Over the summer, I had the great pleasure of reading Sam Vincent’s heart-warming memoir, My Father and Other Animals: How I took on the Family Farm. Sam, a twenty something millennial returned to the family farm to help his father who was becoming increasingly accident prone. Part apprenticeship, part journey, part discovery, Sam’s account of his time learning the rhythm of the farm is touching, hilarious and brutally honest. Of course I wasn’t the only one who enjoyed taking some time out of the heat of the day to turn some pages before nodding off!
Sam might have grown up on the farm Gollion, and his memories as a child recall a magical place with dams to swim in, trees to climb and gullies to explore. Returning as an adult, it is an entirely different proposition. Sam shares his apprenticeship building fences, managing livestock and growing fruit through the eyes of a total newbie. Sam relates how we gains a deeper connection to not only the farm but also his father,
Sam’s journey is far more than a book about his relationship with his father. Sam shares many of the challenges facing contemporary farming in Australia, especially the responsibility that a custodian bears. He shares some of his philosophies gleaned form his holistic management courses developed by Allan Savory, lessons from Peter Andrew’s Natural Sequence Farming and some of the ethical and moral issues facing small farmers like us in finding markets for respectfully grown and cared for livestock in a mechanised feedlot based industry. Many of these stories are shared through humourous anecdotes with his father as the unwitting star,.
Through our local Regenerative Land Managers Network and nearby Landcare group, not only did I have the opportunity to meet Sam, but also get a tour of his beautiful property Gollion late last year. Gollion is kind-of-famous in a way regenerative agriculturalists will understand. Charles Massey visited Gollion in 2016 after receiving an invitation from Sam’s father to address their local Landcare Group. Touring Gollion, Massey was impressed with a gully filled with rock that had formed a leaky weir. In the reeds growing in the pool of now-permanent water, Massey heard the call of a Reed Warbler bird, not seen (or heard) in the area for 130 years. Inspired, Massey concluded that the reed warbler could only be a talisman of a watercourse and landscape function on the path to regeneration – and named his seminal work “Call of the Reed Warbler” after this experience. I reviewed Massey’s amazing work last year: https://rockfarming.com/2021/05/05/book-review-call-of-the-reed-warbler-by-charles-massey/.
I connected with Sam’s book on so many levels. I felt many parallels with Sam’s experience growing up on Gollion as I felt growing up on Saltersgate, a small farm owned by my parents. Sam articulates many of the feelings I felt about the farm, however he is able to share them with a gentle humour that I cannot hope to posses. My father with his cattle and sheep, and my mother with her horses were inadvertently the main influence on my journey that led me to the Rock Farm after a career forged at sea. Sam’s is a beautiful story, and I loved every page.
My Father and Other Animals has helped me reconsider how I encourage my boy’s to interact with the Rock Farm. Sam reminds me that the Rock Farm is not their dream, it is mine. Secretly I am happy my boys have already lived some of Sam’s apprenticeship. They have helped me build fences, mark lambs and calves and repair cantankerous farm machinery. But I am also glad that they have also made their own happy memories on the farm, exploring gullies, swimming in the dam, testing their courage on motorbikes and cuddling horses or cattle.
I cannot recommend My Father and Other Animals enough for anyone interested in pursuing a tree-change, or adopting regenerative practices. It is a book for anyone who cares about the future of Agriculture in the world. It is also a book about families and the special relationship between a father and his son.