Beth McDermott Reviews COLD ANTLER FARM by Jenna Woginrich.

September 18, 2014 0 Comments Book Review 3923 Views

Review of Cold Antler Farm by Jenna Woginrich. Roost Books. 216 pgs; Print, $16.95

by Beth McDermott

Cold Antler Farm Cover

“Homestead: to settle; to establish a home.”


If you don’t know Woginrich’s books, her popular memoir Barnheart (2011) is about the challenges of homesteading on rental property and her pursuit of a place to call her own. InCold Antler Farm (2014), Woginrich’s latest memoir published by Roost Books, the “incurable longing” she suffered in Barnheart has subsided because Woginrich is the proud owner of six acres in Washington County, New York.  Here she raises sheep, goats, pigs, chickens, bees, two horses, and a border collie named Gibson.  While she still refers to herself as a “homesteader,” she’s also a farmer now, providing food for people other than herself.  WhatCold Antler Farm illustrates is Woginrich’s commitment to place: she is, as she puts it, “in a monogamous relationship with six and half acres cut into a mountainside” (34).  While she’s made sacrifices in order to work her own land, ultimately this is a tale of resilience; her stance on nature is that it should be celebrated regardless of the weather—she even loves “the downpours that wash away three months of work in the garden” (33).

Because Woginrich can’t leave the farm for extended periods of time (nor does she seem to want to leave it), most of the book is about her daily life and the rhythm she’s found in accordance with the “old agrarian calendar” once called “The Wheel of the Year” (22-23).  The book is organized according to this calendar, a framework that works well for chapters that are like vignettes.  For example, a short chapter about sheep escaping their pasture falls under the section labeled “Spring: Uprisings.”  There are lambs born in spring, and salads from the garden in summer.  A tough chapter on pigs discusses animal harvest day in autumn.  There’s no section for winter, which is confusing since a wheel is a full circle.  While this feels formally awkward, preparing for winter permeates the entire book.  In a place where the first frost-free date is “practically in June,” there are steps Woginrich must take to survive winter in a wood-fueled farmhouse.

One of those steps is freezing meat.  Woginrich raises a couple of different animals for food—what her farm is known for.  It may be difficult for some readers to learn that the animals Woginrich describes throughout the book are not pets but dinner.  Woginrich is aware of the potential criticism over what seems like hypocrisy; she describes her gilts as “pink and precious” and “plump as tuffets” (63), but they will one day be pork shoulder in her slow cooker, infusing the house with a “smell rich enough that you could spread the air over bread instead of butter” (67).  It’s true that some of her descriptions border on clichéd.  I enjoyed her chapter on an American Bresse cockerel because it gave me the bird’s personality and helped me to imagine life from the bird’s perspective.  Not all of her descriptions are so insightful; however, outside of the realm of the book, she’s adamant that her animals are treated well on the farm: “their lives are full of food and sex, open ground and sunlight” (145).  She reminds the reader that she’s trying to change the system.  The meat she produces is a more humane, environmentally sustainable alternative to factory-farmed meat.

It’s clear that, for Woginrich, one of the benefits of homesteading and producing her own food, wool, honey and hard cider is to make herself less reliant on other people.  In his essay “Self-Reliance,” Emerson writes that “there is a time in every man’s education when he arrives at the conviction that…no kernel of nourishing corn can come to him but through his toil bestowed on that plot of ground which is given to him to till” (20).  Woginrich proves that women can have this conviction, too.  Cold Antler Farm illustrates that an act as seemingly basic as planting a vegetable garden can inspire the gardener to greater self-reliance and the accomplishment of tasks never before thought possible.


About the Reviewer

Beth McDermott’s poetry and prose has recently appeared in journals such as Storm Cellar, Red Earth Review, and American Book Review.  She reads for Kudzu House Quarterly.

Further Reading

Check out the Author’s Blog, and order the book from the Author’s favorite Indie bookseller,Battenkill Books.

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