her door, she becomes more real, and more sympathetic to the reader. I also found the section in which she describes her "conversion" from vegetarian to organic, farm-raised meat eater to be indicative that there is a lot more to her than at first met the eye.
Woginrich as a person shines through it all, making it a very strong memoir. It is not a how-to book in any manner. Rather, it is like sitting in the back yard with a very likable young woman, sipping lemonade and listening as she tells a story—one that is both incredibly individual and yet strikes a chord with all of us who suffer, like she does, with barnheart.
Jenna Woginrich is a single young homesteader and the author of Barnheart, Chick Days, and Made from Scratch. A Pennsylvania native, she has made her home in the mountains of Tennessee, in northern Idaho, in rural Vermont, and most recently in upstate New York, where she lives with a flock of Scottish Blackface sheep, a border collie in training, chickens and geese, a hive of bees, and several amiable rabbits. Visit her blog.
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