"We need to wean the American food system off its heavy 20th-century diet of fossil fuel and put it back on a diet of contemporary sunshine."
- Michael Pollan
|MOFGA members receive our quarterly newspaper The Maine Organic Farmer & Gardener as a benefit of membership. Become a member today! It can also be purchased at news stands.
|| Reviews & Resources – Fall 2009
Surviving and Thriving on the Land, by Rebecca Laughton
Through the Wild Heart of Mary, by Gail Faith Edwards
Notes on a Lost Flute, by Kerry Hardy
No Impact Man, by Colin Beavan
Poisoned Profits: The Toxic Assault on Our Children, by Philip Shabecoff and Alice Shabecoff
Anyone Can Build a Whizbang Apple Grinder & Cider Press, by Herrick C. Kimball
The Organic Farmer's Business Handbook, by Richard Wiswall
Deeply Rooted, by Lisa M. Hamilton
Green Earth Guide – Traveling Naturally in France, by Dorian Yates
Crop Rotation on Organic Farms: A Planning Manual, by Charles L. Mohler et al.
Web Sites and Web Publications
What's On My Food?
Community Gardening Toolkit
"Planet Whizbang" Wheel Hoe
Four New Cornell Guides to Producing Organic Vegetables
Publications and resources available from UMaine Cooperative Extension
Match Your Need to the Right Breed: Choosing a Bird for the Home Flock
Lighting for Small Scale Flocks
Resources for Small-Scale Poultry Keepers
Lily Leaf Beetle Fact Sheet
The Maine Home Garden News
Surviving and Thriving on the Land: How to Use Your Time and Energy to Run a Successful Smallholding
By Rebecca Laughton
Green Books Ltd., 2008; available in the United States from Chelsea Green
256 pages, paperback; $24.95
Not the first to write about living off the land – as anyone perusing the Maine section of a library or bookstore might notice – Rebecca Laughton offers a fresh perspective about how to celebrate the joys of hard work inherent in a land-based lifestyle. A modern-day mantra about how to achieve the good life, Surviving and Thriving on the Land presents anecdotal research collected from surveying 28 smallholdings (ecological projects combining farming and forestry initiatives for subsistence as well as commercial production) in the United Kingdom and France.
In merging the findings of these case studies with 10 years of her own agricultural experiences, Laughton reclaims the much overused term "sustainability" in terms of maintaining the human energy input required to run a successful smallholding using minimal fossil fuels and off-farm inputs.
With the discerning eye of personal experience, she scrutinizes her sample smallholdings to determine potential areas of human energy loss and gain, and how that energy relates to quality of life.
The result is a comprehensive "harvest of advice, observations, and discoveries" pertaining to wise tool choice, efficient design and layout of buildings and landscape, viable economic strategies, feasible domestic energy sources and more.
While no single recipe of these ingredients differentiates those farmers, farm families and collectives that merely survive from those that thrive, this book outlines what has and has not worked for a diverse handful of existing projects. One commonality among flourishing smallholders is their shared reverence for work, as well as their welcome acceptance of work as a form of leisure. Laughton writes that a fruit tree grower once told her, "I have a true peasant attitude. I work all day in the orchard and then I return to work there in the evening because I enjoy it."
On top of weaving the storied and analytical web of these smallholdings, Laughton reflects on her findings – ranging from practical advice to philosophical musings. She knows when and how to accentuate her primarily academic style with insightful prose reminiscent of renowned agrarian essayists, from Liberty Hyde Bailey to Wendell Berry. In doing so, Laughton reinforces the challenge she presents to her audience in the introduction: to think strongly about the importance of local economies in the face of peak oil, climate change and global economic crisis.
She writes, "As the imperative to cut fossil fuels increases, both to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and conserve our dwindling oil supplies, the matter of deriving an ecologically sustainable livelihood from the land may turn from one of choice into one of survival. If a project is failing, it may no longer be as easy as it is now to get another job and buy food, fuel and other necessities."
This is a timely and important book for those shifting to a land-based livelihood, as well as for those who already have their hands dirty.
