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It's a Long Road to a Tomato: Tales of an Organic Farmer Who Quit the Big City for the (Not So) Simple Life

3.82  ·  Rating Details  ·  277 Ratings  ·  46 Reviews
Twenty years ago, just beyond his 40th birthday, Keith Stewart exchanged life in New York's corporate grind for a farm in Orange County, NY, where he and a small crew of seasonal workers grow about 100 organic vegetables and herbs. What started as a yearning—"to live on a piece of land, closer to nature; to work outside with my body as well as my brain; to leave behind the ...more
Paperback, 288 pages
Published March 14th 2006 by Da Capo Press (first published March 13th 2006)
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Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara KingsolverThe Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael PollanIn Defense of Food by Michael PollanThe Dirty Life by Kristin KimballFarm City by Novella Carpenter
Locavore Reading List
25th out of 59 books — 195 voters
Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara KingsolverThe Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael PollanThis Changes Everything by Naomi KleinThe Systems View of Life by Fritjof CapraThe Ecological Rift by John Bellamy Foster
best sustainability
80th out of 182 books — 223 voters

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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 1,148)
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Feb 01, 2009 Deirdre rated it really liked it
When Keith Stewart and his wife Flavia Bacarella (the illustrator of this beautiful book) bought an old dairy farm in New York State, they didn't quite know what to expect. Some idea about change led them to move from the steadiness of a regular paycheck into the uncertain world of organic vegetable farming. But like most new enterprises, they didn't know what they didn't know.

After 20 years of building the soil, which supported the produce, which was sold at the green market in Manhattan's Unio
Nov 02, 2008 Elizabeth rated it did not like it
i'm not going to finish this book - i've read 5 of the essays and i'm a little irritated with the author at this point. i've already noticed some repetition.
this is petty, but being from true central/upstate new york, by lake ontario, i'm inclined to take someone less seriously when they refer to orange county, ny as upstate. it's downstate. you're just from the city and forgot about the rest of the state.

anyway, parts of this book have read like an advertisement for this guy's produce and egg
Feb 19, 2008 Djuna rated it liked it
I'm not sure who his target audience was. If it was potential beginner farmers, there wasn't enough information. If it was small farm/organic/local food skeptics, there wasn't enough information. If it was ummm anyone else, there wasn't enough information.
Mar 28, 2014 P. rated it liked it
Shelves: nonfic
this is a collection of essays more than a personal history. I enjoyed the format, and I liked hearing about Mr. Stewart's farm, but I think it could have been better organized, as far as repetition of some of the material/opinions and chronological inconsistencies went. It wasn't confusing, just felt a bit sloppy. But running a farm is a ton of work, so I'm surprised he even had extra time to put this together. It reminded me of the updates I get from one of the local farms that sells at the fa ...more
Apr 06, 2009 Marisa added it
I didn't get very far into this book. In the second or third chapter, he gets mad at his dogs for killing some of the farm's (free-ranging) chickens, and in response leaves them tied up for a week with the rotting chickens hanging from their necks. The point of that story is essentially to introduce the one rooster (Lazarus) who survived the dogs... he doesn't seem to see anything strange or wrong about his treatment of the dogs. I found that I couldn't respect him enough to even keep reading af ...more
Dec 27, 2015 Laurie added it
Keith is the proprietor of Keith's Farm in Orange County, NY. He is also from New Zealand, married to Flavia, and an early vendor at the Union Square Market in NYC. He "quit" the city life and his desk job back in the 1980s for a chance to stake out a life in farming. Flavia, his wife and book illustrator, struck my fancy purely for her Italian name – as in Flavia diStefano Iain Pears heroine in his Art History mysteries.

Somewhere along the line Keith turned his farmers eye to writing essays an
May 01, 2009 Amy rated it it was ok
Recommends it for: yuppie scum
Big-city bureaucrat becomes small-time farmer! Make the most of it: read "Everything I Want To Do Is Illegal" by Joel Salatin at the same time. Beautiful illustrations.
Stephie Jane Rexroth
Mar 24, 2013 Stephie Jane Rexroth rated it it was amazing

From the first chapter:
"Twenty years ago, a little past the age of forty, I was living in a small apartment in New York City, working as a project manager for a consulting firm, wearing a jacket and tie to the office every day. It didn't feel good. I had never aspired to be a member of the corporate world, but somehow that's where I ended up. I had little affection for the work I was doing and seldom experienced any feelings of pride or fulfillment. Rather, I felt like an impostor, obliged to
Sue Bridehead (A Pseudonym)
Oct 02, 2008 Sue Bridehead (A Pseudonym) rated it really liked it
Recommended to Sue Bridehead (A Pseudonym) by: keisuke
Shelves: non-fiction, food, essays
I'm on a sustainable agriculture kick. This book goes down a lot more easily than Barbara Kingsolver's, and has more substance, though the essays are shorter and the read is faster. Perhaps this is because Kingsolver is an ambitious gardener, whereas Stewart is an actual farmer.

