Posts tagged farming

BOOK REVIEW: It’s a Long Road to a Tomato

It’s a Long Road to a Tomato (Google Books) Keith Stewart (2005)

Any home gardener out there know that the title of this book is indeed truthful. For every fruit or vegetable harvested from your garden, hours of time and plenty of resources went into cultivation. As Keith Stewart so eloquently describes, things get even more extreme when you turn to commercial gardening, and even more so when you commit to gardening organically.

This book was extremely entertaining and educational. What I liked best was the honest depiction of the amount of work it takes to be a farmer in the 21st century. Next time you go to a farmers’ market, take a moment to talk to a vendor about their farm: you’ll really appreciate how hard they work when you hear stories of 4am waking and hand weeding in a commitment to earth-friendly growing practices! Suddenly, paying $0.50 more for an avocado doesn’t seem like such a bad deal.

The story is a personal one, outlining Mr. Stewart’s journey from city-dwelling ad man to wildly successful organic farmer at NYC’s most famous farmers market. You’ll read about the stringent hoops one must jump through to call produce organic, the unglamorous life of digging in the dirt, current governmental and policy landscapes for the independent farmer, managing a staff of farm workers, and many interesting little unrelated tales from the journey. When the cover quotes “you’ll laugh out loud”, they aren’t kidding.

I was inspired from reading this book to plant some garlic, which Mr. Stewart praises as perhaps the best plant on earth. True to his word, the plants have done very well even under my inexperienced care. It was nice to see his progression from a hobbyist’s garden to a commercial venture… it makes the leap seem that much more tangible for those of us looking to break into that market.

All in all, I have nothing but praise for this book. If you’ve ever considered growing professionally, you really should read this book first. Not that it will scare you off (on the contrary, I found it very inspiring), but it WILL give you a much better idea of the things you need (a garden, a good accountant, and a dream) and the things you had better not need (like sleep and a social life!). And even if you aren’t trying to change careers, it will help you connect the food you eat to its source, and encourage you to buy local and support your local independent farmers as they battle the giant conglomerates who control our global food supply. So go on, savor that local tomato, it will be so much sweeter!

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BioChar: Agriculture’s “Black Gold”

Here’s a quick nugget of information for today. 

BioChar from bones and plants

Scientists have discovered that adding charcoal or other charred materials to soil is a much more effective fertilizer than any methods currently in use.  The main reason for this is that though land is naturally carbon-rich, over time and with increased use, retillage, etc, the carbon-rich materials break down into carbon dioxide and are released into the atmosphere.  Most fertilizers available today, even composts, break down quickly and are therefore only short-term solutions to soil depletion.  However, using charcoal in the soil adds a component that easily absorbs water, holds nutrients for thousands of years, and provides rich minerals to plants that access it.  The study, released by the American Chemical Society, must not have been music to their ears.  BioChar, or “black gold” for agriculture, as they term it, has been shown to remain in the soil for long periods of time and to retain its nutrient rich status.  Read the whole article below for more details.

I wonder myself if this is why American Indian populations used fire periodically to renew agricultiral areas.  Not only does this clear underbrush, leaving the land open for cultivation, it also provides a thick layer of BioChar available to be tilled into the soil.  If so, as is often the case, our native brothers and sisters were far ahead of the ecological curve in sustainable garden design.

Read more here: American Chemical Society (2008, April 15). Ancient Method, ‘Black Gold Agriculture’ May Revolutionize Farming, Curb Global Warming.

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