A Brief Review of Nature’s Second Chance:
Restoring the Ecology of Stone Prairie Farm
by Steven Apfelbaum.
Review by Peter White.
In 1981, Steven Apfelbaum purchased 2.7 acres in southern Wisconsin. A trained ecologist, full of all the youthful idealism and enthusiasm a 26-year-old can contain, Apfelbaum sought out not only a place to call home, but a place to walk his environmental talk. Over the next two decades, he would eventually acquire the 80 surrounding acres and transform the landscape from abused and abandoned farmland to thriving ecosystem. Part memoir, part environmental treatise, his Nature’s Second Chance: Restoring the Ecology of Stone Prairie Farm is a book about land restoration and stewardship. In it, Apfelbaum develops a land ethic with a deep indebtedness to Aldo Leopold’s environmental classic, Sand County Almanac.
Apfelbaum divides his work into three acts. In the first he lays the foundation for his story, his ideas and his project. His prose is most relatable in his stories rather than the explanation of scientific ideas. His mother tenaciously navigates the real estate networks in first discovering the land. On their first visit, his boisterous younger brothers go for a tractor joyride through the neighbors’ cornfield leaving the more subdued Steven an awkward first meeting with said neighbors.
In the middle section Apfelbaum lays out just how he, along with his company Applied Ecological Services, his colleagues and his partner Susan, went about restoring the landscape of Stone Prairie Farm. Over time, they are able to engage their neighbors as partners rather than outsiders. In one incident, he describes how a neighbor spotted an endangered whooping crane and called everyone he knew. As the majestic bird captured the attention of a crowd for the majority of a Sunday morning, the farmer finally confessed, “If I could help guarantee that this bird would regain its health, I’d think about making some land available so it had a place to come back to each and every year.” In the final section, Apfelbaum outlines his vision for the future, including ideas ranging from conservation-oriented development to land community membership.
Apfelbaum’s book succeeds in communicating the deep need to consider the relationship between humans and the natural world. Land is more than pretty scenery. It is a living and dynamic part of our community that will thrive or die according to our lifestyle choices. He is able to avoid the man-versus-nature cliches of the genre with his consistent anecdotes that emphasize the human element–from the practicalities of running the business office out of the farmhouse to later living with a family on the land. In this way the narrative tempers his scientific idealism. If the book lacks anything, it’s in the practical application for the reader. Apfelbaum is an expert in his field (literally, in this case). But what about the rest of us? The book is unlikely to win new converts. However, those with even a passing curiosity in the care of Creation will find in Apfelbaum a worthwhile voice.
C. Christopher Smith is the founding editor of The Englewood Review of Books. He is also author of a number of books, including most recently How the Body of Christ Talks: Recovering the Practice of Conversation in the Church (Brazos Press, 2019). Connect with him online at: C-Christopher-Smith.com