1

Book Reviews

Dirt Hog: A hands on guide to raising pigs outdoors naturally by Kelly Klober

reviewed by Scott Hedley

Perhaps no other large animal enterprise offers as fast a turnaround on investment as hog raising. Range-raised pork is now sought out by the informed consumer concerned about issues of factory farming and willing to pay a premium to get a healthy, quality alternative.

Klober’s four step system is as follows. First, farrowing is done in a central area that is regularly cleaned and disinfected between farrowings. There is no continuous farrowing and thus no perpetual pool of very young and lactating animals that are often the epicenter of health problems. Second, soon after farrowing, the sows and litters are moved to pasture or wooded lots. Third, each group remains intact through weaning, and this is done by removing the sows and leaving the pigs in a familiar environment to reduce stress. Finally, pastures or lots are then kept free of hogs for at least 12 months to break the life cycles of most pathogenic organisms and parasites.
(more…)

The Art of Natural Cheesemaking

review by Rachel Scherer

Are your curds and whey subverting the dominant paradigm? The premise of David Asher’s book is that while bakers, brewers, and produce fermenteers have found their way to incorporating wild microorganisms into their formulary, cheesemakers are still largely dependent on freeze-dried cultures produced industrially.
(more…)

Harnessing the Earthworm

Reviewed by Julie Rawson

I am on an earthworm self-education binge right now, and when I start on such a binge I often find it helpful to go back into history a bit. For example, I am halfway through both of Weston A. Price’s Nutrition and Physical Degeneration and William Albrecht’s Foundation Concepts as I write this. Reading these authors who wrote from 70 – 100 years ago gives me an important perspective regarding our present day concerns about topics like climate change and carbon sequestration. I didn’t know until recently that Charles Darwin was a major force in our understanding of the earthworm and its role in agriculture and humus management. He spent 39 years studying the earthworm before he published The Formation of Vegetable Mould, Through the Action of Worms, with Observations on their Habitats in 1881, right before his death.
(more…)

The Farm as Ecosystem: Tapping Nature’s Reservoir – Biology, Geology, Diversity

reviewed by Julie Rawson

This book is hot off the press. I am a person who regularly devours Jerry’s articles in Acres, USA because they are so information-packed, so positive spirited, so thoroughly researched, and always based in the practical on-farm application. Brunetti’s writing (and public speaking) is always something to be sought out by anyone who is involved with grass-based agriculture. This book goes one step further in that it is relevant for the vegetable grower, also.

Each of the 13 chapters takes a topic and discusses it at length including some deep scientific facts, some anecdotes about leaders in that particular area of science or its agricultural application, and some recipes for successful farm or garden management regarding that topic. Throughout there are recommendations for further research on any topic that piques the reader’s interest. The chapters are titled as follows – Soil as Supraorganism, The Mineral Nature of Soil, Trace Elements, The Biological Nature of Soil, Compost and Compost Tea, Foliar Nutrition, The Eternal Earthworm, Water: A Medium for Metamorphosis, System Acquired and Induced Systemic Resistance, Our Precious Pollinators and Predators, Cover Crops, The Tools of the Trade, and Back to the Future: a Permanent Agriculture.
(more…)

Making Love While Farming: Field Guide to a Life of Passion and Purpose

review by Bob Banning

Making Love while FarmingRicky Baruch and Deb Habib have been making love while farming for over thirty years.

You’re thinking, they must be great multitaskers. Also, they have a lot more stamina than we do.

Once you get into the book, you realize that although as farmers Deb and Ricky do need to keep track of a lot of tasks, and although “making love,” in the usual sense of the phrase, actually is one of those tasks, having sex while doing farming chores is not what the book’s title means. You also learn that, far from letting the multitude of tasks make them anxious or distracted, they are probably two of the most focused people you’ll encounter.

