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  You are here:  PublicationsMaine Organic Farmer & GardenerSummer 1999Reviews – Summer 1999   
 Reviews – Summer 1999 Minimize


One Good Apple
Nature Journaling
Great Garden Companions
Retrieved from the Future
Handbook of Successful Ecological Lawn Care
Sweet Potatoes for the Home Garden
Strawberry Production Guide
Videos

Field of Genes
Risky Business
Gene Blues – Dilemmas of DNA Testing

Compost: Truth or Consequences
Four Extension Bulletins from McGill


One Good Apple – Growing Our Food for the Sake of the Earth
Catherine Paladino
Houghton Mifflin Co., Boston, 1999
48 pages, $15

This is a gorgeous, concise, provocative photo essay by a writer/photographer/ biologist who has contributed features to The MOF&G in the past. Members of MOFGA will identify completely with the content and will be pleased to see some of our “heroes” depicted within.

The book delighted me, personally, from the front cover to the back jacket. The cover photo shows two boys – Josiah Brown, who happens to be one of my son’s good friends, and Josiah’s brother Seth, perched on one of Peter Baldwin’s apple picking ladders that is propped against one of Bob Sewall’s trees. Both boys are munching on Bob’s apples.

The back jacket shows Paladino and one of her sons; a lovely photo of a like-minded woman with whom I’ve corresponded but whom I’ve never met. Now I’ll be able to pick her out when she travels from her home in Gloucester, Mass., to the Common Ground Fair.

Between the covers is the most logical, best written, down-to-earth essay I’ve read about why we should be growing food locally and organically. Everything is in here, from the dangers of pesticides and genetic engineering to the joys of buying from a neighbor or growing your own. The text would be a useful introduction to the importance of local, organic foods for high school students, legislators and others who seek a basic understanding of the subject.

The book covers the history of the use of pesticides; some notorious misuses of and problems with many pesticides, such as DDT; and the inadequate efforts of the EPA to regulate pesticides. It discusses the Alar “scare;” the illegal use of aldicarb on watermelons in 1985, which caused the largest known outbreak of food poisoning from pesticides in North America; and the high rates of cancer in some agricultural communities.

Then Paladino turns to organic farmers – and MOFGA members will recognize many of the names and photos in this section. Roberta Bunker’s collection of heirloom tomatoes, displayed at the Common Ground Fair, is shown on one page; and a striking photo of Roberta sitting among her Findhorn-sized cabbages is shown on another. The subtle shades of purples and blues in the latter photo are exquisite – as is Roberta’s smile! On another page, MOFGA-certified grower Jason Kafka looks cheerful as the wind blows through his hair and he stands among his garlic plants – which are chest high. Again, Paladino’s photographic skill is evident in her control over depth of field, as Jason and his crop are in perfect focus in contrast to the soft green background of trees and field.

Maine readers will feel more connected with the world when they read about and see photos of growers in other parts of the country who share their philosophy. One of my favorite photos shows Zetta Masayesva, who grows Hopi corn in desert sand in Arizona. Paladino photographed Zetta wearing a blue/pink/purple flowered dress and holding half a dozen ears of Hopi corn, ears that represent the red, burgundy, blue and other colors that comprise Hopi varieties. Set against the dark green, leafy background, Zetta represents the hope that such germplasm will be saved.

Paladino writes about raising crops using organic methods; about seed saving organizations, from Native Seeds/SEARCH to the Maine Seed Saving Network; about biological pest control, and more. She ends the book with a list of resources and an index.

If anyone tells you that certain crops cannot be grown organically or that organic agriculture cannot feed the world, you needn’t say a word. Just give that person a copy of Paladino’s book, and he or she will be beautifully and gently persuaded that it just isn’t so.

– Jean English

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Nature Journaling: Learning to Observe and Connect with the World Around You

Clare Walker Leslie & Charles E. Roth
Foreword by Edward O. Wilson
Storey Books, PO Box 445, Pownal VT 05261; 800-441-5700; www.storey.com
$26.95 U.S./$34.95 Canada

This lovely book is, in fact, a journal itself, with numerous sketches and watercolors by Leslie and Roth on every page. A caveat: If you get this book now, you may end up letting more weeds than usual grow this year as you be­come inspired to observe, draw and write about the natural events that are happening around you.

