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.