The Planter of Modern Life
Louis Bromfield and the Seeds of a Food Revolution
by Stephen Heyman
Pub Date 14 Apr 2020
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How an Ohio farm boy turned literary celebrity inspired America’s organic and sustainable food movement.
Louis Bromfield first rose to fame in the 1920s as a Pulitzer Prize–winning novelist with a green thumb. He built a beautiful garden outside Paris where he threw legendary parties that attracted flower breeders, movie stars, and expatriate writers like Gertrude Stein and Ernest Hemingway (who smoldered with jealousy over Bromfield’s literary success). His novels were all bestsellers, but Bromfield’s greatest passion was the soil.
In 1938, he returned to his native Ohio to transform 600 badly eroded acres into a utopian cooperative farm called Malabar. From his rural seat, Bromfield launched a national crusade to improve America’s relationship with the land. He sounded the alarm about harmful pesticides like DDT years before Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring. And he made Malabar into America’s most famous farm, a mecca for his many agricultural disciples and a country retreat for celebrities like Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall (who were married there in 1945).
While his novels, once read by millions and made into Hollywood blockbusters, have faded into obscurity, Bromfield’s agricultural vision lives on in the farmers and chefs he inspired and the revolutionary ideas he planted more than half a century ago. A fascinating history of people, places, and deep-rooted concerns about the environment, Louis Bromfield’s story is an entertaining and ultimately thought-provoking exploration of how to live.
About the Author: Stephen Heyman, a former editor at T: The New York Times Style Magazine, has written for the Times, Slate, Vogue, and many other publications. He is the recipient of fellowships from the Leon Levy Center for Biography and the National Endowment for the Humanities. He lives in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
“Mesmerizing. Abounding in wit, insight, elegance, and narrative talent, The Planter of Modern Life is at once terribly entertaining and subtly illuminating—rather like Bromfield himself, a man at ease in the most rarified Parisian gatherings and bumping along on a tractor on his Ohio farm. This original, ardent visionary of the American environmental future still has much to teach us.” - Victoria Johnson, Pulitzer Prize finalist for American Eden
“This is more than a sparkling biography, it’s a botanical adventure story of a full, plant-based bohemian life, following the journey of a modern Johnny Appleseed from Ohio to World War I France to Hollywood to our dinner plates.” - Michael W. Twitty, author of The Cooking Gene
“The astounding tale of Louis Bromfield, a rare and accomplished figure who has vanished from collective memory, despite his importance to issues ranging from organic food to the ephemeral nature of fame. An engaging and fascinating book on many levels.” - Mark Kurlansky, author of Cod and Salt