In the book, James Rebanks’s vignettes and observations are collected into the seasons, from summer to fall and winter and back to spring. These seasons matter because Rebanks herds sheep in England’s Lake District.
The book is delightful for its insights into traditions, community and the ever-present and ever-varied (with seasonal variation) tasks facing farmers and herders.
But the book is far more limited for its insights into sustainability or current practices for rearing the animals that give us meat and fibers. Since Rebanks is talking about his own farm and close-knit community, which represents neither intensive, on-farm practices nor extensive, scale-of-farming realities, his perspectives should not be generalized to livestock management by other herders in the area, let alone elsewhere in the UK or world.
With respect to the intensive margin, there are many farms or livestock operations run on slimmer margins, with less respect for future sustainability over current profits, and on larger scales that disconnect man from animal, farm from community.
With respect to the extensive margin, humans are using too much land for producing meat, milk and fibers. Put differently, it doesn’t matter how much you love your sheep if there are too many sheep. (The same can be said for parents’ love for too many children.) We’re just so far over carrying capacity that Nature cannot sustain all humans and the consumption that they see as normal, prudent or justified.
For more on those themes, read my post on biblical
notions delusions regarding sustainable land management, read this recent article on England’s unsustainable park management (or this one), or listen to this podcast on land use (it’s flawed for offering an Overton window that is far too narrow — focussing on the sustainable, small-scale end of farming rather than the large-scale norm).
But, putting those qualms aside (most of them far beyond the control of Rebanks and his neighors), this is a very fine book for its insights into a hands-on life that is not easy and not (often) profitable but rewarding. FIVE STARS.