The Small-Scale Poultry Flock
The Permaculture Handbook
The Maine Garden Journal
Green Intelligence: Creating Environments That Protect Human Health
by John Wargo
Yale University Press, 2009
371 pages, softcover, $22
This is a book for everyone dedicated to environmental policy reform. Examining several sources of chemical pollution, John Wargo offers counterintelligence to the status quo, which has allowed a military-inspired proliferation of biocides that put humans and ecosystems at risk worldwide. As background he reviews some of the most odious military malfeasance of the 20th century: the disastrous fallout from detonations – many radioactive – in the Pacific islands and at various other U.S. sites. That a 900-acre live-impact training area on Vieques has become both a federal wildlife reserve and a Superfund site is not reason to celebrate, Wargo contends; the designations are a deceptive cover and leave determinations of “acceptable risk” to bureaucrats whose formulaic restoration plans will never protect all those at ground zero.
With warfare as framework, the author presents a litany of the damage caused by pesticides and vehicle exhaust – as well as by indoor-air pollution, much of it attributable to offgassing resins from polymers such as PVC. (See Wargo, “LEED Building Standards Fail to Protect Human Health,” posted on Yale Environment 360). Campaigners against bisphenol-A and phthalates have given household-word status to endocrine disruption, and they are equally outspoken about other hormonally active compounds – for example, those in flame retardants and stain repellents – branding them with the same stigma so as to ensure that in time consumers will refuse them. Meanwhile, Wargo urges enactment of policies requiring premarket testing and prohibition of chemicals that do not degrade rapidly. (In the case of certain pesticides, he points out, we cannot count on degradation; some organophosphates break down into even more hazardous byproducts.)
To achieve the health-protective standards Wargo proposes will mean rejecting many biased risk-benefit ratios and threshold-effect theories advanced by manufacturers and regulators to justify releasing toxic emissions and effluents into the environment. In the tradition of Rachel Carson, the author, a professor of environmental policy at Yale, warns that we must increase our vigilance, “in particular, ... to look for possible connections between exposures to pesticides, solvents, metals, and pharmaceuticals and those health disorders that have recently become much more prevalent, including neurological decline among the elderly, childhood developmental disorders, cancers of the reproductive tract ..., diabetes, and immune disorders.”
– Jody Spear, Harborside
The Small-Scale Poultry Flock
Chelsea Green Publishing; 2011
394 pages; $39.95
Harvey Ussery’s The Small-Scale Poultry Flock is a comprehensive manual for integrating poultry into a whole-systems agricultural approach. The text, complemented by plenty of full-color illustrations, makes a strong case for raising birds in a way that benefits personal lifestyles and the planet on a grand scale. Chickens as a symbol of ecological balance? If anyone could make a case for that, it’d be Ussery, who is generous with the revelations and mishaps that have fed his knowledge and enthusiasm for poultry over the years. His book covers the fundamentals of bird selection, care, breeding and processing, with supplemental insight on seasonal management, integrating birds into the home garden system, participating in local markets, and much more. The text is peppered with helpful sidebars, anecdotal advice and even recipes – including the eggplant parmesan that Ussery once made for the Dalai Lama (at the Zen monastery where Ussery met his wife).
As a newcomer to the poultry scene, I consider myself squarely amid Ussery’s target audience of well-meaning but inexperienced folks with an interest in raising poultry for the good of our selves, our communities and world at large. I found his text to be a well-balanced, approachable resource brimming with both technical and commonsense information; a reassuring balance that speaks to the experiential and inquisitive nature of Ussery’s own plunge into bird husbandry.
The book also has sufficiently in-depth and creative takes on specific aspects of flock care to be a valuable reference for those with previous poultry know-how. The cover price ($39.95) seems a little steep at first glance, but for such a concise, clear and readable resource, The Small-Scale Poultry Flock is a worthy investment for those aiming to be the next generation of open-minded and resourceful bird-keepers. At the very least, you’ll be able to make an eggplant parmesan that won the Dalai Lama’s approval.
– Hannah Kreitzer
The Permaculture Handbook
by Peter Bane
New Society Publishers, 2012-10-25
480 pages, $44.95
After publishing and editing the Permaculture Activist magazine for 20 years, creating Earthaven Ecovillage in North Carolina and then moving to Bloomington, Indiana, to start a suburban farm, Peter Bane has consolidated his years of experience and knowledge into a permaculture tome.
