The Resilient Gardener
How to Fix a Leek & Other Food from Your Farmers’ Market
The Eat Local Cookbook
The Town That Food Saved
Crop Rotation on Organic Farms
The Resilient Gardener: Food Production and Self-Reliance in Uncertain Times
By Carol Deppe
Chelsea Green, 2010
323 pages, $29.95
First there was ‘localism,” now “survivalism” – an approach to gardening in increasingly erratic weather or personal hard times.
“Hard times happen. They happen in the lives of every individual creature, the histories of every country and culture, the evolution of every species. They come in all sizes and shapes. They may affect just you, or they may affect your entire neighborhood, country or planet…”
So begins Carol Deppe’s The Resilient Gardener.
She says these changes may be personal – an illness or a bad back – or financial or any situation that affects the well being and productivity of a garden; yet we design our gardens for optimal conditions – sufficient rain and a strong back.
Deppe’s is not preaching Armageddon or advocating that we abandon our drip irrigation. She advises that we know what grows well in our niche without a lot of outside inputs; and that we consider how our gardens are set up.
If you have a bad back, an easily tilled garden that you can seed standing up and weed with a long-handled hoe is better than raised beds that need to be forked by hand.
Perhaps certain cultural practices encourage more pests in your area. Perhaps sandy soils require that you avoid raised beds and mulch intensively.
All of us evolve as we learn to grow food in our specific niches. To some degree I confess to gardening for the good times, but I do raise the rows in wet areas and mulch dry areas. I planted cranberries in the wettest spots.
Deppe further advocates that we work with nature and know the crops that will produce in a wet year, a very cool year, a tornado, or will just produce best in our natural climate without needing added inputs or reliance on electricity and running water to thrive.
The first half of the book covers gardening for resilience, having control over your food supply (even without your own land) and eating quality, flavorful and nutritious foods. Deppe, an Oregon plant breeder, shares her knowledge in her 33 Golden Rules of Gardening, interwoven with the sciences of plant breeding, climatology, ecology, anthropology, paleontology, sustainable agriculture, nutrition, health and medicine. She addresses those with special health and dietary needs.
The second half of the book focuses on five crops that will grow and provide critical nutrition in almost all adverse conditions: potatoes, corn, beans, squash and eggs. Potatoes grow in cool climates and yield more protein per acre than any crop other than legumes. Dry beans are adaptable, high in protein, and, once dried, can store for years. Winter squashes store well and, along with summer squashes, dry well to extend the season. Corn is easier to grow, thresh, clean and grind (and often digest) than other grains. Ducks and chickens integrate well with the farm or garden systems and provide good protein as eggs (and meat).
The Resilient Gardener is not a bible of how to garden and what to grow but is more of a way to think about our systems. What works in the Pacific Northwest won’t necessarily work in Maine. Ducks overwinter well in Deppe’s mild climate, but chickens may do better in our long winters. Varieties that perform or taste great there may not be as good as some that thrive here. Localism is an underlying theme.
Deppe advocates finding what works well in your niche. For example, garbanzos don’t grow that well in Maine, so I grow ‘Amplissimo Victoria Soup’ peas which yield 20:1 in our Maine soils and taste incredible in soup, salads or as hummus. I know that one variety of tomato can taste different from farm to farm and week to week. I opt for early maturing varieties that can be processed at the height of their flavor.
As Deppe says, ”A gardener who knows how to garden in both good times and bad can be a reservoir of knowledge and a source of resilience for the entire community.”
– Roberta Bailey
MOFGA member Lisa Turner and her Eat Local Cookbook. Photos courtesy of Down East.
How to Fix a Leek & Other Food from Your Farmers’ Market
By Sandra Garson
Just Write Books, Topsham, Maine, 2011
222 pages, paperback, $20
The Eat Local Cookbook: Seasonal Recipes from a Maine Farm
By Lisa Turner
Down East, Rockport, Maine, 2011
176 pages, paperback, $19.95
Two new cookbooks by Maine authors will have your mouth watering.
Mainers who have been getting food from their own gardens, from farmers’ markets or other local venues for a long time may remember (and may still have) Sandy Garson’s 20-year-old book, How to Fix a Leek… Garson published the revised edition partly to counter widespread health problems that can occur when contaminated industrial food moves around the country; and partly to remind people what’s in season when and how to prepare and store it.
Garson praises our farmers, who work so hard: “…these are people who profit mightily from the joy in your eyes when you spot a picture-perfect cauliflower or basket of lusciously red strawberries they raised from scratch.” She praises local market patrons, too, who, by their requests, “pollinate a new crop, which is how green garlic and pea shoots got to New England farmers’ markets.”
