Book Review

Megan Baxter’s Farm Girl is more than a memoir of a woman working on a Vermont farm—the place she fell in love with and began working at when she was fifteen. It’s also the author’s journey as she grapples with who she is and where she belongs, and how she learns to separate herself from a codependent relationship. As I read Baxter’s story of self-discovery—a relatable feat to many—her journey seemed obvious to me; however, through beautifully written metaphors comparing her life changes to the physical growing of fruits and vegetables, I didn’t mind a bit of predictability in her story. Divided into three sections—Seed, Sprout, and Growth—Farm Girl defines Baxter’s struggles in relation to the phases of growing plants found at her beloved farm.

The author begins her story by detailing her life with her fiancé, Jayden, and the beginning of the end of their four-year-long relationship. As a seedling, Baxter questions how she can change—again—for the man she loves. “I’d been so many girls for Jayden but now I didn’t know if he wanted any of them. How could I transform this time?” she asks. Feeling unsettled after their breakup—but also wary about staying together—the couple continues living together in their apartment in Portland, Oregon, where they both attend college. The newly transformed city girl, now wearing pearl earrings and a face full of makeup, struggles with her own sense of belonging alongside Jayden’s worsening addiction to alcohol and drugs. As she battles depression and loneliness while also feeling like Jayden’s nurse and stand-in mother, Baxter escapes through her memories of the farm and longs for a return to the place she truly loves.

As the story of her life with Jayden sprouts and unfolds, Baxter intricately outlines the annual occurrences of an organic produce farm in Vermont and how her heart and soul ultimately belong to the land she works so hard to sow and reap. Her farm girl identity is where Baxter feels most like herself. She describes her “uniform” as “ragged cutoff blue jean shorts, a pink bikini top. . . and a dirty pair of steel-toed boots. . .” in addition to wearing “dirt stains on her kneecaps and the lines of her palms” with a “deep, dirty tan.” She tells us that she “resembles a pirate princess mixed with a punk rocker.” It’s no spoiler to say that Baxter finally accepts who she is supposed to be by allowing herself to bloom into the farm girl she first met when she was fifteen.

Baxter’s descriptions of farming serve as more than metaphor and are compelling in their own right. I’ve always appreciated the smell and flavor of a homegrown tomato over store-bought produce, but I came to appreciate the demanding and challenging labors of a vegetable farmer after reading this memoir. Baxter describes the delicate process of picking tomatoes: “I cup each tomato in my palm, give it a little squeeze, and then twist it from the stem,” she writes. “With my thumbnail, I dig out the calyx and stem and place the tomato blossom-side up in a black crate, one at a time, like precious gems.” Her powerful and clear descriptions caused me to salivate as I read various descriptions of the fruit, whose “flesh glistened in the morning sun.” The variety of colors offer a variety of flavors—Baxter tells us that “the green tomatoes are bright and low in acid, their flavor is citrusy while the reds and pinks are sweet and well balanced. The dark tomatoes are very acidic, almost salty, and when the weather has been perfect, hot and dry, they develop an almost earthy flavor.” Baxter writes with intention, utilizing specific language to draw us into her story by providing a farming background with vivid imagery that’s difficult to ignore.

It doesn’t take a farming expert to learn from Baxter’s work, either. As she describes various fruits and vegetables, Baxter provides brief histories of the produce or even of the land itself. Like her own journey, the history of the tomato is long and complex, moving from Mexico to Europe as it mutated from one variety to another, ultimately giving us the tomato as we know it today. Baxter writes, “By the time the tomato returned to the continent of its origin, it had shifted, shaped by chance and by the hands of generations of farmers.” It’s evident these details are meant to display the changes she goes through, offering proof of the vulnerability she clearly feels throughout her story. Additionally, she delicately walks the reader through the farming process of each season, binding the dirt of the farm to her words in a way, it seems, that only she can do.

Baxter’s debut full-length book publication, The Coolest Monsters (2017), is described as having hints of poetry and lyricism in essay form. Farm Girl, for its part, feels like the ultimate synthesis of memoir and poetry. Megan Baxter’s intentional wording and elegant writing style are admirable, and the right language embeds lavish imagery in the reader’s mind. “Words are something I cultivate like plants,” she notes. “They roll and grow as lush as squash vines on my tongue.”

About the Reviewer

Stephanie Nesja is currently working toward earning her MA in writing at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire. She mainly focuses on creative non-fiction essays, but writes the occasional short story.