The introductory chapters cover reasons to farm or garden and principles of permaculture and landscape design. Next Bane covers specifics: land, labor, sun (and climates and microclimates), water (including collecting rainwater from roof runoff, and effects of different roofing materials; recycling household water; building a root cellar between water storage tanks, ecological aquaculture ...), soil, crops, animals. The final section of the book covers diet and food (how many calories a person needs each year, how much land is required to produce those calories), culture and community, markets and outreach, and tells how to do “garden farming for town and country.”
Bane’s book is an excellent read for someone trying to figure out how to create a life that revolves around living sustainably and comfortably while recycling all nutrients on site, growing crops (particularly in a town situation), being part of a community, and selling some farm products. Four case studies detail how permaculture principles have been implemented on specific farms – including Bane’s 0.7-acre Renaissance Farm.
“My purpose,” writes Bane, “is to propose a diet that would be acceptable to most North Americans for its variety, level of fats, protein and bulk and that could be grown and foraged by small-holder methods in suburban front and back yards and ‘empty lot’ pastures with a modest amount of cooperation among neighbors and some local trade.”
His purpose should appeal to many who want to farm or garden but don’t have access to rural land: Cultivate the burbs! The color photos showing how Bane and his partner transformed a bland suburban plot with a ranch house into a lush garden are inspirational.
– Jean English
The Maine Garden Journal
by Lisa Colburn
Fern Leaf Publishing Co., Orono, Maine
188 pages, $29.99
This is the book you want to sit down with once holiday festivities subside – a book to simply, thoroughly enjoy.
We all know that when moving to a new area, the way to find out when to plant what, what to plant, where to get the best seedlings, and so forth, is to ask our gardening neighbors. Colburn did just that, and more. When she moved from hardiness zone 3, St. Agatha, Maine, to zone 5, Orono, she sent press releases to Maine media and garden clubs about her desire to learn “inside secrets from Maine people who love to put their hands in the dirt.”
More than 100 respondents completed questionnaires. Colburn has done a wonderful job of organizing their collective knowledge and experience into topics such as trees, shrubs, houseplants, thugs (Norway maple and its friends), pests, sources of plants, tools and supplies, hiring help, clubs and organizations, where to find remarkable gardens, events, resources and tips. The Common Ground Country Fair and MOFGA are noted throughout.
Some respondents, disappointingly, listed rotenone and malathion among their preferred pest controls. Colburn, thankfully, notes the toxicity of these. Fortunately, row covers, hand picking and other organic methods are included.
A lovely and informative book (even for experienced gardeners) with a pleasing layout and great color photos throughout, this is the gift to give this year – to your gardening friends and to yourself.
– Jean English
The Organic Seed Alliance production tutorials for beets and chard, brassicas, carrots, lettuce, onions and wet seeded crops, and tutorials on seed climatic considerations, seed disease and seed quality, are available free as an online course at http://campus.extension.org/course/view.php?id=377.
Supplemental, nonagricultural enterprises that can add to farmers’ income are discussed at
No license is required to have four or fewer campsites on your property. For information, contact Richard Abare, executive director of the Maine Campground Owners Association, 207-782-5874 office; 207-754-4408 cell; firstname.lastname@example.org; www.campmaine.com.
Maine AgrAbility, an outreach of UMaine Cooperative Extension, has a laminated poster for farmers, with suggested stretches that, performed daily, can help reduce injury. Call 207-844-1533 or email email@example.com.
The Bionutrient Food Association (www.bionutrient.org/) has short videos on its website introducing the concept of growing nutrient-dense foods.
The USDA Organic Resource Guide 2012: Your Guide to Organic and Organic-Related USDA Programs, at www.ams.usda.gov/AMSv1.0/getfile?dDocName=STELPRDC5100093, is an overview of USDA programs and services available to the public that directly or indirectly support organic agriculture.
“Why Eat Organic” by Jim Riddle, organic outreach coordinator, University of Minnesota Southwest Research and Outreach Center, summarizes the benefits of organic agriculture and problems with conventional at http://swroc.cfans.umn.edu/prod/groups/cfans/@pub/@cfans/@swroc/documents/asset/cfans_asset_366337.pdf.
