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Book Review of Pleasant Valley by Louis Bromfield: Writer, Farmer, and Conservationist
Malabar Farm Near Mansfield Ohio, location of Pleasant Valley
Finding a New Old Book
I'm a book hoarder. And I like old books. After I read a book I decide whether or not it's a keeper. If not a keeper, it's passed on to someone else. So most of the books I have are books that I've read and loved, and a few that I have not yet read but know I will love.
I was repainting one of my bookcases recently and had to take all of the books off and put them back on. As I was removing and dusting and replacing the books, I enjoyed looking through all of them, and discovered one that I couldn't remember reading.
The book was located on a shelf designated for sustainable living books. I've collected this type of book for years so I enjoyed looking through all of these books more than most. I was sure I had read every book on this shelf but this one didn't look familiar. It was Pleasant Valley by Louis Bromfield.
As soon as I started reading I knew this would be a book I would love because it was about one of my favorite subjects and I could tell immediately that this was a good writer.
Who is Louis Bromfield?
Because the writing was so good and because he mentions early on that he has made his living as a writer I thought I should know his name. So I immediately had to look him up and found that he was also the author of Malabar Farm, a book I was already familiar with and one that is among my collection of books on sustainable living.
Bromfield was born in 1896 on a farm near Mansfield, Ohio. He started working on his grandfather's farm when he was just a teenager and learned some of the practices of sustainable farming from his grandfather. This farm was the setting for one of his later novels, The Farm.
After working on his grandfather's farm he decided to become a farmer himself and began attending Cornell University to study agriculture. After a year of studying at Cornell, however, he changed his mind and decided to study journalism and transferred to Columbia University in New York City. He left that school after a year also to enlist in the army at the outbreak of World War I as a US Army Ambulance Service driver and served from 1917 until 1919.
After the war he married New York socialite Mary Wood, moved to New York and found work as a journalist.
In addition to his work as a journalist he began writing novels and his first novel,The Green Bay Tree, was published in 1924. After the publication of this book he moved to Paris, France and became acquainted with writers like Edith Wharton, Ernest Hemingway, Gertrude Stein, and Sinclair Lewis. He remained in Paris for thirteen years until the beginning of World War II. He continued his writing career while in France, but as things began to get difficult in Europe he moved his family back to the United States and settled in Ohio near his boyhood home.
In the 1920's and 30's and 40's Louis Bromfield was a very successful writer. He published 30 novels, all of them best sellers. Several of them were made into movies and one of them, Early Autumn, won the Pulitzer Prize.
Bromfield and Family Return to Ohio
Bromfield was a wealthy man when he moved back to the States. Writing paid well then. He bought three adjoining farms near Mansfield, Ohio and built a home for his family, visitors and workers on the farm. The farm had 1000 acres and the house he built had a total of 32 rooms.
He named the farm Malabar farm, the setting for one of his novels, The Rains Came, and a region in southern India where Bromfield had lived for several months during his stay abroad.
Malabar translates roughly as 'pleasant valley', so Bromfield's first book when he returned to the United States was called Pleasant Valley, the book I discovered recently in my bookshelf. It was published in 1945.
This was the first book Bromfield wrote after returning home. For most of the remainder of his writing career he wrote non-fiction instead of the popular fiction which had made him a wealthy man.
Check Out Louis Bromfield's Book Here
Interesting Video About Malabar Farm
Life on Malabar Farm
In Pleasant Valley Bromfield wrote about his decision to return to the States, his purchase of the farms, and the building of the house. He also wrote extensively about the farming methods used on the farm.
Bromfield was an early and strong advocate of conservation methods and sustainable farming. He maintained that the soils of many farms in the United States had been depleted because of poor farming practices. He set about making the three farms he had bought be more productive and sustainable. His farm became a national model for sustainable farming.
He returned to the United States after the devastating years of the Dust Bowl and began implementing soil and water conservation methods. He planted several different types of grasses, including alfalfa and clover, that put nitrogen and organic matter back into the soil. He used natural (barnyard) fertilizers on his fields and never used pesticides.
Malabar Farm became a very successful and productive farm. There were six families who lived and worked on Malabar Farm and the farm raised enough produce to provide for all six families.
Visitors to Malabar Farm
Since several of Bromfield's novels were made into movies and he was sometimes a screen writer, he became friends with several Hollywood stars such as Errol Flynn, Edgar G. Robinson, George Burns and Gracie Allen, and James Cagney who sometimes visited the farm. When the Hollywood stars came for a visit, they had to earn their keep by doing farm chores.
One of Bromfield's Hollywood friends was Humphrey Bogart. When he married Lauren Becall he asked Louis Bromfield to be his best man, and Bromfield offered the farm as a location for their wedding. So the two famous Hollywood stars were married there in May, 1945.
The farm was also opened to the public on weekends and about 20,000 people a year visited, including conservationists, farmers, and tourists.
Louis Bromfield's Dream Lives On
Bromfield's wife Mary, always of frail health because of childhood rheumatic fever, died in 1952. Bromfield died in 1956 at the age of 59 of bone cancer.
After his death, his daughters sold the farm to a land conservation foundation. It was managed by this foundation until 1972. The foundation was facing bankruptcy and the farm was then deeded to the state of Ohio. It became a state park in 1976.
Visitors to the state park today can camp, tour the farm, visit the sugar camp in the spring or take a candlelight tour of the farm in December, learn about the farm and all of the farming practices Bromfield pioneered, and eat at the Malabar Farm Restaurant in the 180 year old farmhouse where all natural products prepared in the traditional manner are served.
"What I wanted was a piece of land which I could love passionately, which I could spend the rest of my life in cultivating, cherishing and improving, which I might leave, together, perhaps, with my own feeling for it, to my children, a piece of land upon which I might leave the mark of my character, my ingenuity, my intelligence, my sense of beauty."
Louis Bromfield, in his book Pleasant Valley
Pleasant Valley:A Book to Love and Hoard
I do not remember where or how I obtained this book or how I had it on my bookshelf for a while without reading it. It's a lovely old hardback book and definitely a keeper. If you understand or identify with any part of the above quote from Bromfield, you should find this book delightful. I definitely identify with it even though I have only five acres of hilly, rocky land. I can still cultivate, cherish and improve it and "leave, together perhaps, with my feeling for it, to my children".
If you are interested in sustainable farming you will find much useful information and if you just enjoy reading about others' adventures you will find much to enjoy.