Readers are reminded of the political and economic nature of farmers’ markets – such as Boston’s Faneuil Hall, where Samuel Adams “rallied Bostonians to a revolution”; Seattle’s Pike Place Market, which emerged in 1907 due to “public outrage at price-gouging middlemen”; and the Portland, Maine, market, started in 1768 and possibly the oldest continuous farmers’ market in the country.
After her inspirational introduction, Garson follows with foods sold at markets from May through October. She introduces individual foods, whether ramps or maple syrup, parsnips or cranberries, lamb or eggs; describes their history, culture, health benefits and uses; and follows with recipes using those ingredients – such as Greek Style Fava Beans, Zucchini Pie (Garson’s “most requested recipe ever”), Watermelon Agua Fresca, and Kale Stuffing (for turkey breast, pork roast, kabocha squash or turnovers).
In his foreword to Lisa Turner’s Eat Local Cookbook, Eliot Coleman echoes Sandra Garson’s emphasis on the importance of local farmers. “They are people who truly care about the quality of the food they produce … These are the type of people you want to have growing your food.”
Turner is one of those people. She and her husband, Ralph, have been growing vegetables year-round at Laughing Stock Farm in Freeport for 14 years. She begins her cookbook with an essay on the importance of eating locally grown foods (taste being primary) and another on how to eat those foods – by growing your own, joining a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farm, or shopping at farm stands, farmers’ markets, health food stores and co-ops. After a few pages of gardening tips and notes about recipe ingredients, Turner follows with more than 125 recipes using “healthy, fresh, local food that is quick to prepare and tastes great.” The recipes, arranged by season, include appetizers, salads, side dishes, entrees and desserts. These are concoctions from Turner’s kitchen and from Maine’s top chefs, including Sam Hayward, Abby Harmon and Jeff Landry.
Crab Cakes on Pea Shoots, for example, combines local crabmeat and pea shoots with other favorite foods: avocado, lemon juice and olive oil. Radish Sandwiches are so simple – and “very French, so you can feel very chic when you make them,” writes Turner. “They make a cute little appetizer, and they involve zero actual cooking.” Garlic and Ginger Broccoli is a simple and delicious side dish. And how often do omelets rescue us at suppertime? Try Spinach and Cream Cheese Omelet with sun-dried tomatoes. For winter, try Sausage and Kale Soup, Root Vegetable Tarts and Parsnip, Wild Cranberry and Walnut Salad. The recipes are followed by tips for storing vegetables in winter.
Both books joyfully celebrate local foods and local farmers; they’re fun to read, as the authors’ personalities flavor the writing; and they’ll readily and tastefully answer that thrice-daily question: What’s good to eat, right here, right now?
– Jean English
Raising Elijah: Protecting Our Children in an Age of Environmental Crisis
By Sandra Steingraber
Merloyd Lawrence/Da Capo, 2011
320 pages, $26
Sandra Steingraber – ecologist, mother, cancer survivor – has been compared with Rachel Carson as a scientist and essayist. And in her most recent book, Raising Elijah, Steingraber links environmental pollutants and health, writing on a personal level and blending science and memoir.
But Steingraber also speaks here as a warrior, a parent determined to protect her children – and all children – from the polluted and climate-challenged world they have inherited. She shows how compounds developed for chemical warfare ended up in kitchens, gardens and schoolyards.
I picked up this book for the two chapters on farming and food. Steingraber opens chapter three with a description of the CSA farm where she gets weekly boxes of fresh berries, vegetables, honey, eggs and even flowers. She writes about organic and conventional farming, cites the National Research Council report highlighting the special vulnerabilities of children to pesticides and asks why the EPA review on reducing children’s exposure to pesticides – due in 1999 – has yet to be completed.
Is organic food healthier for our kids? “Accumulating evidence does seem to point in that direction,” Steingraber writes. Researchers have found that children with higher levels of pesticides in their bodies were more likely to display symptoms of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
“The ongoing National Children’s Study, which will measure pesticides in umbilical cord blood and follow children throughout their development, will certainly shed more light on the issue,” Steingraber says. But those results are 20 years away, and her job, as a parent, is to protect her children now.
“All pesticides are inherently poisons,” she writes. “And all organophosphates are, inherently, brain poisons. So I don’t feed my children food grown with pesticides. Period.”
Those who argue that not everyone can afford organic food need to read the essay on pizza and ecosystem services. Organic farmers need the same things conventional farmers need: access to credit and markets, crop insurance, infrastructure (processing plants and mills) and university research dollars. The institutional neglect of organic farming means that even when consumers create a demand for organic food, “systematic bottlenecks prevent supply from catching up.”
