I’m a fan of memoir, especially by people with a great story to tell, and that is the case with Sarah Frey’s The Growing Season: How I Build a New Life–and Saved an American Farm. While I think parts of this book probably ventured into the realm of “creative” non-fiction, as some of the stories are hard to believe, I found this book to be very entertaining and breezed through it.
While reading The Growing Season, I couldn’t help but compare it to Jeanette Walls’ The Glass Castle: A Memoir, which I probably read when it came out back in 2006, but it stayed with me because of how exciting, entertaining, and well written it was. I, however, did not have as hard of a time believing Walls’ stories of her crazy and abusive childhood as I did with Sarah Frey’s, and I’m not quite sure why.
Frey and her many siblings are from a poor rural area of southern Illinois. Her father was a struggling farmer and dreamer, hoping to make it big with a racehorse. His methods of raising kids would be considered questionable at best by most protective services today, and probably would have been back then, but they were isolated on the farm they called “the hill” and asides from one visit from family services, the family was on its own.
Some of the adventures are believable and make sense, like operating vehicles on a farm as a youngster and going hunting with older brothers (Frey is the youngest and the only girl in the family). Other adventures seemed contrived, like her swinging an enormous snapping turtle by its tail from the ground and into the back of her dad’s truck at a young age. Or, after having poached a deer out of season, having to bludgeon it to death with a hammer, as her father didn’t want to shoot again for fear of getting caught. I don’t know, perhaps all of the stories are real, but some feel they could be slightly embellished.
The memoir progresses from her wild and unorthodox childhood to her equally wild and unorthodox entry into the world of business. Starting as a child with her mother, they would visit all of the melon farmers they knew to buy melons and stop at all of the grocery stores on their route to sell the fresh melons. Sarah keps this up, eventually stopping at a newly constructed Walmart distribution center, where she committed to delivering a semi load, without the capacity nor the truck.
She succeeds by hustling up everything she needs to, which happens over and over again in her business ventures. She exudes confidence that she can handle whatever comes her way, and she usually finds a way. Her business path takes her from melon hustling to having farms in several states as well as a beverage making business and much more. All of her products are sold through major retailers.
Her story includes a lot of encouragement for girls, as well as for people from rural communities. While some of this feels genuine, another part of me feels that she toots her own horn a bit too much. This book feels like it could be a precursor to a political run or something of the sort (all the while leaving political opinion completely out of the book).
The Growing Season was a fast and fun read. While I do question some of its sincerity, it was very enjoyable. If you enjoyed the way The Glass Castle painted a picture of a very different kind of upbringing, you may also enjoy The Growing Season.