WHEN I FIRST picked up Kyle Kramer’s memoir A Time to Plant: Life Lessons in Work, Prayer, And Dirt and skimmed through it, I wasn’t sure what to think, as it seemed to be just another tale of back-to-the-land living, seasoned with a pinch of religion. Although I have a deep appreciation for the work of Wendell Berry and other agrarian writers, back-to-the-land narratives have become a sort of cliché over the last few decades, and the fierce self-reliance that typically characterizes them seems to be more harmful than helpful. And as a member of a community that is seeking the flourishing of God’s creation in an urban place, I find these typically rural sorts of homesteading stories generally bear little relevance in our context.
Fortunately, all my initial assumptions about A Time to Plant were wrong. Yes, it is its own sort of back-to-the-land narrative, but Kramer is a superb writer—honest, compelling, funny, even self-effacing at times—and I found myself drawn into his story, and I breezed through the book in one sitting.
Born into a suburban Presbyterian family, Kramer had few experiences in his youth that would prepare him for what lay ahead. The book traces his formation, from his undergraduate studies at Indiana University (and friendships with Luke Timothy Johnson and Scott Russell Sanders, both professors there at the time) to his seminary training at Candler School of Theology—where he discerned a vocation not to traditional pastoral ministry but to a lifestyle of simplicity and closeness to the land.