Leslie and Roth give this historical perspective on nature journaling, which, they say, is “returning to an ancient human practice:”

“Nature journaling is not new. In fact, it is one of the oldest methods around: People have used it through­out history to record a hunt or battle, the passage of time, the success of an exploration, the sickness in a village. Whether they drew on cave walls, etched marks into sticks, painted stories on vases or teepees, or laboriously inscribed sheepskin manuscripts, nature journals have been kept.

“Sea captains have kept logs noting the weather, constellations, passing birds, human behavior and other items of interest. How do you think Christopher Columbus convinced Queen Isabella that he had reached the new World? Did he send her e-mail? Did he fax her the information? Did he even have a camera? No, he had his logbook.

“In both Europe and America, schoolchildren often made yearly journals of their class observations about natural and human life in the village or out on the prairie, as a way of learning where they lived. These journals served as ‘basal readers.’ Students of the next generation became recipients of the knowledge of place gained by an earlier generation.

“Studies have found many children today consider nature to be somewhere else – on TV, on videos, in National Geographic only. The purpose of nature journaling is to study where you live and how you relate to it. Season by season, habitat by habitat.”

The book is divided into three sections that will help you do just that. The first, “Getting Started,” tells how to make time for nature journaling, what materials you’ll need, and how to observe, focus and begin to draw. So many drawing styles are presented that even people who consider themselves hopeless when it comes to art will see that if you can hold a pencil, you can draw a bird or a tree.

The second section, “Journaling Through the Seasons,” shows how to focus on the dramatic changes that occur from spring to winter, including changes in the colors of leaves, phases of the moon, wildlife, and so on. Finally, “Learning and Teaching Nature Journaling” tells how to incorporate nature journaling into the classroom. A letter from two of Leslie’s former students says: “It’s amazing how many people have commented on our nature journals. We wish we’d started many years ago. English and art combined in journal writing should be a required course. What a joy to learn early and have nature journaling to enjoy for the rest of your life.” I wondered, as I read that letter as well as this whole book, why nature journaling isn’t begun in kindergarten and continued throughout college. It could so easily be integrated into – and enhance – various curricula – not to mention various lives.

– Jean English

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Great Garden Companions: A Companion-Planting System for a Beautiful, Chemical-Free Vegetable Garden
Sally Jean Cunningham
278 pages, $27.95. Rodale Press, 1998

I love the idea of companion planting. I already sow cosmos among my vegetables because I know the flowers will attract beneficial insects. But I can never remember .... Do carrots love garlic? Or is it tomatoes?

Fortunately, Sally Jean Cunningham pulls together “everything I ever wanted to know about companion gardening but was too embarrassed to ask because I’ve been doing this for ten years” and puts it into one not-too-thick volume. Great Garden Companions tells what plants will attract beneficial insects, repel pests, enrich your garden soil, and encourage crop growth. In a down-to-earth, conversational style, she invites us to tour her garden. We “see” her wide beds, the zinnias poking up through broccoli leaves, the birdbath for the bugs. Yes, it looks mixed up, and to some people even messy, she explains, “but when you’re establishing a habitat for beneficial insects or other desirable creatures, neatness does not count.” Biodiversity does, however, and it’s a theme she stresses throughout the book.

Sally has her own system of companion planting and crop rotation. Rather than remembering which crop goes with which companion, she creates “plant neighborhoods.” Just as a city neighborhood is composed of families and their friends, so too are her plant neighborhoods. There’s the tomato neighborhood, with the family (tomatoes, eggplants and peppers) and its friends: parsley, cosmos, Queen-Anne’s lace. A “family” isn’t limited to botanically-related plants. For example, the potato family includes beans, because planted together they become a great pest-fighting duo. Once crops and companions are grouped into neighborhoods, succession planting and crop rotation become a snap.

A large part of garden life centers around bugs – the good and the bad. Sally devotes an entire chapter to beneficial insects and the plants that attract them. An informal appendix contains extensive charts describing the herbs, perennials, annuals, wildflowers, weeds and cover crops that provide food and shelter to these good guys. A chart lists pest-repelling plants, and half a dozen pages are devoted to major pests, their natural enemies and the companion plants that may help control them.

A tremendous amount of well-researched information is stuffed into this book, but Sally still manages to squeeze in a chapter of fun. Dream up a theme garden, she suggests, or use her plans to create a wheel-garden. And did I mention her guide to her 30 favorite crops? From Asparagus to Turnips (sorry, zucchini’s under “summer squash”), she lists families, friends, and growing basics.

