On the Bookshelf

I’ve been reading books to inspire my lifestyle lately and these really impressed me.

Farm City: The Education of an Urban Farmer by Novella Carpenter

The idea of creating a productive urban farm in the less desirable parts of Oakland, California is mind boggling to me. But while the location freaks me out a little – I’ve been lost in the seedier parts of Oakland. It is a scary place. – the story is an honest look at the author’s efforts to raise her own food. It’s not always pretty, but her determination and resourcefulness move her toward her goal and will certainly give those interested in adopting this sort of lifestyle an intimate look at what it’s like to raise poultry in a small space, scrounge for materials, and create something from nothing.

When I mentioned this title on Facebook, The Metropolitan Homestead said:

I’ve read it, and honestly, it was one of the things that pushed me into seriously starting our homesteading activities. I always wanted to get back to this lifestyle, but didn’t’ think we could in the city. Her book changed that mindset for me.

The author has just released a second book, The Essential Urban Farmer, co-written with Willow Rosenthal (who makes an appearance or two in Farm City). Adding that one to my wish list immediately.

 Solviva: How to grow $500,000 on one acre and Peace on Earth by Anna Edey

Years ago someone told me about this book, describing a Martha’s Vineyard woman who had dealt with plumbing issues by tossing urine out into her yard, only to discover that the plants that had been alternatively watered thrived. It sounded interesting to me, but life intervened and I forgot about it.

Last month, my neighbor asked, “Have you read Solviva?” I told her that I wasn’t familiar with it, and she went on to describe a woman from Martha’s Vineyard who accidentally discovered that urine was a great fertilizer. Oh, yes! I had heard of that book! I borrowed her copy and discovered an entirely alternative method of living. And I’m not just talking about pee.

Martha’s Vineyard gets cold in the wintertime, complete with snow and blizzards. But the author’s greenhouse maintains a balmy temperature all winter long without the use of a traditional heating system. Solar gain and the warmth of animals in the greenhouse allow her to grow vegetables year round without any energy from the grid.

Her “solar dynamic, bio-benign design” offers a better way to live more inexpensively and without leaving a big carbon footprint. The author no longer tosses her urine out into her yard, but she’s designed an amazing system to filter waste and utilize the valuable water without harmfully impacting the water table the way cess pools do.

I highly recommend this book for a look at someone who’s figured out some innovative alternatives both for city and country living. The author’s website has detailed information about her wastewater systems as well as a fun and telling comparison of two hypothetical cities.

Folks, This Ain’t Normal: A Farmer’s Advice for Happier Hens, Healthier People, and a Better World by Joel Salatin

Joel Salatin is the visible face behind Polyface Farms. You might have seen him in Food, Inc. (If you’ve not yet seen Food, Inc, please do) or met him in Michael Pollan’s Omnivore’s Dilemma or perhaps you caught his TED presentation (Mid Atlantic). I am a huge fan of Salatin, so it’s no surprise that I loved his book in spite of his occasional crotchety outbursts. He’s a wise man who is willing to say some of the things that other people just won’t. First and foremost in this book is the fact that our food system, one that trucks and ships and flies our food thousands of miles just ain’t normal.

Salatin covers the politics of food, but he also spends a lot of time discussing what works on his farm and why community based food sources make so much sense. The book will likely anger you when you read about some of the difficulties that farmers face in bringing good, wholesome food to the table, but more often, I think it will inspire you to make changes in the way you source your food, whether that’s growing your own or seeking out a CSA or local farmer. You can see Mr. Salatin in action, talking about his pigerators and other topics on the book’s website.

What have you read lately to inspire a more sustainable lifestyle?

This article has 19 comments

  1. Transition handbook!

  2. Here’s what I read about a year ago, it was so inspirational.  American Wasteland, by Jonathan Bloom.
     
    http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0738213640/ref=as_li_ss_tl?ie=UTF8&tag=grocontomaj0c-20&linkCode=as2&camp=1789&creative=390957&creativeASIN=0738213640
     
    I agreed with everything in this book except one thing: that using a garbage disposal increases the methane in our atmosphere.  While I minimize what goes down the disposal, I think having one is better for our plumbing than not having one.
     
    He attempts (and fails) to get to the bottom of the purpose of the “Sell by” or “Use by” dates on food.  It’s a boondoggle how it’s done…no consistent   This reminds me of when I bought some Korean hot pepper paste at an Asian grocery store.  The storekeeper saw me look at the expiration date and told me, “The Koreans have to put on those dates so they’d be allowed into the U.S.  It’s bullshit.”  Ha ha!

    •  @vollmerdp Patricia, so funny about the Korean pepper paste. A friend’s father was an MD and he felt the same way about drug expiration dates. Thanks for the book recommendation – that’s one I keep hearing about but have yet to read.

    • The book also covers the “culling” process in grocery store produce sections — where employees are expected to toss “ugly” looking produce, even if they’re perfectly good — because customers might regard ugly produce as poor-quality, and then not shop there.  Oh, and don’t try to take the culled food home, or give it to the needy!  Larger chains have guidance from up high on who to support in their charities, and if “Food for the needy” isn’t one of them, then you can’t support them.Criminal!!!!And finally, I will shamelessly pitch the psychology of American kitchens, where having lots of food is like a status symbol.  That many Americans don’t plan meals carefully and XX% of our food becomes unusable in our own pantries.  (I fall victim to this at times).Okay, enough pitching — it’s worth the read!  I think I read it just before I joined GeekMoms and you would certainly enjoy the book, and probably find that you already follow many of his tips for minimizing waste. 

  3. I’m in total agreement with Metropolitan Homestead regarding Farm City. That book pushed me, more than any other, to take the plunge. That’s because she was dirt-poor and living in a dirt-poor area and she still made it work. Too many farm memoirs come from people in privileged positions, who have plenty of money, or come from a farming background. Novella Carpenter’s story let me know that people like me — no money, no skills, and no land! — can still grow food. This is the first book I recommend to people considering this lifestyle.

  4. Thanks for the recommendations.  I’m always on the lookout for books like these.  

  5. Attainable Sustainable
    Thursday 8 March 2012, 7:03 pm

    Oh, that looks good. (Link for those interested: http://amzn.to/wEvhfu)

  6. The Good Life, by Helen and Scott Nearing.

  7. Its an updated book these days! Heres the link http://transitionculture.org/shop/the-transition-companion/

  8. I just read “The Backyard Homestead” I liked it.

  9. Harvest=food security (the photo album movement)
    Thursday 8 March 2012, 7:03 pm

    “Cooking Green” by Kate Heyhoe. Also “The coming Famine” by Julian Cribb.

  10. Little house in the suburbs. Awesome! Plus tons of others from library.

  11. Kris,
    have you read See You in a Hundred Years by Logan Ward? it’s not exactly about sustainability but not exactly not, either: husband, wife, and two eyar old son relocate to a farm in Viriginia to live their day to day lives as things were in 1900. it’s a well written book, think you might enjoy.

  12. @irenelevine follow me!

  13. All of these books look great! I have to get through the behemoth “11-22-63″ so I can get on to some books on sustainability!

  14. Funny about Edey’s discovery. Our dog seems to only use the potty in one circle of our yard. And wouldn’t you know it the grass has grown three times the height in those spots. Now I wouldn’t use this method for my garden either, but it makes so much sense to find natural ways to help things grow

  15. Love hearing about these books. Makes me edgy about all the food documentaries I’ve got sitting in my stack-of-DVDs-to-watch pile. 

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