– Holli Cederholm, Unity, Maine
Laughton will speak at MOFGA's Common Ground Country Fair on Saturday, Sept. 26, at 3:15 pm in the Railcar Tent. Please see the Fair schedule for any changes in time or place.
Through the Wild Heart of Mary
Teachings of the 20 Mysteries of the Rosary and the Herbs and Foods Associated with Them
By Gail Faith Edwards
2008, Bertha Canterbury/Rosina Publishing, Athens, ME 04912 www.blessedmaineherbs.com
380 pages, $19.95
Gail Faith Edwards' delightful book, Through the Wild Heart of Mary; Teachings of the 20 Mysteries of the Rosary and the Herbs and Foods Associated with Them, leads us down the worn stone cobbles of Monte San Giacomo. We meet the author's friends and neighbors whose daily lives are rooted deeply in the rich soil of their gardens, even as their faith in the Madonna carries spirits aloft. The rhythms of the local planting cycles and rites of worship cultivate deeply the living of each day.
Edwards provides a fascinating glimpse into the ancient roots of the worship of the Mother Goddess, dating back 35 millennia and expressed through many archetypal Heroines: Hera, Sybil, Venus, Eve and Mother Mary. One branch of this spiritual tradition finds the sacred Earth Goddess in the roots of fruit-bearing trees, as well as elm, sycamore and willow.
Culinary traditions grow out of a rich milieu defined by culture, faith and the herbs that grow in everyone's home region. In this book, the Blessed Mother Mary, and the devotions of the rosary, form the nexus of a spiritual journey into the heart of herbalism. On these pages the well-fingered rosary beads, and their associated prayers, gradually accrue to honor the 20 mysteries of faith in Mary and Jesus.
Edwards takes the reader on a unique journey, from the realm of the Earth Goddess to the precepts of faith in Mother Mary. It is a story simultaneously enlightened by humanity's benevolence and darkened by our lapses into ignorance and violence born of fear. Herein, herbal traditions are turned endearingly in the author's hands and contemplated as the beads of devotion. Believers in the Madonna, and peoples of all faiths, will discover a compendium of loving kindness, of spiritual and physical enrichment through the practices and teachings of herbs.
In "The Rosary Garden," Edwards tells of the plants associated with each mystery of the Rosary – their folklore, botanical properties and practical uses for food and medicine. Through stories, recipes and plant lore - all grounded in a thorough knowledge of botany and nutrition – this rich storehouse of wisdom reveals that herbs are a gift from God to nourish our entire beings.
Through the Wild Heart of Mary is food for body, mind and spirit. The deeper layers of meaning become more pleasing when they are savored like the subtle yet complex tastes and aromas of a good basil.
– Michael J. Caduto, Norwich, Vt.
Michael J. Caduto's (www.p-e-a-c-e.net) books include Everyday Herbs in Spiritual Life: A Guide to Many Practices (SkyLight Paths), Earth Tales from Around the World, Abraham's Bind, In the Beginning and A Child of God. He created and co-authored the Keepers of the Earth® series and Native American Gardening (Fulcrum). Caduto travels widely presenting environmental and cultural performances and programs. This review is adapted from the Foreword and is used with permission of the author. (c)2009. All Rights Reserved.
Signed copies of Through the Wild Heart of Mary are available at the Blessed Maine Herb Farm tent in the Agricultural Products Area of the Fair and at www.blessedmaineherbs.com.
Notes on a Lost Flute
A Field Guide to the Wabanaki
by Kerry Hardy
2009, Down East, Camden, Maine; www.downeast.com
144 pages, paperback; $21.95
Here is a fascinating look at how Native Americans lived in what is now Maine – and how their lives still influence ours, whether the roads we travel, the trees that grow along those roads, the names of mountains, islands, other places or of foods.
Kerry Hardy grew up in Lincolnville, Maine, close to nature. A landscape designer and former director and education coordinator at Merryspring Nature Park in Camden and Rockport, Hardy has woven his interests (bicycling, hiking, hunting, reading …) and knowledge into essays about those who lived in New England before (and since) Europeans arrived. His writings are like the purposeful meanderings of those ancient trails established by people who traveled on foot: He wonders about some word or place name and follows his curiosity back in time until he hits on some possible explanation – often based on his and others' translation of the Native name for a plant, animal or place.