Great Garden Companions is rich with well-labeled illustrations, spiced with colorful photos, and chock-full of ideas you can easily transplant into your own garden this summer. All gardeners, especially those new to organic gardening, will find this book a great garden companion.

– Sue Smith-Heavenrich, Candor, N.Y.

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Retrieved from the Future
John Seymour
London: New European Publications Ltd.
1996, 235p.
Cost was somewhere around $25, plus shipping from England

My husband loves the agrarian writers: Wendell Berry, Wes Jackson, David Kline, Thomas Jefferson. Their essays have sustained him over the years. He will read fiction from time to time, especially if the subject matter is – well – agrarian. One of his favorite authors is British agrarian writer John Seymour, who has written any number of titles, most of which are hard to come by in this country. The State Library has two of his books, and we have one little volume which he wrote with his wife, Sally, called Farming for Self-Sufficiency.

So, in one of the European organic farming publications, Russell saw a review of a novel by John Seymour, and expressed an interest. After all, the protagonist of the story was, it seemed, an organic farmer named Bob: How can you go wrong? With the help of a local independent bookseller, I was able to obtain a copy and surprised him with it on his birthday (I can hardly ever surprise this man). He has read it three times, I’ve read it twice, and its been in “circulation” ever since.

Retrieved from the Future, written earlier this decade, is fiction based very much on Seymour’s vast experience in self-sufficiency. It belongs, I suppose, to that loosely conjoined genre of Utopian and post-Apocalyptic literature, most of which either bores me or makes me vaguely uneasy. I read it, at Russell’s urging. This wonderful story is chockfull of characters trying to make sense of a world that has utterly failed and needs to be rebuilt, based on the various skills and values they have accomplished thus far.

There isn’t much of an Apocalypse, no nuclear explosion or World War, but rather a quick economic collapse after the demand for oil escalates and the troubles in the Mideast intensify, sometime in the early 21st century: an all-too-plausible scenario.

The chapters belong to a handful of various characters who tell their individual stories in pieces. There is even a “prologue” by the fictional publisher of this first post-Crash (as it is referred to by the characters) book. The main character is indeed a sometimes gruff, small-scale organic farmer named Bob Hurlock, who has a family he loves, a community of friends and neighbors, and who is thrust into a position of leadership, which does not rest lightly on his shoulders. Other characters include Bob’s wife, Jessie; the Captain of a sailing ship; a local man named Dyke who follows Bob into a year of desperate guerrilla warfare in defense against the national military; and others. Their paths intersect as they build a new society based on geography and local economy and the ties they have already established with neighbors.

We are told, briefly, by Lieutenant-Colonel John Nightingale, of the rapid decline of cities and the ensuing panic, starvation and suffering, but Seymour does not dwell on the Crash itself, and constantly pulls the reader back into the efforts made by one small town (Gretford) in East Anglia towards self-government, food production, handling refugees, and resistance both from the military and from some of its own citizens who find this new and tenuous way of life too difficult.

Bob, in between waging a brutal war with the military and believing his family has been taken prisoner and executed, worries about how many people can start gardens, whether he and a very few others have enough horses to start breeding for transportation, how to wean the local people away from the vast agribusiness called London Farming, which relies on monoculture and a huge dairy operation (all of which is now falling apart, and is supported by the military), and how to eventually obtain goods not produced locally.

This novel does not address the daily grind of back-breaking work of hauling water for washing, cooking meals with no light or fuel, mending clothes, tending children, caring for the ailing and elderly, all those time-consuming chores which, I should think, would keep lesser women (and men) than Jessie Hurlock from leadership roles in the creation of a new society. But Seymour’s purpose isn’t so much to chronicle all the steps taken in the journey from international interdependence to local self-sufficiency, as to let us glimpse the affecting – sometimes heartbreaking, sometimes funny, sometimes desperate – experiences of a ragtag group of characters about whom the reader comes to care very much. This is a story of a few people deeply influenced by what they are coming through, people who struggle, singly and together, to stay alive and accomplish a sustainable community life.

Retrieved from the Future was published in a “trade” paperback format and has held up through many readings, a few mailings, and a dangerous stint of traveling on the seat of Russell’s pickup truck. The proofreading was not thorough – some lines at the bottom of a page are picked up at the top of the next, for example – though perhaps that is intentional: Certainly the first book published in the new Confederation of East Anglia is to be allowed a few oversights in editing?

