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BOOK REVIEW: In a Pickle: A Family Farm Story

Author: Jerry Apps. Reviewed by: Caroline McCullagh.

I periodically grab a handful of books at a used bookstore. I’m not terribly selective. I choose anything that looks like it might possibly fit in this column. That’s how I came across In a Pickle. I was surprised when it turned out to be a novel, not a memoir.

It’s a very gentle novel. Current popular style is to have a major conflict on page one to hook the reader. On page one of this book, Andy Meyers, a veteran of the Korean War, hoes cucumbers and watches an unfamiliar pickup truck on the dirt road that runs past his family farm in Ames County, Wisconsin.

The year is 1955. Dwight Eisenhower is president. The first American advisors are sent to Vietnam. “Rock Around the Clock” by Bill Haley and His Comets is ushering in a new era in music. The Salk polio vaccine has just been approved. Ray Kroc opens his first McDonalds. Disneyland opens. And Rosa Parks refuses to yield her bus seat to a white person.

Changing times have come to America. Ames County is not spared. Farming in America is changing. Large food distributors are trying to both convince and force farmers to produce more by increasing their acreage (which will push a lot of small farmers off the land) and by producing more on each acre. Andy is caught in the middle. During the summer, he runs the local branch of a large corporation, the H.H. Harlow Pickle Company.

And this is what this book is about. Andy has to decide whether he can and will continue to farm as his father and grandfather did before him, or whether he must convert to the new style of farming as exemplified by his girlfriend’s father, who’s acquiring acreage, hiring migrant workers, and squeezing every dollar out of the land that he can.

You may be scratching your head and wondering how this book relates to gardeners in San Diego County. I’ve said right along that I think we’re mini-farmers, and we’re making, on a small scale, the same kinds of decisions Andy is. Andy wants to be a steward of the land. Will modern life allow this for him and for us?

This is a charming book. The characters are engaging, and the issues are worth thinking about. I really enjoyed it. I’m the granddaughter and niece of farmers, so many of these issues were part of my life. (I graduated from junior high school in 1955.) It was like a little experience of time travel. Even if you’re younger than I am, and you don’t have first-hand memories of those times, I think you’ll enjoy the experience.

P.S. Check out the author’s website ( He has a slew of other books that also look interesting.

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