Hardy relates, for example, how well Native Americans often ate: "For most of Maine' history, until we decided that rivers made better sewers and power generators than they did fish hatcheries, thirty- and forty-pound Atlantic salmon (or msquam, "red fish") were a common sight on the rivers of New England and were taken by the thousands with nets, weirs, and antler-pronged salmon leisters. The waterfall at Skowhegan, on the Kennebec, was one of the best places to fish, and the very name skua-higan, which I would translate as "spearing station," suggests that there was a funnel, platform, or some other sort of artifice constructed there to make the spearing easier."
In what might be considered an early, Native version of today's Terra Madre food celebration that takes place in Italy, Indians met annually in Damariscotta for a bountiful harvest that included clams and white oak acorn meat.
Why did so many villages crop up at the heads of tides of Atlantic rivers? Hardy suggests that shad "are the single best reason" and that as those villages connected, so did a system of roads – some of which we still travel.
Readers learn which lily bulbs were eaten – and how periodically burning prairies encouraged their growth; how a multitude of plants and habitats on blueberry "barrens" provided twine, soup stock, war clubs, medicine, meat and more; how Native terms reflect Indians' "flair for metaphor and analogy" (and how that flair has enabled Hardy to translate many terms); why gardeners might want to consider growing chokecherry; and much more.
Enjoy these essays one short read at a time or in longer sittings. Hardy's wit, intelligence and conversational writing style are well suited to both, and his art that permeates the book is wonderful.
– Jean English
No Impact Man: The Adventures of a Guilty Liberal Who Attempts to Save the Planet, and the Discoveries He Makes about Himself and Our Way of Life in the Process
by Colin Beavan
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2009
288 pages, $25
Taking on a superhero name and an inflated sense of mission, New York City writer Colin Beavan spent a year systematically trying to eliminate his ecological wake: eating local foods, cutting out all packaging and new purchases, traveling only by foot and bike, going without electricity (mostly), reducing water use and volunteering for local environmental projects. His amusing and thought-provoking account of that journey – taken with his fashion-conscious wife and young daughter – appears in the book No Impact Man (as well as a documentary, both of which grew from his blog http://noimpactman.typepad.com/). Beavan's blog attracted a large readership and his book may do the same, as it offers a perspective rare in today's environmental media: a good human story grounded in hope.
Beavan, the author of two previous historical books, launched his experiment as a way to "begin looking for a better way of life, a more satisfying life that does not cost the earth." His tone is consistently hopeful, despite the personal challenges he encounters and the depressing statistics he cites. While acknowledging that environmental change cannot be confined to individual measures, Beavan makes a convincing case that systemic and political changes must be matched by individuals willing to move beyond "easy environmental half-measures" to take full responsibility for their daily choices.
In his own efforts, Beavan examines both the practical obstacles to no-impact living and the philosophical roots of our throwaway culture (postulating, for example, that much overconsumption comes from our relentless quest for convenience, our desire to conform, our fears of uncertainty, and our drive to accomplish - something, anything!). With refreshing candor, he shares his own ambivalence and missteps – like an afternoon spent scouring the city in search of a French net cotton bag (after which he realized that his apartment was littered with other bags he might have used for food shopping).
"You try to go to the end of the consumerist universe," he reflects, "but keep finding yourself back at its center, back in the old buy-something-to-fix-something, eat-to-lose-weight, consume-to-conserve trance that we're all stuck in."
As Beavan's family systematically makes changes that would challenge many committed environmentalists (from relinquishing television and foregoing air travel to unplugging the refrigerator), its experiment works in two directions. The family changes daily practices to reflect its values, and – in turn – its new way of living transforms the family. Hardest, he claims, are not the practical measures – like biking in the rain, or foregoing a coveted acquisition, but cultivating new habits, what Beavan calls "plain old forcing yourself out of a rut." It takes persistence (particularly in the first month, he cautions), but the fruits of this labor don't go solely to the planet. The experiment in no-impact living deepens Beavan's sense of wonder and compassion, and sparks a calling to engage others in his quest for a more wholesome way of life.