Obviously this book addresses issues near and dear to the hearts of many MOFGA members, and, with Y2K approaching, it strikes home. But I was drawn to it because it is a wonderful novel filled with life and death, struggle and deliverance, pain and joy, and stalwart characters – all told in John Seymour’s unique voice.

The author, who is now 84 and has moved from East Anglia in England to a small holding in Ireland, still gives workshops on self-sufficiency farming. He is part of the Ross 7, who were arrested a few months ago for destroying part of a sugar beet crop on a test plot of genetically modified crops engineered by Monsanto. He and his compatriots were tried in March; six of the seen, including Seymour, received probation for their “offense.”

– Mary Anne Libby, Mt. Vernon, Maine

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Handbook of Successful Ecological Lawn Care
Paul D. Sachs
The Edaphic Press, PO Box 107, Newbury VT 05051
284 pgs., $18.95 plus $1.90 shipping & handling (Vermont and New York residents add sales taxes). Discounts available for multiple copies.

Although written for professionals in the field of turf installation and maintenance, this book offers vital information to any serious lawn steward who wants to reduce or eliminate chemical use without sacrificing turf quality. Part I, “In the Field,” covers turf, soil, pests and fertility; their dynamics and responses to changes in their environment. Part 2, “In the Business,” gives in-depth information for becoming a better business person.

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Sweet Potatoes for the Home Garden:
With Special Techniques for Northern Growers

Ken Allan
Green Spade Books, 61 South Bartlett St, Kingston, Ontario, Canada, K7K 1X3
$20 Canadian (inclusive) in Canada and $20 US (inclusive) for USA and for all other countries; includes shipping, handling and taxes. Cash, check or money order (no plastic). Approx.200 pages

The eccentric sweet potato demands that it be treated differently than any other garden vegetable, but if you are willing to be accommodating, sweet potatoes are not difficult to grow. After harvest, if you do right by them, they maintain superb quality in storage for eight months to a year, and despite their tropical origin, sweet potatoes can be grown just about anywhere that one can ripen tomatoes. This book tells you what you need to know to grow a year’s supply of the sweetest, tastiest and most nutritious root crop.

Some vegetables taste the same whether you buy them or grow your own (I am unable to tell the difference between cauliflower from the supermarket and from my own garden). Many vegetables, however, are clearly superior when grown in the home garden. The reasons for this tend to be specific to the vegetable: tomato varieties that are best for flavor are not grown commercially; cantaloupes have to be vine ripened for melting fruity flavor; harvest timing is critical for peas; minimum time from the garden to the table is very important for corn and for new potatoes; sweet potatoes are mistreated by the retail system.

Home gardeners who grow their own sweet potatoes have it within their power to do right everything that the professionals are currently doing wrong. The difference this makes in quality and flavor is amazing.

– Ken Allan

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Strawberry Production Guide for the Northeast, Midwest and Eastern Canada
NRAES-88, available for $45 plus $5 shipping and handling from NRAES, Cooperative Extension, 152 Riley-Robb Hall, Ithaca NY 14853-5701 (607-255-7654; Fax 607-254-8770).

This 162-page guide, published in March 1998, is the most comprehensive production guide ever produced for strawberry growers. In addition to chapters on the history and basics of strawberry production, innovative production systems are discussed, including plasticulture, dayneutral production and protected cultivation. Organic production is reviewed as well. Budget spreadsheets included in the book are also on a floppy disk that comes with the publication. Growers can adjust the values in the spreadsheets to reflect their actual costs, and the program will automatically calculate the resulting effect on total costs and profits (requires Microsoft Excel 4.0 or higher or a compatible spreadsheet program).

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Field of Genes
Produced by Janet Thompson for CBC’s “The National,” 1998 44 minute video
Risky Business
Produced by Mark Dworkin and Melissa Young, Moving Images Video Project; 1996 24 minute video
Gene Blues – Dilemmas of DNA Testing
Produced by Mark Dworkin and Melissa Young, Moving Images Video Project, 1997 30 minutes

All available for purchase or rental from Bullfrog Films, Box 149, Oley PA 19547; 800- 543-FROG; www.bullfrogfilms.com. Contact Bullfrog for prices for renting or buying films; prices vary with the license required to show the film and the budget of the organization.