Steingraber calculates the cost of baking a pizza from locally sourced organic food: wheat flour (conventionally sprayed with up to 80 different chemicals); tomatoes (dependent on insect pollinators); garlic (treated with fungicides); mozzarella (growth hormones and antibiotics). Her organic pizza-for-four rings up at nearly $10 compared with a $6.25 pizza made from conventionally raised ingredients.
Can organic agriculture feed the world? Steingraber votes yea, based on studies showing roughly equivalent yields in organic and conventional systems – especially once you toss in pollinator services, diversified cropping systems and the latest figures on wheat yield. In 2009, she notes, small New York farms produced 65 bushels per acre compared with the 44.4 national average.
– Sue Smith-Heavenrich
The Town That Food Saved: How One Community Found Vitality in Local Food
By Ben Hewitt
2009; Rodale Inc.
$24.99; 234 pages; hardcover
A 2008 New York Times article, portrayed the town of Hardwick, Vermont, as enjoying a strong local food system due in large part to the entrepreneurial efforts of several newcomers to the area. This characterization did not sit too well with old-time food practitioners in the area, who either felt ignored or at least underappreciated, or who didn't like the sudden media attention paid to their quiet rural community.
Hewitt's book provides a more complete portrait of the town and its food-based revitalization, permitting a wonderful peek into the warehouses, barns, homes and even an innovative CSR – "community-supported restaurant," Claire's – as the author profiles each major participant.
Most chapters focus on a group of outspoken and energetic CEOs – Hewitt calls them "agripreneurs" – of several new, large-scale, profit-seeking businesses, including Tom Stearns of High Mowing Organic Seeds, Tom Gilbert of Highfields Center for Composting, Pete Johnson of Pete's Greens, and Andrew Meyer of Vermont Soy, along with Mateo and Andy Kehler of Jasper Hill Farm. Another brash entity is the Center for an Agricultural Economy, which at the time the book was written had an office and a director with a cell phone, but whose mission seemed rather open-ended.
Also interviewed and profiled are regional residents who have worked in food-related ways for many years, in entities such as the Buffalo Mountain Food Coop, a vigorous, 35-year Hardwick icon that has kept local food fires burning through thick and thin using a non-business model of participatory membership. An old-school dairy-farming couple are brought into the picture, who strongly believe in direct, neighbor to neighbor assistance, and another couple is described who operate a unique, mobile slaughtering service, which enables area residents to more easily raise their own meat. The owners of several vegetable farms are described, and the author's own version of a "wannabe" (his word) self-reliant farm is examined, somewhat too closely.
The town's economy is put in historic context as it has evolved through periods of early sheep farming, granite quarrying until the 1920s, dairy farming from the 1930s through the 1960s and barely into the present, with a strong back-to-the-land movement beginning in the 1970s.
Much of Hardwick's food activity, as Hewitt describes it, trends along solitary, parallel lines as each business or person sticks to familiar cultural contexts and goals, but toward the end of the book Hewitt notes some movement among the "agripreneurs" toward collaborative efforts, thus beginning to fulfill the lofty expectations raised by the 2008 New York Times article.
A major flaw in Hardwick's local food "system," however, is that very few local residents eat the local food that is produced. Most of the food is shipped elsewhere in Vermont or to cities far and wide. Even Pete's Greens' 250-member CSA has only 25 area members, in a region of 8,000 residents, according to Hewitt. Near the close of the book, the "agripreneurs" gather for a meeting to discuss the possibility of a national food-supply crisis, and calculate that those in the room could feed a half-year's produce to 4,000 families, showing their potential importance – if local dietary interests change, and if food prices are explained in the context of industrial food's nasty "external" costs. On the other hand, Hardwick's new food system employs some 75 to 100 local residents at good wages, and discussions are described in regard to educating the locals about keeping more "food dollars" circulating within the local economy.
Although much of the book's attention is directed toward fixing or replacing the national food system and its many evils, and to how Hardwick's food system might be "exported" to other parts of the country, Hewitt realizes that a critically important factor in truly "saving" a town, lies in its revitalization of direct, widespread, democratic, community participation, by establishing or nurturing places where residents can simply gather, meet one another, discuss, plan, collaborate, assist one another, and potentially play a role in governing the town.
Of course, Hardwick is not alone in having a food system. Hewitt concludes by suggesting that we look at our own towns, to see if we "recognize something" of Hardwick there. Furthermore, he writes, "I hope that you recognize something of her within yourself, because the work that awaits us will be done in this quiet way: neighborhood by neighborhood, community by community, person by person, until we are all linked by the very thing that grants us life. Until we have wrested our destiny from a system that is convoluted, hierarchical, and dangerous for the dependence it engenders and planted it in our communities, in our own soils, with our own hands."
