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Uncultivated

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What to expect

Today, food is being reconsidered. It’s a front-and-center topic in everything from politics to art, from science to economics. We know now that leaving food to government and industry specialists was one of the twentieth century’s greatest mistakes. The question is where do we go from here.
 
Author Andy Brennan describes uncultivation as a process: It involves exploring the wild; recognizing that much of nature is omitted from our conventional ways of seeing and doing things (our cultivations); and realizing the advantages to embracing what we’ve somehow forgotten or ignored. For most of us this process can be difficult, like swimming against the strong current of our modern culture.

The hero of this book is the wild apple. Uncultivated follows Brennan’s twenty-four-year history with naturalized trees and shows how they have guided him toward successes in agriculture, in the art of cider making, and in creating a small-farm business. The book contains useful information relevant to those particular fields, but is designed to connect the wild to a far greater audience, skillfully blending cultural criticism with a food activist’s agenda.

Apples rank among the most manipulated crops in the world, because not only do farmers want perfect fruit, they also assume the health of the tree depends on human intervention. Yet wild trees live all around us, and left to their own devices, they achieve different forms of success that modernity fails to apprehend. Andy Brennan learned of the health and taste advantages of such trees, and by emulating nature in his orchard (and in his cider) he has also enjoyed environmental and financial benefits. None of this would be possible by following today’s prevailing winds of apple cultivation.
 
In all fields, our cultural perspective is limited by a parallel proclivity. It’s not just agriculture: we all must fight tendencies toward specialization, efficiency, linear thought, and predetermined growth. We have cultivated those tendencies at the exclusion of nature’s full range. If Uncultivated is about faith in nature, and the power it has to deliver us from our own mistakes, then wild apple trees have already shown us the way. 

Critics Review

  • “American cider has traditionally been deeply regional, dependent on ungrafted seedling trees like those lining the rocky farm fields and sandstone ridges of the Hudson Valley in New York. Andy Brennan and Polly Giragosian name their “locational” ciders after some of these foraging sites: Neversink HighlandsShawangunk RidgeMamakating Hollow. Theirs are tannic, rich, full-bodied, complex drinks. As Brennan writes, ‘Cider making is a responsibility’—to the trees, the land, good food, and the community. Uncultivated is a wonderful, timely reminder of all that this drink can be at its best.”—David Buchanan, owner, Portersfield Cider; author of Taste, Memory

  • “Andy Brennan is a stubborn, thoughtful original, and his apple memoir is powered by inspiring verve and irreverence. Loving apples or cider is not a prerequisite for loving this book. All that is needed is the willingness to follow a vibrant narrative voice driven by the pursuit of dreams.”—Alice Feiring, author of Naked Wine and For the Love of Wine

  • “Part autobiography and part ecological meditation, Uncultivated presents the case for the rewilding of our agricultural imagination. Andy Brennan reflects on the relationship between authenticity, location, and commerce and finds his deepest truths in the dry farm cider of America’s Northeast. Above all, this is a celebration of the power of the wild apple tree to express a sense of place; as it acclimatizes and adapts, so it tells us the story of the land.”—Francis Percival, coauthor of Reinventing the Wheel

  • “Every community has its visionaries. At times, they inspire and enlighten. At others, they vex and confound. But they always push you to think more deeply, reevaluate your judgments, and become more intentional, while making you feel a little uncomfortable in the process. I believe Andy Brennan is a key visionary for contemporary American cider. In Uncultivated you learn that while Andy was helping to shape and elevate the national conversation about cider and apples, he was also evolving in profound and personal ways. Idealistic and provocative, rebellious and vulnerable, Andy is both cider’s conscience and a thorn in its side, and we are the better for his work.”—Ellen Cavalli, editor and publisher, Malus

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    “Brennan is deeply anti-capitalist and endeavors to work with the land and the trees in a way that is respectful and sustainable, actively rejecting the conventional wisdom of entrepreneurship focused on continual growth. The book is written in a conversational style and readers will get to know the author’s personality easily.”  

  • “The best wine book I read this year was not about wine. It was about cider, though not entirely. It was really about trees and places, agriculture and culture, and the tension between nature and industry . . . Uncultivated is thoughtful, pessimistic and hopeful at the same time. Anybody who loves food, loves wine and ponders where they come from should read this book.”—Eric Asimov, New York Times

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