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 Reviews & Resources – Fall 2010 Minimize

Smart by Nature, Schooling for Sustainability
Radical Homemakers
The Locavore’s Handbook
Online Resources


Smart by Nature

Smart by Nature, Schooling for Sustainability
by Michael K. Stone/Center for Ecoliteracy, Berkeley, Calif; www.ecoliteracy.org
Watershed Media, Healdsburg, Calif., 2009
216 pgs., paperback; $24.95

Smart by Nature documents projects of numerous K-12 educators, parents and others who are helping young people learn the why and how of sustainable living.

The book first addresses ways schools are reforming their food programs and teaching students about food, through school gardens, farm-to-school programs, tax measures and more. Front and center is The Garden Project at the Troy Howard Middle School in Belfast, Maine, and the 8,000 pounds of produce it grows per year on what was a bed of gravel – all while teaching students about economics, business, history, science, math and more. Four other programs throughout the country are also featured, followed by a summary of lessons learned and another of tips for school food programs.

The next chapter, The Smart by Nature Campus, concerns greening the campus in ways that demonstrate sustainable practices for students. Examples include bringing more daylight into schools, using recycled materials in building projects, installing a living roof, and treating wastewater via a natural ecosystem called “The Living Machine.”

A chapter linking educational activities with communities follows. One school, for example, collects data that public agencies will use.

The final chapter covers integrating lessons about sustainability in teaching – through project-based learning in natural and human communities, for instance. Some students planted a rain garden; others tested water quality in a local stream.

A useful list of resources completes Smart by Nature.

– Jean English


Radical Homemakers

Radical Homemakers – Reclaiming Domesticity from a Consumer Culture
by Shannon Hayes
Left to Write Press, Richmondville, N.Y., 2010; www.radicalhomemakers.com
300 pgs., paperback, $23.95

Shannon Hayes and her family live on Sap Brush Hollow Farm in New York and, like the many families she interviewed for Radical Homemakers, she values family, community, quality food and meaningful labor more than money. In this book, she covers the history of homemaking, how imperial and corporate rule harmed true homemaking, and describes how some modern families are creating more meaningful lives for themselves rather than working for slave wages in jobs that do not honor “family, community, planet and social justice” – the four tenets of radical homemakers.

Hayes describes corporations that exist just for the bottom line. The three Wal-Mart heirs, for example, share a $90 billion fortune, yet, she says, Wal-Mart’s home town of Bentonville, Arkansas, cannot afford a sewage treatment plant.

Industrial society brought us industrial food, initially for convenience so that we could work for such corporations. Hayes covers the effects of industrial food and our society’s lost knowledge of traditional skills for daily living, such as growing and preparing our own food.

Strong local economies can counter the “home wrecker” type of corporations that Hayes describes. The families she interviewed tell how they’ve built “social capital” by connecting with other family members, friends and communities to make their lives saner and more enjoyable; how they’ve opted out of the health insurance industry (sometimes by depending on Medicare instead of buying insurance; also by living a healthy lifestyle); how they’ve reclaimed domestic skills; and how all these efforts help “build the new life-serving economy.”

The Nearings gave us Living the Good Life. Hayes gives us Radical Homemakers. Both books illustrate a way of life that can be appealing and fulfilling to some people. Both can encourage those who feel stuck in unrewarding lives to search for something better.

– Jean English


The Locavore’s Handbook

The Locavore’s Handbook: The Busy Person’s Guide to Eating Local on a Budget
by Leda Meredith
Lyons Press (Globe Pequot), 2010
201 pgs., paperback, $16.95.

Readers can readily find culinary adventures of those who have lived for a year on food raised within 100 or 250 miles of their homes – in works such as Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, Gary Paul Nabhan’s Coming Home to Eat, and Alisa Smith and J.B. MacKinnon’s Plenty. New York writer and edible plants expert Leda Meredith takes a refreshing new approach in The Locavore’s Handbook, translating her year-long experiment eating local foods into a compact and accessible manual on how to find, store and prepare local foods with limited space and a fixed food budget.