Organic Farming for Health & Prosperity, a report by the Organic Farming Research Foundation at http://ofrf.org/sites/ofrf.org/files/docs/pdf/HP-report-web.pdf, extols the societal benefits of organic farming in North America. The report is useful for policy makers, educators, researchers, healthcare professionals, business leaders and families.
North Carolina State University’s Plants for Human Health Institute developed a mobile cooling unit for farmers, the “Pack ‘N Cool,” to keep produce at ideal temperatures during harvest and transport to and from farmers’ markets. Find construction guidelines and step-by-step photos for building the $3,400 unit at http://plantsforhumanhealth.ncsu.edu/2012/08/20/pack-n-cool/.
PlantCatching (http://plantcatching.com) enables gardeners to exchange plants, seeds and seedlings, surplus produce and materials with other gardeners in their area. Anyone can post donations or requests on the map interface.
Farmers’ Guide to Organic Contracts, by the Farmers’ Legal Action Group, at www.flaginc.org/topics/pubs/arts/FGOC2012.pdf, helps farmers make informed decisions regarding contract agreements with buyers of organic farm products. The guide aims to help farmers create contracts that allow for stability and predictability within the farmer-buyer relationship while avoiding contracts that unfairly benefit buyers.
University of Illinois professor of agricultural law A. Bryan Endres and postdoctorate legal researcher Rachel Armstrong, using membership agreements from existing CSAs, developed easy-to-understand contracts for CSA owners to use. Download contracts at www.directfarmbusiness.org/csa-introduction/. On Dec. 10 at 7 p.m. Eastern Time, Endres and Armstrong will offer a free webinar on potential legal risks of running a CSA and strategies for crafting CSA member and worker agreements. To register, visit www.farmcommons.org or call 608-616-5319. The two have also created employer/employee agreements for CSAs that have members work on the farm.
A 158-page Guide to Starting a Commercial Goat Dairy is available for $25 from the UVM Center for Sustainable Agriculture, 802-656-5459, firstname.lastname@example.org or www.uvm.edu/~susagctr/?Page=books.html or free at www.uvm.edu/~susagctr/Documents/goatguide.pdf.
The Cornell Small Farms Program’s 28-page NYS On-Farm Poultry Slaughter Guide at http://nebeginningfarmers.org/publications/on-farm-poultry-slaughter-guidelines/ complements hands-on training in how to properly kill and prepare a poultry carcass for sale. The guide focuses on critical points for producing a product that is safe to eat, contains sections on the 1000-bird limit exemption, where you can legally sell your birds under this exemption, labeling requirements, sanitary operating procedures and more. It includes several appendices, such as a sample flock record log and a questionnaire that your insurance company may use to assess your knowledge of safe poultry processing practices.
Farm Hack, www.farmhack.net, is a farmer-driven community to develop, document and build tools for resilient agriculture – and to share that knowledge. Read about a bike-powered transplanter and weeder, a cover crop roller, and more.
Short videos from the Northern Plains Sustainable Agriculture Society’s Frank Kutka show how to plan, lay out and plant a home corn breeding nursery. Planting Your Own Corn Breeding Nursery, www.youtube.com/watch?v=InwJuto-9QM; Keeping OP Corn Using Hand Pollination, www.youtube.com/watch?v=3C8pR0GnKMg
Seeds of Freedom, half-hour film, charts the story of seed from its roots at the heart of traditional, diversity-rich farming systems around the world, to its transformation into a powerful commodity used to monopolize the global food system. The video challenges the mantra that large-scale, industrial agriculture is the only way to feed the world and highlights how loss of indigenous seed accompanies loss of biodiversity and related knowledge; the loss of cultural traditions and practices; the loss of livelihoods; and the loss of food sovereignty. Watch the film, co-produced by The Gaia Foundation and the African Biodiversity Network in collaboration with GRAIN, Navdanya International and MELCA Ethiopia, free at http://seedsoffreedom.info/.
Recordings from the 2012 International Organic Fruit Research Symposium in Leavenworth, Washington, are posted at www.extension.org/pages/64359 and as a single playlist at www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLE816E610DF986E58.