In any event: things have to change in the U.S., soon. It's ridiculous that we're:

a. raping our topsoil
b. creating an obesity epidemic by pushing commodity crops with little nutritional value
c. dumping pesticides into ou
Feb 24, 2012 Alison rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I liked this book for being a straight-forward look into the life of one "city guy" who went and became a farmer.

The book got me understanding the point of view of the modern organic farmer, and what matters for him/her, for example, GMOs, seeds, organic certification, etc. However, I was a bit turned off by the author's voice. He isn't someone who I feel like I would be farmer buddies with, although who knows, I haven't gotten a chance to try out my homesteading dream.

My mom told me to be pre
Jul 12, 2014 Katie rated it it was amazing
i liked this book because it reminded me of the farm that i worked on. i'm sure this book would have been completely foreign to me had i read it a year ago, but now so many parts were just familiar in a way i can't really describe. i loved the part about the tractor and the cows especially, because i happen to love tractors and cows. it made me really sad to read the little parts that interns wrote, because i just wanted to be an intern on a farm again. what i really loved was when he talked abo ...more
Aug 04, 2008 Happyreader rated it really liked it
Recommended to Happyreader by: Inder
This collection of essays has a nice mix of different angles on being an organic farmer -- everything from financials, planning of the crops, hiring of the workers to soil management, planting and harvesting, and food politics. Not only do we get the wisdom of 20+ years of farming experience, we get the motivational tale of a man who decided midlife to trade in his city corporate lifestyle for update NY farming. My only reservation about this book is that sometimes the essays get a little repeta ...more
Nov 07, 2007 Tara rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: anyone even mildly intersted in gardening, sustainable practices, and food
A variety of hard-to-find varieties of vegetables from Kevin Stewart's organic farm in upstate NY are sold every week at the Union Square Greenmarket, and hearing about them made my mouth water. But the fascinating part is the way of life and day to day practices that go into small-scale sustainable agriculture. In the 80s Stewart left NYC to start the farming life, far from simple but intensely satisfying. More of a collection of interconnected essays than memoir, Stewart addresses everything f ...more
Feb 12, 2010 Kate rated it liked it
I quite liked this book. It's made up of a few short stories about life on an organic farm - not all of which I found interesting (I skipped the one all about knives), but most of which were interesting for someone who has fantasized about organic farming (but who now also thinks that she would lose much interest in all the heavy labor quite quickly). Many of the stories were quite endearing, too, and I began to feel as if I really knew the animals and plants he interacted with on a daily basis. ...more
Mar 26, 2007 kristy added it
I love reading, talking, thinking and writing about growing organic food and eating locally. It gets me so excited. Food is such a big part of our lives and is so politically charged. Most people don't think about how their choices are affecting not only their health and life but that of the entire country and world. One day we may not have a choice of where and from whom our food comes from. Isn't that scary? We need to support these organic farmers who truly care about our wellbeing and value ...more
Dec 21, 2013 Rebecca rated it liked it
I wholeheartedly agree with this book's main idea: That local, diversely cropped, sustainable farming is vital to the world's well-being. I wish that the writing would have been a bit more vivid and that there would have been more specific information, such as gardening tips or recipes. I probably didn't appreciate it as much as I should have since I already agreed with most of its ideas and had heard most of the information in other sources. I would recommend it, though, for anyone who's just s ...more
May 05, 2010 Lex rated it it was ok
I never win anything... but I won this book. Would I have read it otherwise? Probably not. However, as obsessed as I am with food, I haven't read anything before from the perspective of a farmer and I liked how he broke up all the facets of farm life into vignettes. His writing is straightforward, and he informs without being pedantic.

What I did NOT like was what other people mentioned, the treatment of his dogs. I had a lot of trouble coming to terms with how a person so obviously connected wit
Jun 12, 2008 Andrew rated it really liked it
Shelves: food-books
Here is another farmer-essayist book (just like the "Four Seasons, Five Senses" book that I didn't really care for), but I'm enjoying this one much more. It is a bit more political, a bit less poetry, more business focused, more approachable as a farmer who worked in the city till his forties (rather than being 3rd or 4th generation farmer). While not a book to explain to you how to become a farmer - it does make a strong case for either being one or for SHOPPING AT THE FARMERS MARKET!
Mar 28, 2009 Patricia rated it it was amazing
Shelves: memoir
I'd like to sit on the tailgate of his pickup and view his farm and hear his stories in person. My favorite stories are about his chickens and his dog Kuri........and the Driveway Rabbits. The issues he raises, the need for small small farms to coexist with neighborhoods is especially that the Whitehouse is tuning some of he lawn to a kitchen garden.

