MOFGA’s 2023 Winter Reading List

December 1, 2023

Looking to cozy up with a good book as the weather turns colder? Here’s a look back at some of our favorite books reviewed in The Maine Organic Farmer & Gardener in 2023. The short list includes a book on body mechanics and movement ecology that may be useful for farmers and gardeners, as well as another on farming ecologically. Other books address some of the most pressing issues of the times, from climate change to systemic racism to pollution.

For the full reviews, as well as other books we’ve enjoyed, visit our blog.

The Ecological Farm: A Minimalist No-Till, No-Spray, Selective-Weeding, Grow-Your-Own-Fertilizer System for Organic Agriculture” by Hellen Atthowe,
Chelsea Green Publishing, 2023

Atthowe approaches the health and well-being of her farm in the same manner as you would the human body. She considers and applies scientific principles to the interrelationships of plants, soil, water, bacteria, microbial biomass and microbially active carbon as well as insects and other external factors that contribute to the growth cycle and its systems. This way of thinking underscores that the health of all components contributes to the overall health of the farm. Early in the book she writes, “My vision is to discover how to more closely mimic natural ecosystems and how to farm well by doing less rather than more.” Atthowe’s ideas may be distilled into one simple concept: community. Whether these are plant, insect, animal, soil, bacteria or fungal communities, they are all important to the framework of a healthy farm ecosystem.

– Ivonne Vazquez

The Devils Element book cover

The Devil’s Element: Phosphorous and a World Out of Balance” by Dan Egan,
W. W. Norton, 2023

“The Devil’s Element” is a timely introduction to the nuance and complexity of the issue of phosphorus and its impacts — and should be a wake-up call for eco-conscious readers. With a biting wit and human-focused storytelling, author Dan Egan masterfully illustrates how the connection between phosphorus and human society is one of constant balance between innovation and destruction, from the first recorded uses of phosphorus to the present day.

– Sam Schipani

The Great Displacement book cover

The Great Displacement: Climate Change and the Next American Migration”
by Jake Bittle, Simon & Schuster, 2023

“The Great Displacement” — with a title that references the Great Migration of the 1920s to the 1970s, when more than six million Black people migrated from the South to cities in the North — tells a story of widespread human relocation unfolding in real time. Journalist Jake Bittle, a staff writer at Grist, takes readers on a tour of climate change-ravaged landscapes across the United States. In each location, Bittle seeks out residents of communities already devastated by climate change — from an orchardist whose collection of rare tropical fruits was wiped out by Hurricane Irma, to cattle ranchers and cotton farmers whose operations in the desert are drying up in tandem with drought-stricken water supplies. Everywhere Bittle goes, people are moving. He favors the word “displacement” over “migration,” writing that the latter “implies an intentional, one directional action” while displacement “conveys the reality: these movements will be unpredictable, chaotic, and life-changing.” 

– Holli Cederholm

Black Earth Wisdom: Soulful Conversations with Black Environmentalists” by Leah Penniman, Harper Collins, 2023

With “Black Earth Wisdom,” the brilliant Leah Penniman does something that most successful writers aren’t inclined to do for their sophomore books: pass the mic. In doing so, Penniman has created an essential primer for intersectional environmentalism that should be required reading for anyone who cares about protecting the Earth. Every conversation builds on one another in enough ways that every word feels essential in the end. All together, “Black Earth Wisdom” manages to thread the needle between philosophy, poetry and practical action. It is a book that readers can come back to time and again, to serve as a reference or a guide to even more knowledge by way of introduction to voices often overlooked in the landscape of white-washed environmentalism.

– Sam Schipani

The New Farmer's Almanac book cover

The New Farmer’s Almanac, Volume VI” by Greenhorns, Greenhorns, 2023

The Greenhorns’ ”The New Farmer’s Almanac” has been an invaluable source of inspiration for farmers and anyone interested in the world of growing things, and its sixth volume continues to encourage and stimulate the minds of its audience. This almanac is meant to be read over time and can be picked up, put down and shared. With a modern layout and lots of visual elements throughout, the reader can enjoy just flipping through and taking in the black and white photos, drawings from artists, and even a cartoon about weeds. There are many personal stories of farmers and land tenders that evoke joy and tears. What sets this almanac apart is its emphasis on community building and collaboration. The almanac not only provides valuable information, but it also acts as a platform for recognizing and building connections with like-minded individuals, encouraging working together towards a more sustainable future.

– Denise DeSpirito

Rethink Your Position: Reshape Your Exercise, Yoga, and Everyday Movement, One Part at a Time” by Katy Bowman, Propriometrics Press, 2023

Even for active people, “Rethink Your Position builds awareness of self and how you move or don’t move. If you have a body that you want to continue to use, you need movement, and to keep movement, Bowman says, you need to practice, which means you need to pay attention. The positions we choose tend to be in response to our environment. In farming, rain, hot and cold weather, wind, bugs, row spacing for harvest, workspace limitations and terrain are concerns. With the varied ways to position your body, the reality is that there is no single “correct” position or movement pattern. “We need to be concerned with the longer game,” writes Bowman. To get there, movement self-advocacy for health and wellness in daily life, on and off the farm, can increase longevity and influence farm culture for the long haul.

– Cynthia Flores

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