These three videos would make a superb introduction to genetic engineering and the issues surrounding it for a high school or college class; for a public teach-in or workshop about the topic; and for educating legislators. In fact, legislators should be asked to watch all three before making any decisions relating to bills about genetic engineering.

Field of Genes and Risky Business are concerned with engineering crops; the former primarily in Canada, the latter in the United States. Both point out the conflicting message of the biotech industry: i.e., that they are altruistic enterprises that are out to help feed the world’s burgeoning population and to reduce the use of chemicals; yet these same industries are spending and making most of their money on herbicide-resistant crops that promote the use of more herbicide.

Both videos point out, too, the lack of testing on health and environmental effects of engineered crops, and the fact that organic farmers are able to produce crops with minimal impact on the environment and without genetic engineering. Field of Genes goes a little further in trying to portray industry’s perspective and the perspective of farmers who believe that biotech will save them. It has shots of AgrEvo’s headquarters and several segments in which an AgrEvo representative and a genetic engineer talk about what they’re doing. It also has interviews with scientists (including Dr. Anne Clark) who completely oppose this technology.

Risky Business goes further in interviewing those who are actively fighting genetic engineering, including Michael W. Fox of the Humane Society of the United States, who talks about engineering animals with human genes in order to produce organs for transplanting. He cites the fact that we eat too much pork and beef and then “the heart gives out – we’ll give them a pig’s heart. So we’ll no longer have Richard the Lionhearted, but Peter the Pighearted trotting around. This is the kind of future that I think is completely absurd.” Other activists interviewed include Dr. Vandana Shiva and Dr. Rebecca Goldburg.

Fox’s example would be a good lead into the third video, Gene Blues. I have long thought that the medical uses of genetic engineering are fine, and I still believe that to some extent. However, Gene Blues talks about genetic testing of fetuses and the burden this places on expectant parents. Several handicapped individuals are interviewed, stating that even though they are not “normal” or “perfect” people, they lead full and rich lives and believe that they are contributing to society. One asks if knowing that you are carrying a “defective” fetus interferes with the bonding of that fetus. Another says that she may never have been born if testing had been around when she was conceived. Others point out that for most genetic disorders, the technology exists to identify them but not to treat them, so knowing you (or your fetus) carry a particular gene is not helpful and can actually be a burden. I was struck by the parallels of science being so far ahead of ethics in the cases of both engineering plants and people; and in the continuing effort of some scientists to control nature rather than to work with it.

These three videos offer many points for discussion. In fact, one of my favorite segments is when a high school class in Canada asks many of the same questions that MOFGA and others are asking about genetically engineered crops. These questions (What about effects on human health? What about effects on the environment?) seem so obvious, yet are not addressed in any depth or with any honesty by the industry.

– Jean English

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Compost: Truth or Consequences
Photosynthesis Productions, Inc. and Cornell Waste Management Institute
16-minute video, 1998 Bullfrog Films, Inc., Oley PA 19547; 800-543-FROG; www.bullfrogfilms.com

Here is yet another superb – and humorous – video about composting distributed by Bullfrog Films. Everything you need to know to compost is in this brief, entertaining video, including information about what goes into the pile, C:N ratios, what to use to make bins, and fascinating close-up shots of decomposers. Suitable for high school age and over, this would be a great film to show at a garden club, garden show, to a biology class or other educational event.

– Jean English

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Four from McGill

Four extension bulletins published by Ecological Agriculture Projects of McGill University are available. All prices quoted are in Canadian funds. Bulletins can be purchased from Ecological Agriculture Projects, Macdonald Campus, McGill Univ., 21,111 Lakeshore Rd., Ste. Anne de Bellevue, Quebec, Canada H9X 3V9.

The Control of Internal Parasites in Cattle and Sheep, by Jean Duval, agronomist, M.S. (EAP Pub. #70, Jan. 1994; 24 p.) $7.95 (Add postage & handling $2 U.S. and Canada; $4 overseas)

Cover Cropping in Potato Production (EAP Pub. #71, 7 p.), $4.95 (Add postage & handling $2 U.S., Canada & overseas)

Mechanical Weed Control in Cereals (EAP Pub. #72, 7 p.) $4.95 (Add postage & handling $2 U.S., Canada & overseas)

Treating Mastitis Without Antibiotics, Jean Duval, agronomist, M.S. (EAP Pub. #69, Jan. 1994, 31 p.) $7.95 (Add postage & handling $2 U.S. & Canada, $4 overseas).

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