The guide begins by describing the costs of industrial agriculture and the environmental, social and health benefits of consuming local foods. Those who have read more detailed and engaging accounts, such as Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma, may find this section disappointing, but subsequent chapters offer practical measures not found in many previous locavore books. In a chatty, upbeat tone void of preachiness, Meredith describes how to locate sources for local foods (even challenging items such as grains and oils), preserve foods, and manage seasonality issues. She candidly confronts the day-to-day challenges of a local foods lifestyle, and provides practical pointers for efficient food preparation and cost savings. To help readers make changes where they can, she offers suggestions at the end of each chapter for small starting steps.

While the guide is aimed at those new to local eating, it does have some helpful suggestions for those who already garden, frequent farmers’ markets and put up food. There are useful tips for food storage and harvest-time onslaughts – such as using one refrigerator bin for “eat soon” vegetables and another for longer-lived produce. One of the most interesting chapters, “Feasting for Free,” describes how to safely and ecologically forage for wild plants (and edible invasives such as Japanese knotweed). She even includes a few recipes that don’t take much foraging, since they rely on ubiquitous dandelion greens.

While readers can gain many insights from Meredith, they may be frustrated by her focus on New York City (where locavores have access to “green markets” every day of the week year-round) and her own limited experience. She devotes an entire chapter to “The Single Locavore,” for example, yet has no mention of how busy families on tight budgets can eat locally year-round (or get their children excited about months of root vegetables, cabbage and soups during winter). She describes creative ways to contend with food storage in a cramped apartment, but never discusses how a household of four or more can manage year-round local eating with fewer than two or three chest freezers.

While The Locavore’s Handbook is an admirable first attempt at a well-rounded guide to local eating, it may better serve single urbanites than families in suburban and rural settings.

– Marina Schauffler

Marina Schauffler is author of
Turning to Earth: Stories of Ecological Conversion and editor of the NaturalChoices.com website.


Online Resources

Local Harvest: A Multifarm CSA Handbook, is free at www.sare.org/publications/csa.htm. Print copies ($3.99 plus $5.95 s/h) from www.sare.org/WebStore, 301/374-9696 or send check or money order to SARE Outreach, P.O. Box 753, Waldorf, MD 20604-0753.

A Seed Saving Guide for Gardeners and Farmers, Organic Seed Alliance, is free at www.seedalliance.org/Publications/. The 30-page publication covers botany, soil and cultivation, isolation distances, harvesting and processing, storing and testing germinating of crop seeds.

Cornell University’s Integrated Pest Management Center has nine new, free, organic production guides on producing certified organic apples, blueberries, grapes, lettuce, potatoes, spinach, strawberries and cole crops, as well as a guide to help control pests of dairy cattle using organic IPM methods. See http://nysipm.cornell.edu/organic_guide/.

Managing Alternative Pollinators: A Handbook for Beekeepers, Growers, and Conservationist, is available from UMaine Extension Publications. The 162-page, in-depth, full-color guide covers rearing and managing bumblebees, mason bees, leafcutter bees and other alternatives to honey bee pollinators. See http://extensionpubs.umext.maine.edu/

The Xerces Society’s Organic Farming for Bees is a tool kit for organic growers on minimizing disturbance to pollinators from farm activities and providing nest sites and foraging patches. Two fact sheets provide information on toxicity to native pollinators for all major organic-approved insecticides; and about pollinator-friendly organic farming practices. See www.xerces.org/organic-farms/.

John Ikerd’s new book, A Revolution of the Middle … and The Pursuit of Happiness, is posted at https://sites.google.com/site/revolutionofthemiddle/home. The book addresses the current economic and political situation and concludes that our current economy and society are not sustainable. We need different ways of thinking, not just about economics and politics but about how the world works and our place within it. The key to happiness, says Ikerd, is to fulfill our unique purpose in life, to realize our highest potentials from our unique opportunities as they unfold before us. 
Mabel's Book 2010: Local Foods Directory, A Guide to Farms and Farm Stands in Western Maine, is posted at www.westernmountainsalliance.org.



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