The Next Chapter

Dream of getting back to the land? Read these books

Novelist Susan Juby talks about three of her favourite books in the "back to the land" genre.
Susan Juby thinks farming memoirs have gained popularity because there's an appeal to reinventing oneself and gaining survival skills. (Susan Juby: Delgado Photography)

City farming is enjoying a renaissance in Canada these days. Vegetables are a common crop, but a growing number of urban farmers own livestock, with chickens being the most popular. And as we all know, where the trends go, the books follow! Susan Juby is the author of The Woefield Poultry Collective and Republic of Dirt, two novels that are set on a farm on Vancouver Island. She grew up on a small hobby farm, but says she "assiduously avoided" being roped into gardening.

Juby joined Shelagh Rogers from Victoria to talk about her favourite "back to the land" books.


Trauma Farm: A Rebel History of Rural Life made a huge splash when it came out. It won many awards, and with good reason. It's just a fascinating portrait of the author Brian Brett's farm on Salt Spring Island. It's an examination of rural life as it is today, and a celebration of mixed farming as opposed to monocultures. It's a critique of agribusiness and factory farming. It's a lament and a comedy and a history and a love poem to the land. 


Farm City by Novella Carpenter is filled with absurdity and humour. If you ever find yourself irritated by some of the romantic notions people have developed around local food and small farms and backyard chickens, this book is a total breath of fresh air. Novella and her partner move from Seattle to a rough area in Oakland, and turn this abandoned lot behind their apartment into this incredibly messy and fascinating little farm. She starts with fruits and vegetables, and then she gets a few hens, and then she gets ambitions and gets bees, ducks, rabbits and eventually pigs.


One of my all-time favourite pieces of nature writing is A Book of Bees by Sue Hubbell. She's a former librarian at Brown University who moved to the Missouri Ozarks and kept bees. At the time the book came out in 1988, she had 300 hives and something like 25 million bees. The book is a memoir divided into the four seasons that a beekeeper has, and all the tasks for each particular season. And there's just something so gracious and humane about Sue Hubbell's writing. Her affection for the bees is profound. And it's a how-to book. Given the situation that bees are in right now, I wanted to learn more about bees, and she is the perfect place to get an education in beekeeping.

Susan Juby's comments have been edited and condensed.