The Growing Season

By Sarah Frey. (Ballantine Books, 251 pages, $27.)

Sarah Frey describes her inspiring climb from "brutally" impoverished Illinois farm girl to agribusiness titan in her memoir, "The Growing Season."

Frey felt she was "powerful, brave, and destined for a life of greatness," despite material deprivations, thanks to twisted parental encouragement, necessity and innate optimism and determination. She was the youngest of 21, including half-siblings, and she and her parents and four older brothers survived off the land and by their wits. Frey's charming and controlling father concocted many schemes, including faking his death when he left his wife and 13 children to be with Frey's married mother of two.

Starting at age 8, precocious entrepreneur and born saleswoman Frey joined her mother on her "melon route," buying watermelons and cantaloupes from other farmers to sell to stores. At 15, to get away from the chaos at home, Frey and a brother moved into a rundown house on family property and fixed it up. As soon as she had a driver's license and a truck, Frey started her own melon route, while attending high school and community college and working at Tractor Supply Co.

When the bank was about to foreclose on the family farm, Frey bought it for her own. At 19, she made a key melon distribution deal with Walmart. From there, she has grown her business with more hard work and the help of her devoted brothers. Frey Farms is now a multistate producer of pumpkins, watermelons and other produce, as well as fruit beverages.

Through tragedies and setbacks, Frey has remained resolute and devoted to her business and family. Her charisma and chutzpah leap off the page of this extended elevator pitch. It's easy to see why ABC-TV has expressed interest in producing her colorful story.