Book Review: Trauma Farm

“Trauma Farm: A Rebel History of Rural Life” by Brian Brett, Greystone Books ISBN 978-155365474-2


book-traumafarmBrian Brett’s farm on Salt Spring Island is actually called Willowpond Farm. Now that I have read his memoir, both meditation and wake-up call, I can see how he and his friends came to call it “Trauma Farm.” Most of us, even if we have a few scant memories from childhood, just don’t have any idea of the amount of hard work, blood, sweat, tears and heartbreaking losses that occur on a farm. 

  Brett, farmer and poet, has written his story about one summer’s day, the day of the solstice, including memories from all the other days in the 18 year history of the farm. He describes “a sublime landscape framed by laughter and absurdity and shock.” First hand knowledge, reflections of the past and the future of living on the land are interwoven with lifelong learning from books. (He includes a list of selected references in his “unorthodox bibliography”.)

  This “rebel history” is about a “rebel decision” to run a small farm, continually in debt, for, as Brett points out, “Farming is a profession of hope.” Like gardening, farming is really never done. “It’s all in the doing,” Brett points out and there is so much doing. It really is a dedication to his calling, as a poet and a farmer, that Brett can write during the early morning and tend to the never-ending chores of the farm during the rest of the day. 

I chuckled many times as I envisioned the farm, Brett sometimes naked in the forest, a peacock called Yeats meditating on the split-rail fence (or wailing a bloodcurdling scream), resident ravens “supervising the day.” There are many poignant stories of creatures who lived on the farm, died and were buried there. “Every animal that has set hoof or paw or claw on Trauma Farm has been a teacher,” Brett writes. 

  Although there are some gruesome farm experiences such as the slaughtering of pigs, Brett points out that the factory approach to killing sows is cruel. Sows spend “almost their entire adult lives clamped in a four-foot-by-two-foot pen.” 

  Brett ends his memoir asking, “How does one live consciously? Only with praise, I think – by celebrating the landcape of life that we don’t understand and never will.” His memoir was most deserving of the Writer’s Trust Non-Fiction Prize awarded at the end of 2009.


Mary Ann Moore is a freelance writer, poet and circle facilitator living in Nanaimo.