Foreword Reviews

Birth, Death, and a Tractor

Connecting an Old Farm to a New Family

2015 INDIES Winner
Bronze, Nature (Adult Nonfiction)
2015 INDIES Finalist
Finalist, Regional (Adult Nonfiction)
2015 INDIES Finalist
Finalist, Autobiography & Memoir (Adult Nonfiction)

The author’s extensive knowledge, passion, and lyrical prose elevate this biography of a small Maine farm to a rewarding work of literature.

For a sparsely populated state, Maine has an enormously rich literary tradition, particularly in the genres of memoir and fiction. A new voice joins this august pantheon: Kelly Payson-Roopchand, with her elegant account of life on one small farm in Somerville, Maine. Birth, Death, and a Tractor: Connecting an Old Farm to a New Family deftly intersperses her family’s first years establishing a goat dairy with stories of the six previous generations who worked the land.

From evoking Sebra and Lydia Crooker, who carved out a homestead from forest in 1808, to Don and Shirley Hewett, who fed their family and others through the lean years of the Great Depression, Payson-Roopchand is a gifted storyteller. She plucks out family lore, heirloom recipes, snippets of correspondence, and tales of joy and sorrow about living so finely attuned to this flinty-soiled corner of New England. While this young mother might offer a few too many stories and photos of her own adorable children, her talent for recreating the lives of each farm family is abundant.

The book is also a primer on the history of American farming. The author met her husband and farm partner, Anil, while both were agricultural graduate students in Trinidad. Woven into each narration of these farm families is a short education about how they adapted to evolving scientific farming principles, electrification, federal farm policies, and changing American tastes.

This blend of memoir and agricultural history is shot through with poetry and philosophy. Payson-Roopchand aligns the chapters with the seasons, and while she has deep affection for each, it seems that winter at Pumpkin Vine Family Farm has won her heart. It is too harsh to devote much time outside, but hunkering down inside and “staying the course” is enchantingly described. Her family spends winters resting, reading, and cooking leisurely meals. “The seed catalogs start to arrive, their pages rustling with the promise of spring and growth, but even they cannot break the sweet stupor of the winter dark.”

Birth, Death, and a Tractor abounds with the joys of simple living and connection to land and community.

Reviewed by Rachel Jagareski

Disclosure: This article is not an endorsement, but a review. The author of this book provided free copies of the book to have their book reviewed by a professional reviewer. No fee was paid by the author for this review. Foreword Reviews only recommends books that we love. Foreword Magazine, Inc. is disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.

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