Book Review: Lessons in Nature
50 Years of Organic Advice
from an Organic Gardening Pioneer

By Malcolm Beck
330 pp. Acres U.S.A. $20.00.

Lessons in Nature is a sampler of the garden and lifestyle-related wisdom collected by Malcolm Beck, an organic farming pioneer, over the past 50 years. Mr. Beck has been experimenting with organic agriculture since the 1950's, an impressive feat, especially considering the social climate in South Central Texas, where this experimentation occurred and is still ongoing. Back in the time when organic agriculture was practically unheard of, the local opposition to non-mainstream farming methods and their "hippie" connotations didn't deter Mr. Beck. He met the ridicule with dogged persistence and a determination to prove that organic farming can and does produce healthy, bountiful and profitable crops that are highly nutritious. At this point, he has quite a devoted following all across the country, including in his home state.

Many of the pieces of research, observations and logical arguments that Mr. Beck has used to demonstrate his pro-organic point of view, for lo these many years, have an essay devoted to them in this book. These snippets are peppered with history: both that of Mr. Beck, his family and his farm as well as the history of the organic movement over the past 50 years.

What is most fascinating about this book is that Mr. Beck has done a tremendous amount of his own research pertaining to human nutrition, crop production, composting and many other organic agriculture-related topics, ranging from the grand to the seemingly insignificant (growing a giant pumpkin!). As he relates the outcomes of these studies, he often explains how each fueled his certainty that organic agriculture is "what nature approves of".

Some of his research methods and assertions could be considered a bit shaky and are certainly debatable. For instance his belief that, "global warming is being caused by us humans uncovering and creating too much bare soil by some of our agricultural practices, herbicides and paving over.". However, the fact remains that research about organic agriculture is very limited and is still conducted primarily by individuals, as opposed to institutions. Mr. Beck certainly has contributed much to the body organic of agriculture knowledge. Mr. Beck's farm, garden, nutrition and composting experiments are easy to understand and their results often seem very conclusive. This has undoubtedly encouraged others to duplicate them or to simply to put Mr. Beck's discoveries into practice in their own gardens and lifestyles.

This book is divided into four sections, each of which contain between nine and twenty six short (1-3 page) essays. The format of this book encourages its readers to enjoy it in their own time, whether that means settling down in a comfy place and devouring it in one fell swoop, or reading it over the course of weeks or months, one essay at a time. Mr. Beck's writing is conversational and folksy. He doesn't hesitate to point fingers at his detractors, which gives the book a gossipy, inside scoop, kind of tone.

Readers of this book will become more aware of the current state of agriculture in this country and may start to rethink or modify their garden growing, food shopping or dietary habits. Over the past several decades, Mr. Beck has given many people food for thought, and this book does a good job of dishing out more tidbits to nibble on.

Digg! digg it

Tammy Biondi has been growing organic produce for over 10 years. Besides running Blue Horizon Farm, Tammy teaches about sustainable farming at the Central Carolina Community College. She also is a successful freelance writer, focusing on agricultural topics. Contact her at tammy@bluehorizonfarm.com.