As for stamina, they do work as long and hard as necessary to keep well-considered promises but also strive tirelessly for balance, so as to care for themselves and thereby preserve their ability to care for other people and all other beings in their sphere. In fact, to the extent that they have pushed the limits of their endurance, they have done so, according to the book, in order to help other people pursue that same balance that they themselves are pursuing. And Making Love While Farming serves that same mission.
(more…)

Queens Sugar

Reviewed by Elizabeth Gabriel

Queen SugarQueens Sugar is a relaxing, enjoyable, and also heartbreaking story of a family and a sugar cane farm in Louisiana. The main character, Charley Bordelon, is a widowed single mother, who moves from Los Angeles back to her tiny hometown, Saint

Josephine, Louisiana with her daughter, Micah, after her father left her his 800-acre sugarcane farm in a trust. Saint Josephine is the kind of southern town that feels stuck in the past, where people grow up and never leave its borders, where the bartenders know directions to everybody’s house, and where you need to be cautious if you’re a black man driving the roads at night.
(more…)

The Wildcrafting Brewer: Creating Unique Drinks and Boozy Concoctions from Nature’s Ingredients

review by Sanne Kure-Jensen

wildcraftingIf you love home brewing, gardening, eating or drinking, Pascal Baudar’s newest book is for you. “The Wildcrafting Brewer” offers a look at food preservation from an uncommon perspective. Baudar applied common techniques like pickling, canning, dehydrating and fermenting to preserving local wild and cultivated plants. Glorious color photos accompany Baudar’s tales and recipes.

Foodies and craft brew aficionados will be inspired to sample exotic fermented foods and beverages. Experienced and novice brewers, food preservationists and survivalists can try new ingredient combinations. Gardeners will plan their “brewing gardens.” Bauder includes historical background on many ingredients and shares entertaining tales of failures and successes in recipe development. He claims success with over 150 wild ingredients in his “wild beers and other fermented concoctions” including barks, berries, flowers, grains, seeds, leaves, roots and flowers.
(more…)

The Pollinator’s Corridor

reviewed by Vidya Tikku

Set in the Bronx of the 1970’s landlord fires, The Pollinator’s Corridor follows the lives of three teenage friends who attempt to convince wild bees and butterflies to cross the Bronx by planting ‘corridors’ of native flora throughout the industrial wasteland. Connecting fragmented forests, watersheds and city parks, our heroes restore biodiversity to the blighted ghetto by uniting marginalized communities and laying the foundations of ecological health in an age of crisis and decline.

The story is especially relevant today where a lack of environmental leaders in the political world catalyzes concerned and caring individuals and communities to take action in their own spheres of influence, making change where they can and when they can. They reflect Birk’s mantra of resisting by action in your own work, refusing to stop the daily actions in your own life and finding inspiration in your creation, a pollinator’s greenway in this case.
(more…)

Inhabit: A Permaculture Perspective (documentary film)

Inhabit Film reviewTotal Run Time: 92 minutes (Additional scenes, 60 min., not reviewed)
Optional subtitles: English, Spanish, and French
available from: www.INHABITFILM.com $20.00
reviewer Alan Eddy, NOFA member, Wallingford, CT

This documentary is an introduction to permaculture for the general public, and speaks eloquently to the point of permaculture as a ray of hope in our world.

About eighteen people are interviewed about their work producing perennial crops, caring for livestock, preventing erosion, recycling nutrients, building soil and sequestering carbon, and restoring ecosystems. The film is divided into SUBURBS, CITIES, and FARMS. The film covers primarily the Northeastern and Midwestern U. S., with a glimpse of California. Permaculturist Ben Falk provides an introduction. The plants that are most benefi-cial for the land are also most beneficial for humans. Plants are a reverse carbon conveyor belt — taking carbon out of the air and putting it in the soil. Raising livestock helps regenerate degraded farm land. “Farm the water first, then the soil.”
(more…)

Dirt to Soil: One Family’s Journey into Regenerative Agriculture

review by Jack Kittredge

As many readers of The Natural Farmer know, Gabe Brown is the conventional North Dakota diversified farmer who learned the hard way how to transform a degraded, failing farm into a healthy, profitable one using the power of nature. This book is the “tell all” story of his journey.

Gabe learned farming by working eight years with his father-in-law on a 1760 acre grain and beef ranch which was heavily tilled and herbicided, with the cattle subject to multiple vaccinations and pour-on insecticides. By the time Gabe and his wife Shelly purchased the home farm, Gabe was seriously concerned about these practices and particularly the condition of the soil. Their organic matter ranged from 1.7 to 1.9 percent, in an area of the upper Great Plains that had once boasted 7 to 8 percent. Water infiltrated at the rate of half an inch per hour, not fast enough to retain much of the only 16 inches of precipitation that fell there each year.
(more…)

Herbal Antibiotics, 2nd edition: Natural Alternatives for Treating Drug-Resistant Bacteria

Herbal Antibiotics cover2012, 467 pages, softback, $24.95
review by Gregory Luckman