– Marina Schauffler
F. Marina Schauffler, author of Turning to Earth: Stories of Ecological Conversion, is editor of NaturalChoices.com.
Colin Beavan will speak at the 2009 Common Ground Country Fair on Sunday, Sept. 27, at 1 pm in the Energy & Shelter Speakers Tent. Please see the Fair schedule for any changes in time or place.
|States Ban BPA
Connecticut and Minnesota have passed restrictions on the use of bisphenol A in various food containers, especially those used by infants and children, and other states are set to follow. Bisphenol A is an endocrine disruptor that mimics estrogen and can leach from plastics and other containers, especially when heated. Exposure to the chemical has been linked to developmental and reproductive problems in lab studies. ("Connecticut becomes second US state to ban bisphenol A," Chemical Watch, June 8, 2009; http://chemicalwatch.com/2320; "Minnesota Sets First Statewide Bisphenol A Ban," GreenerDesign, May 11, 2009)
Poisoned Profits: The Toxic Assault on Our Children
by Philip Shabecoff and Alice Shabecoff
Random House, 2008
354 pages, hardcover; $26
The Shabecoffs have taken on the tremendous challenge of identifying the most formidable threats to public health - not only emissions and effluents from heavy metals and solvents used in manufacturing (the oversight of which is left entirely to regulators) – but also many chemicals in consumer products that we can choose to reject once we are made aware of the toxic tradeoffs. Their conclusions are unequivocal:
Don't use pesticides.
Choose safer alternatives for synthetic polymer-based products – those containing bisphenol-A and phthalates, used to harden and soften plastics; brominated flame retardants; perfluorinated chemicals such as Teflon and Scotchgard; and chlorinated compounds such as polyvinyl chloride (PVC).
The authors detail the evidence linking the proliferation of these and many other industrial chemicals with an unprecedented rise in incidence of life-threatening illness: cancer, birth defects, asthma and neurological diseases. They tell us that "over half of the most heavily used industrial chemicals are known to be toxic to the brain and nervous system"; and they take issue with a controversial dictum invoked by chemical companies to defend their products: that a substance is harmless except at high doses. The endocrine-disrupting chemicals (some of them pesticides), they point out, "even at tiny doses ... can alter the way the immune and endocrine systems operate, leaving the body vulnerable to sickness or developmental damage."
Poisoned Profits, published before the 2008 election, recounts the Bush-Cheney administration's promotion of its chemical-industry allies – along with the army of PR flacks and corrupt scientists it hired to contradict evidence of harm – and urges that the first priority for the new regime must be reversing rollbacks that occurred during those eight years. Unless we take decisive precautionary action, according to prominent neurobiologist Theodore Slotkin, quoted in the book, toxification of the environment could result in "intellectual crippling" – entire generations "too stupid to figure out that we're being exposed to something [harmful]."
– Jody Spear, Harborside, Maine
Anyone Can Build a Whizbang Apple Grinder & Cider Press
by Herrick C. Kimball
Whizbang Books, P.O. Box 1117, Moravia, NY 13118
2009, 46 pages, large paperback, $18.95 from http://whizbangbooks.blogspot.com/
I have craved Lehman's Cast Iron Apple Grinder for years, but at more than $200, it is out of the question. So every year I borrow a cider press and make due with the grinder it comes with (usually a homemade contraption that works poorly) or my meat grinder or electric blender. So I was intrigued by Kimball's book.
My partner and I are building a homestead cider press, and the issue of the grinder has been thorny. None of the above options is ideal for our large-scale home production.
Our capacity is nothing, however, compared with the 35 gallons per person consumed on average in colonial New England, as Kimball notes. And that's one of the book's many charms. The sidebars alone are worth the price. Full of historical bits and interesting facts, this book is not only a clear instruction manual for building what sounds like the ideal grinder and press for home cider production, but it is also highly entertaining.
The press frame construction is fairly standard, although an electrician friend and my partner thought it could be a bit beefier. I like the idea of using jacks instead of screws to press apples. Kimball also gives helpful hints about pressing, such as using pressing discs between layers of apple mash to increase cider yield. He also advises, "apply pressure, wait, apply more pressure, wait, apply more pressure, wait, and so on, until you are satisfied that the apple mash is sufficiently pressed out." This is easy with his jack method.
