A Pre­cau­tion­ary Tale

How One Small Town Banned Pes­ti­cides, Pre­served Its Food Her­itage, and In­spired a Move­ment

Foreword Reviews - - Spotlight Reviews Climate Change -

Philip Ack­er­man-leist Chelsea Green Pub­lish­ing (NOVEM­BER) Soft­cover $19.95 (240pp), 978-1-60358-705-1

Fo­cus­ing on a re­gion of the Alps where farm­ing has been a main­stay for mil­len­nia, this book ex­am­ines a suc­cess­ful grass­roots move­ment to ban pes­ti­cides.

The town of Mals, lo­cated in a semi­au­tonomous re­gion be­tween Aus­tria and Italy, may rea­son­ably be called an agrar­ian par­adise. How­ever, an in­flux of ap­ple orchard mono­cul­tures threat­ened the res­i­dents and their or­ganic crops with air­borne pes­ti­cides. Cit­i­zens and lo­cal gov­ern­ment unite in this real-life David-and-go­liath tale that fo­cuses heav­ily on com­mu­nity and tra­di­tion.

Ack­er­man-leist clearly takes joy in the book’s sub­ject. Lively prose brings out the best in the in­de­pen­dent-minded and quirky Malsers, whose farm­ing prac­tices, homes, and po­lit­i­cal ac­tivism shine through the pages. The author paints a vivid pic­ture of the south­ern Tirolean re­gion. Its plight is om­nipresent in the book, and the frus­tra­tion of Malser farm­ers is as mov­ing as the cre­ativ­ity and ded­i­ca­tion of its ac­tivists. This book could eas­ily in­spire both travel plans and com­mu­nity ac­tion in a sin­gle sit­ting.

How­ever, though it does a good job il­lus­trat­ing the lives of the Malsers, the book of­ten de­vi­ates so se­ri­ously from its the­sis as to get lost. A de­tailed chap­ter about Otzi the Ice Man has tan­gen­tial relevance but ul­ti­mately dis­tracts; the lives of the Malsers can some­times be­come too de­tailed for the pac­ing of the book. Only in its sec­ond half, af­ter sev­eral chap­ters that con­clude with hints and dra­matic buildup, does the book be­gin to co­a­lesce around the main drama.

A Pre­cau­tion­ary Tale is an op­ti­mistic read with an en­thu­si­as­tic and cel­e­bra­tory tone. Ac­tivists will find it in­spir­ing, and com­mu­nity lead­ers in a po­si­tion to take the ex­am­ple of Mals may see in it a blue­print for peace­ful, calm, and pro­duc­tive civil dis­cus­sion around the en­vi­ron­ment.

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