Posts tagged organic

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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BOOK REVIEW: the Self Sufficiency Handbook

The Self-Sufficiency Handbook: A Complete Guide to Greener Living by Alan and Gill Bridgewater

the Self-Sufficiency Handbook

The title of this book is perfect. There are no crazy survival tips here, although I wouldn’t mind having this book along in a pinch. It’s a guide for getting your existing house off the grid, and also for evaluating properties in terms of their sustainability potential. The writers live in the UK, after years stateside, so the companies and tips are both oriented toward those countries. But there is a nice discussion of navigating local laws no matter where you decide to drop your hoe and start gardening.

After a nice discussion of housing, which includes talks about insulation, orientation, ambient heating/cooling, alternative energy sources, and materials, they move on to daily living practicalities. First, getting light. That done, next you need food. This is where the book really shines. There is an in-depth lesson on growing an organic garden, including successful composting and which crops should be planted where and when, what needs rotation (and a sample rotation schedule that will leave you with fresh foods year-round) and what can stay put, and the care profiles for a large variety of different garden plants. They are careful to share wisdom on how much land you need to make your off-grid dreams happen, and also on how to choose property that will lead you to success.

Animal husbandry is covered in detail species by species, along with construction considerations, possible worries and probable successes of owning each type. The sections are not overly in-depth – I thought they were perfect for the off-grid enthusiast with lots of commitment but no experience with husbandry. Of course, one can never emphasize enough the time it will take to properly care for animal on your own property. They cover it nicely, if briefly, by saying this: if you own animals, you will have to feed them EVERY DAY, holiday or not. Yes, that’s EVERY day. Having kept horses growing up, I can relate to the urgency with which they repeat this statement throughout the book. Take heart.

The last section of the book can best be described as a tutorial section of recipes for survival. Not pemmican or Gorp-style recipes, but rather old-fashioned recipes for things like candles, making soap, making chutneys and jams, and brewing beer and making wine. Their recipes are pretty short and look easy to handle. In fact, the whole book was particularly well planned to fit each concept on two facing pages, so you’re never left looking for information in a thick chapter of words. I’m sure this limits the amount of information that can be presented a little, but I didn’t notice.

If you’re even considering moving off-grid, or even just converting a section of your yard to an edible garden, you should pick up this book. It’s fairly new, but with its special emphasis on looking at your actions in terms of an overall lifestyle, I think it will one day be considered a standard text in self-sufficiency. Which, as gas rises toward the $5 mark, is something we could all afford to learn more about.

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Take a Tour of Solarious

This week, you will be seeing a lot of action at the Solarious website, as I update and expand the back pages with new information for you.  Why don’t you stop through and take a tour?

First, check out the food additives page, “In My Food”, where you can find out more about the ingredients that make up you daily diet and how they may affect your health.  If you have any expertise or suggestions about ingrdients, please share them, and I’ll follow up by posting more on the topic.

Next, visit the “Success Stories” page to see how others in your position have overcome challenges and maintained inspiration and vision to complete alternative energy projects.  Again, please feel free to share any inspiring stories or learning lessons you know of so that others may learn too.

And finally, see the brand-spankin’ new section, “Box it Up”, for an ever-incomplete listing of companies that incorporate recycled packaging and goods into their product lines.  I say incomplete, because more companies recognize the need for such sustainable practices every day.  Here’s to wishing for that day when ALL companies use recycled goods in their products, reducing our virgin material needs close to zero.  Until then, support these companies’ decisions to ensure that they view sustainability as a wise business decision.

In regularly scheduled news, everything here is going great.  After a solid week of grey days and spitting rainy weather, the sun is out and blazing.  It’s time to get cooking!  Over the “down time” of cloudy weather, I walked around the city distributing a new magazine for whom I write.  Plenty of time to check out the neighborhood and look for a block to adopt.  And… I’ve found one!  It took a bit of looking, because in my neighborhood the “Clean Team” (ie. people who’ve gotten community service hours to complete) come around once a week and supposedly clean the streets, so I didn’t want to overlap their areas.  And because there is just so much mess to choose from!  I’ve chosen a two-block area near my house to start with, and will expand once I figure out how much maintenance that will entail.  When I go next week to begin picking up, I’ll post before and after photos.  I also found a community garden near where I travel regularly with available plots.  With any luck, I’ll be able to scrape up a little cash and get a plot there to feed my growing demand for veggies to steam in the sun!  If you’re in the LA area and have a neglected backyard that you want planted for a share of the organic produce, holler! We can help each other out… and isn’t that what life is all about?

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Organic Farming Learning Opportunities

If you are planning a garden, I can’t recommend enough that you go organic in your approach. After all, since 50% of all pesticides used in America are sprayed on cotton (and therefore your clothes!), you’ve likely already got a lot of toxins to offset in your life! However, the topic of organic gardening can be a little intimidating at first, as it is so large.

If you want to get your feet wet, while learning from experts in their field, why not volunteer at a working organic farm in your area? The originator of all organic exchange websites, WWOOF.org has many such opportunities to do just that. And it’s sorted by area, so you’ll be able to find something local. Also, try OrganicVolunteers.com for similar invitations. Most of the opportunities listed allow for you to sample or take home some of the produce you help to tend for a taste test. It’s like a free grad school education with an excellent cafeteria!

Do you know of any other great sites? Post them here!

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