You can read the New York Times article online at www.nytimes.com/2008/10/08/dining/08verm.html, where you will also find web links to many of the entities participating in Hardwick's local food-based economy.
– Tim Nason, Dresden
Crop Rotation on Organic Farms: A Planning Manual
Edited by Charles L. Mohler and Sue Ellen Johnson
Natural Resource, Agriculture & Engineering Service (NRAES), Ithaca N.Y., 2009
154 pages, paperback, $24
This book helps growers understand how to manage crop rotations, build better soils, control weeds and pests, and develop profitable farms. To do that, Mohler and Johnson go to those who know best – researchers, extension educators and organic growers – and cram a vast amount of information, including checklists and worksheets, into this relatively thin volume.
The book discusses the hows and whys of managing crop rotation and has a short lecture on soil tilth and nutrition. Then Mohler and Johnson offer more than a dozen farm-tested crop sequences, along with a step-by-step rotation planning guide – but the book is not a fill-in-the-blank guide. Rather, the editors challenge growers to know their land, topography, crops and markets, and guide them to develop a crop rotation program suited to their farm and cultural style.
Mohler asks about goals: Do you want to maintain healthy soil? Control a disease? Add nutrients? Then you list the crops you plan to grow and the amount of land for each. Mohler and Johnson emphasize that a lack of crop diversity makes rotation difficult.
Divide the farm into small management units, they suggest – whether a 5- by 100-foot bed or a half-acre field – and map them, making units the same size to simplify planning and record-keeping. Make multiple copies of maps, because you’ll collect lots of data as you walk your land and work out potential rotations.
Mohler cautions growers to develop alternate rotations in case of weather disasters, flooding, or a drought in the marketplace.
One chapter covers rotations while transitioning from conventional to organic agriculture, with advice for turning an old hayfield into vegetable production. To control perennial weeds, consider putting newly plowed land into a season of cover crops and fallow; or at least plan for transplanted crops the first year.
Another chapter has guidelines for intercropping. Use tall crops to reduce the effects of drought and heat stress on shorter crops, suggests Kim Stoner. Interrupt crop plantings with rows of other plants that will make it harder for insect pests to find the crop. Plant flowers that provide habitat for beneficial insects. Plant trap crops to reduce insect pest pressure on market crops. Intercropping makes rotations more difficult, as the needs of two crop families must be considered..
The book includes appendices, with a table detailing crop sequence problems and a list of disease pathogens hosted by agricultural weeds. A detailed explanation tells how to create field management maps using Excel spreadsheets.
– Sue Smith-Heavenrich
In the 23-minute video “GM Crops – Farmer to Farmer” posted at www.gmcropsfarmertofarmer.com, Michael Hart, a conventional livestock family farmer from Cornwall, interviews farmers and other specialists about their experiences growing genetically engineered (GE) crops. He hears about ever increasing costs of seeds and chemicals, herbicide-resistant weeds (including Roundup Ready canola in sugar beet fields, the seed of which is carried by geese), the fallacy of one-pass weed control with GE crops, the fact that co-existence (the ability to grow GE crops next to non-GE and organic crops) does not work, the lack of need for Bt corn for corn rootworm protection – a technology that was “forced down farmers’ throats” – and farmers feeling trapped in GE systems. All this, along with huge price increases for GE seeds and sprays that are not matched by prices farmers receive for crops. One interviewed farmer, however, grows a public variety of soybean – buying seed for significantly less than Monsanto’s RR seed, and being able to save seed for future plantings and future added savings. Asked if Great Britain should permit planting of GE crops, one farmer tells Hart, “At all costs, avoid doing it.” Another says, “You’ll lose your choices.”
Basics of Organic Seed Production, an on-line tutorial on producing seed for onions, beets, chard, brassicas, carrots and wet seeded crops, also covers climatic requirements for seed crops, important diseases and seed quality. http://campus.extension.org/course/view.php?id=377
Two Excel spreadsheets that can help poultry producers plan are available via email from firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com. One helps calculate how many hens will produce a desired number of eggs; another is a break-even calculator showing all expenses, how many birds to sell and the break-even price.
The University of Minnesota has an introductory Farmstay Manual at www.misa.umn.edu/Publications/FarmstayManual/index.htm.
New Farmers, at extension.umaine.edu/new-farmers/, includes videos, FAQs, fact sheets and links to resources that support new or prospective Maine farmers.
The Learning Center at http://SARE.org/Learning-Center is a rich source of books, videos, online courses and other information about sustainable agriculture.