I had qualms with his repeated advise to use HDPE plastics for parts of the press, but wood or stainless steel components can easily replace most of these. One that can't be so easily substituted would not have much contact with the mash, so is probably not a problem. We have stopped using anything but wood and glass for our beer and wine making, so I am leery about returning to "food grade" plastic for cider.
A discussion of finishes for wooden components is interesting along these same lines. You will have to decide what you want leaching into your foods from the cider press you construct.
Kimball's innovation of using an InSinkErator for grinding is inspired. Rewiring a kitchen garbage disposal to a larger electric engine to make this feasible seemed daunting, but my electrician friend said it was doable and seemed straightforward and well explained. Kimball even tells how to buy secondhand disposals on eBay!
– HB Garrold, Knox, Maine
The Organic Farmer's Business Handbook: A Complete Guide to Managing Finances, Crops, and Staff – and Making a Profit
by Richard Wiswall
Chelsea Green, 2009
224 pages, paperback, with CD; $34.95
Over a decade ago, Richard Wiswall, of Cates Farm in Plainfield, Vermont, realized it was time to start farming smarter instead of farming harder. This book is a useful guide to how you, too, can make your farm more profitable.
Wiswall focuses on growing the crops that have the highest net profit on his farm. These aren't always the highest-yielding or highest sales value items – they are the crops that are profitable on Cates Farm, because of either production systems, or access to markets or just the way things grow there. These crops will be different on your farm – but the need to track them is not. The Organic Farmer's Business Handbook starts with basic goal-setting – what do you want to get from your farm – and continues on to spreadsheets and recordkeeping systems that will help you do a better job of making your farm more profitable. It's a guide that many MOFGA members will want to use in the years ahead. Richard Wiswall will lead a workshop at MOFGA's Farmer to Farmer Conference that will help you put many of these ideas into practice.
– Russell Libby
by Lisa M. Hamilton
(c) 2009, 313 pages, hardcover, $25
Counterpoint, Berkeley, California; www.counterpointpress.com
The three farmers profiled by talented writer Lisa M. Hamilton in Deeply Rooted leave the reader filled with hope.
Texas organic dairy farmer Harry Lewis extols the virtues of pasture: "It isn't a standard to be met," writes Hamilton of Lewis' philosophy of pasture; "it is a principle. Either you have it or you don't. 'We all realize the golden rule for organics is pasture,' he [Lewis] says. 'But people take that lightly.'"
Not Lewis. Pasture, for his farm, is far from the "penitentiaries" of 1,000- to 5,000-cow operations that "ain't farmin.'"
Despite a glut of organic milk brought about by conversion of numerous dairies in 2007, just before stricter organic feed regulations were implemented, and a concomitant drop in price, Lewis perseveres because he is deeply rooted to his land. "You get out here, and it's real," he tells Hamilton.
Virgil Trujillo, a tenth-generation New Mexico rancher, is ranchland manager of Ghost Ranch – a retreat owned by the Presbyterian Church. He keeps his own cattle on land where his ancestors traditionally lived and ranched – land later claimed by the U.S. government for national forest. Here Trujillo is "allowed" to graze cows – for a fee, paid to the Forest Service. This land rights battle has never been settled, Trujillo tells Hamilton. Despite the odds of surviving as a rancher in this place of minimal rain, with competition from larger ranchers, actions by poorly informed environmentalists and animal rights activists, and more, Trujillo returned here to care for his aging grandfather and to do what mattered in his life: "… being on the land, and through that, being free."
In North Dakota, the Podoll family raises 300 acres of buckwheat, millet and triticale, a large home vegetable garden, and vegetable seed crops – all organically, amidst their neighbors' sea of genetically engineered corn and soy and conventional wheat. Their priority is to feed the five people living on the farm – David and his wife, Theresa, and their son; and David's brother, Dan, and his wife. They keep their farm business small enough that they have time for their garden, so they live on, basically, a "one-mile diet," says Hamilton. "The world's salvation is in the garden," David says.