Biodiversity and protection of our precious soil are the main themes
Apr 03, 2011 Nettie rated it really liked it
Essay chapters, easy to read, & quite interesting. I like and agree with his view of farming - it is how we garden. But, I think we love our chickens more than he does his so I would have talked much more about the chickens. :) He is also right about how the gov't interferes with farming and the big business mentality has destroyed the small farmer. Sustainability is key in farming. I do not agree with his view on population control.
My favorite gardening book of the summer -- Keith Stewart writes well and has a healthy sense of perspective about his foibles as well as his virtues. His accounts of two deaths, both dear friends, one a neighbor, the other a beloved dog, provide the unexpected heart of the book, surrounded by essays and reflections on the path the led him to organic farming, the nature of garlic growing, the hierarchies of the chicken coop, more.
Jun 21, 2013 Catherine rated it really liked it
City-to-farm story, written quite a few years after the move when the author was a proven farmer (albeit one married to an artist named Flavia, which seems decidedly unfarmerlike). In addition to farm stories, he addresses related topics like government bureaucracy, GMO seeds/foods, overpopulation, and farmland preservation programs. Earnest, well-written, and entertaining, with illustrations by the aforementioned Flavia.
Jennifer Hess
Jul 17, 2007 Jennifer Hess rated it it was amazing
This is an absolutely wonderful collection of essays from one of our favorite Greenmarket farmers. Keith Stewart is very candid about the blood, sweat and tears involved in establishing and maintaining a small farm in an ethical, sustainable fashion, and after reading this, I feel even better about buying from him as often as we can.

The parts about his canine companion Kuri will make you smile, laugh, and weep openly.
If you were looking for a step by step instructional memoir about organic farming, this is not that book. Rather, Keith Stewart has written a series of essays, of which only a few deal with the actual day-to-day workings of a small farmer. I found these essays interesting and at times lyrical but it was not exactly what I was looking for when I checked the book out from the library.
Mar 23, 2014 Anna rated it really liked it
This is a very well-written book, and I only docked a star because there's nothing in it new to me. On the other hand, if you're new to U.S. agricultural issues, this would be a very gentle way to learn some of the basics.

Read the longer review on my blog.
Jeff Kissel
Jul 18, 2012 Jeff Kissel rated it liked it
Interesting read, but not what I was expecting. Actually a series of essays. Switches between straightforward breakdown of how to run a small farm (general information on specific topics), biographical narrative, and philisophical thoughts on the modern food industry/culture. Writing style is simple, but direct.
Nov 05, 2007 Debby rated it it was amazing
"Specialization when taken too far and allowed to define who and what we are becomes limiting. It robs us of our wholeness and our self sufficiency. It misses the big picture and confines us to a narrow zoom and it leaves us at the mercy of experts...Farming is a remedy for our modern condition."
-Keith Stewart
Jul 03, 2008 Jeanne rated it really liked it
Great book. I really enjoyed the content. My only beef with the book was that it was a series of vignettes. They did not flow, so this wasn't a book that you sit down to read from cover to cover. It'd make excellent bathroom-reading material, though.
Jul 21, 2008 Forrest rated it it was amazing
I love this kind of book. The writing is measured and, at times, poetic. It's a collection of small pieces: like a sampler of teas or chocolates, you seem to go through it faster than a regular box. It's variety as refreshment and metaphor.
Carolyn Miller
Jan 11, 2013 Carolyn Miller rated it really liked it
I quite enjoyed this look at organic farming. I learned some things from this book-like how GMO grains are created (pretty scary). The author presents some really good (if biased) ideas-made me think and come up with my own ideas.

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If a picture is worth a thousand words then the author's love of the expression of words and phrases stems from his interest in photography, and his love of reading and the art of the narrative of story telling.

Keith Stewart's background began in the photographic arts where he studied at Sheridan College of Applied Arts and Technology, Oakville, Ontario in 1972, in which one of his courses was th
More about Keith Stewart...

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“At this point in history, our society tends to elevate and reward the specialist...This concentrated focus has brought some benefits...It may also be a modern malady. Specialization, when taken too far and allowed to define who and what we are, becomes limiting. It robs us of our wholeness and our self-sufficiency. It misses the big picture and confines us to a narrow zoom. And it leaves us at the mercy of experts.” 7 likes
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