Skip to main content

Grow! Raise! Catch!: How We Get Our Food

Review

Grow! Raise! Catch!: How We Get Our Food

In this age of globalization, it is becoming harder and harder to discover where our food originates. With the local food movement, the journey food takes to get to our plates is under more scrutiny than ever before. There is a call for greater transparency, better conditions and systems that are healthier, greener, safer and more humane. However, many people don’t see food production beyond the grocery store, and it can be difficult to teach children about the origin of the food they eat, especially in urban areas. Without access to farmer’s markets and farms, it can be hard to imagine food coming from anywhere except plastic packaging in the store.

GROW! RAISE! CATCH!: How We Get Our Food is an excellent resource for parents and teachers to start the conversation about food production. It is a feast for the eyes, with gorgeous pictures of mouth-watering produce and smiling children participating in family farming. The book covers fruit and vegetable farming, fishing, beekeeping and the raising of animals for milk, eggs and meat. Farmers and their children describe their work in simple, effective language that is accessible for young readers. The book’s colorful, simple design and glorious pictures will appeal to readers of all ages.

"GROW! RAISE! CATCH! invites readers to the table, entices them with vibrant colors and exciting words, and encourages lively conversation on a topic within everyone’s realm of experience."

In GROW! RAISE! CATCH! author Shelley Rotner creates a wonderful feeling of community and familiarity. The close-up portraits of farmers and produce suggest that food in the world of this book comes from friends and neighbors, not from faceless manufacturers. The book features many farmers from Rotner’s hometown of Northampton, Massachusetts, and they are obviously passionate about their work. Much of the text is quotes from those pictured --- “I’m a lobster fisherman....We’re potato farmers” --- which adds to the community feel. You’re not reading a book about food being made far away, you’re chatting with real farmers at a farmer’s market.

I really appreciated the presence of so many children in the book, giving the sense that this community is not only raising delicious and nourishing food but also the next generation of farmers. Seeing other children participating in food production will be especially beneficial to young urban readers, who may not have access to farms or gardens. The book also exhibits great racial and cultural diversity, making it accessible to many young readers. But diversity is not the focus; Rotner simply presents the facts through text and pictures without passing judgement on political or environmental factors. Nor does she shy away from butchery and the consumption of meat, but calmly presents it as one of many systems that nourish us. The book doesn’t actually describe how the meat gets from living animal to dinner table, but it doesn’t skirt the subject either, simply stating, “I’m a beef farmer. I raise cattle for their meat….Hamburgers and steak come from cattle.” Rotner presents the facts and leaves room for parents and teachers to discuss them further with children.

The book feels a bit removed from context; it’s not clear where we are in the world or how farming actually works. There are a few enticing snippets of information --- “Eggs come in different colors….Tomatoes are usually red, but they can be green, purple, yellow, white, black, pink, orange or even striped.” But there seems to be no rhyme or reason for which vegetables get blurbs and which don’t. There’s not much organization, either. The first few pages briefly describe the history of where food comes from, but the rest of the book jumps from one type of farming to another with no clear thread. Nor is there much in the way of urban agriculture; roof-top farms and community gardens are described briefly, but the rest of the book may feel inaccessible to children who don’t regularly see locally grown produce. Although Rotner doesn’t go into detail on any one subject, many aspects of agriculture and fishing are introduced in the book and will certainly pique children’s interest for further learning.

That’s essentially what GROW! RAISE! CATCH! is --- a diving board into the complex and often emotionally fraught world of food. Food crosses all cultural boundaries; it is part of what makes us human, and it has great emotional value for many people. There are very strong opinions about the consumption of meat, the way in which crops and animals are raised, and the strain farming puts on the environment. But, politics aside, the strongest emotion the book evokes is joy. Joy for the land, for living things, for fellow farmers and especially joy for beautiful food. GROW! RAISE! CATCH! invites readers to the table, entices them with vibrant colors and exciting words, and encourages lively conversation on a topic within everyone’s realm of experience.

Reviewed by Rebecca Hawkins on July 12, 2016

Grow! Raise! Catch!: How We Get Our Food
by Shelley Rotner