Maine gardeners may know some varieties the Podolls developed: 'Dakota Tears' onions, 'Dakota Rose' watermelon or other varieties selected over 30 years from their 3 acres of vegetables grown for seed. Interestingly, the income from these 3 acres equals that from the 300 acres of organic grains.
In one part of the seed garden, the family does all it can to encourage tomato diseases – growing tomatoes in the same place annually, mulching with diseased plants, surrounding the plot with taller crops to reduce air movement, even keeping the area humid with a sprinkler – in order to force tomato plants to "draw on their genetic memory" to resist pathogens. They are part of a Farm Breeding Club that, with help from plant breeder Mat Kolding, developed a wheat variety (FBC-Dylan) that, under organic growing conditions, yields well, resists diseases – and produces quality artisan bread. Anyone who grows FBC-Dylan is welcome to save its seed and improve it for local growing conditions.
Deeply Rooted is a quick, heartfelt, deep read that MOFGA members will identify with and treasure.
– Jean English
Green Earth Guide – Traveling Naturally in France
By Dorian Yates
North Atlantic Books, 2009
140 pages, paperback; $14.95
Traveling Naturally in France is a must read for anyone planning a trip to France or for any traveler with a conscience. The book applies all the standard techniques of a travel guide – such as insider tips on where to wine and dine – but with a twist influenced by a growing awareness of what Vermont author Dorian Yates terms the "ever-increasing environmental degradation that plagues our planet." Rather than compelling people to make radical changes, such as foregoing a vacation, Yates encourages people to think about how they can lessen their impact on the earth while improving their own quality of life.
Traveling Naturally makes this easy to do. The included guidelines on how to travel lightly (Yates has thought of everything from packing your own homeopathic first aid kit and reusable bags to considering the carbon footprint of your transportation and lodging) are applicable not only to touring France, but also to the rest of the world. Regardless of their final destination, readers will benefit from Yates' insight on how to travel. She encourages those on the road to "Be where you are. Stay connected to the local environment by taking the time to see, feel, and appreciate where you are."
– Holli Cederholm, Unity, Maine
Crop Rotation on Organic Farms: A Planning Manual
by Charles L. Mohler et al.
Natural Resource, Agriculture and Engineering Service (NRAES)
150+ pages; $24 (anticipated cost) from NRAES, P.O. Box 4557, Ithaca, NY 14852-4557; 607-255-7654; www.nraes.org
This book covers the applications of crop rotation, including improving soil quality and health and managing insects, diseases and weeds. Consulting with expert organic farmers, the authors share rotation strategies for various field conditions and a wide range of crops.
Web Sites and Web Publications
A Pesticide Action Network North America (PANNA) Web site, www.whatsonmyfood.org, shows what pesticide residues are found on various foods; in what amounts; and links those residues to health effects.
A Community Gardening Toolkit from the University of Missouri Cooperative Extension tells how to start a community garden, benefits of a garden, resources and more. A Gardeners' Welcome Packet is also available to help organize a garden. See http://extension.missouri.edu/publications/DisplayPub.aspx?P=MP906#What
Herrick Kimball shows how to build your own "Planet Whizbang" Wheel Hoe at http://planetwhizbang.com.
Cornell University has four new guides to producing organic vegetables (carrots, peas, snap beans and winter squash) for processing. Download free at http://nysipm.cornell.edu/organic_guide/
Publications and resources available from UMaine Cooperative Extension:
Match Your Need to the Right Breed: Choosing a Bird for the Home Flock, Bulletin #2104; www.extension.umaine.edu/onlinepubs/htmpubs/2104.htm
Lighting for Small Scale Flocks, Bulletin #2227; www.extension.umaine.edu/onlinepubs/htmpubs/2227.htm
Resources for Small-Scale Poultry Keepers; www.umext.maine.edu/poultry/resources.htm
Lily Leaf Beetle Fact Sheet, Bulletin #2450;
The Maine Home Garden News, a free monthly electronic newsletter from UMaine Extension, is issued from March through October. It gives Maine home gardeners practical information on growing vegetables, fruits, herbs, flowers, lawns, shrubs and trees. To subscribe, visit: www.umext.maine.edu/gardennews/ or call 207-581-3792.