Recently, I wrote a review of Buhner’s Herbal Antivirals that appeared in the Spring 2020 issue of The Natural Farmer. Readers of that review may well have noticed that Herbal Antivirals was hardly a new book. Published in 2013, it was already seven years old. The 2nd edition of Herbal Antibiotics (hereinafter I will drop the 2nd edition specification) tops that: Published in 2012, a year before Herbal Antivirals, it is already eight years old. My justification for the earlier review was that a viral pandemic, now called COVID-19, was gathering force around the world at the time of submission of that review (end of January 2020), so it was appropriate to bring anew to readers’ attention a book that, among other topics, did in fact describe an herbal approach to treating a coronavirus, albeit an older coronavirus that caused an illness known as SARS.
(more…)

Herbal Antivirals: Natural Remedies for Emerging & Resistant Viral Infections

review by Gregory Luckman

Buhner has written several books on ecological medicine and on the art of writing nonfiction, and one book categorized as poetry. From his earliest youth, he was no stranger to the medical establishment. His grandfather David Cox was president of the Kentucky Medical Association. His great-uncle Lee Burney was surgeon general of the United States during the latter part of the Eisenhower administration. Yet Buhner has taken a different route, regarding mainstream medicine’s hubris over its paradigm for dealing with infectious diseases as ultimately a fool’s errand. This does not mean that Buhner is anti-vaccination: he regards the smallpox and polio vaccines as successes. He just believes that only herbal remedies can avoid the microbial resistance problems that plague modern medicine’s tools.
(more…)

Fibershed: Growing a Movement of Farmers, Fashion Activists, and Makers for a New Textile Economy

fibershed coverreviewed by Maureen Doyle

What will you do to reduce your carbon footprint? Help your local economy? Relieve worker conditions around the globe? Fibershed gives a New Years’ Resolution that incorporates all these and more: purchase things within your fibershed.

What’s that, you ask? It’s where materials for clothing and related goods come from, roughly a 150 mile radius, comparable to a watershed. Too many of our material goods are produced throughout the world, leaving individuals with a large carbon footprint and secondhand responsibility for many unsavory practices.
(more…)

The Small-Scale Cheese Business: The Complete Guide to Running a Successful Farmstead Creamery

Reviewed by Sanne Kure-Jensen

If you have dairy animals and are thinking about starting a cheese operation, do your homework first. “The Small-Scale Cheese Business” offers a thorough roadmap for would-be cheesemakers and Caldwell shares her own experience as well as stories from other cheesemakers. The book will be helpful to beginning and established small and hobby-farm livestock owners and is an excellent guide for anyone wanting to improve his or her dairy practices and upgrade their on-farm cheesemaking infrastructure.

Before making a significant financial investment in equipment and other infrastructure, be sure to review Caldwell’s guidelines for setting up a cheesemaking operation. Learn about forming a business, creating infrastructure and selling your finished products.
(more…)

Holistic Goat Care: A Comprehensive Guide to Raising Healthy Animals, Preventing Common Ailments, and Troubleshooting Problems

Holistic Goat Carereview by Christy Bassett
Few animals on the farm are as charismatic and curious as the goat. Their attention seeking cries, soulful eyes and playful bounds win over visitors without much effort. Because of this, goats are often an early addition to a beginning farmer’s assets. But under the dog-like facade, goats are complex ruminants that require an advanced skill set and a close eye to raise successfully, especially when being raised for food production. Books like Holistic Goat Care are a godsend for when the inevitable health problem arises, and the newbie goat owner needs a crash course in health care.

Caldwell reflects this sentiment in her introduction, recalling her own personal learning curve as she transitioned from pet goat owner to dairy goat owner and conventional medicine user to holistic care giver. As a goat dairy owner, she uses examples from her own experiences as she takes the reader through the five parts of goat ownership; Starting Out Right, On the Farm, Managing Herd Health, The Productive Herd- Making Babies and Milk, and Solving Goat Health Problems.
(more…)

The Organic Medicinal Herb Farmer, The Ultimate Guide to Producing High-Quality Herbs on a Market Scale

review by Lucia Stout Huebner

If you are interested in any aspect of Medicinal Herb Farming, this is the book for you. It’s well organized, beautifully written, loaded with information, discusses many important environmental issues and most of all inspires the reader.

Preparing his Eagle Scout project, my son was charged with preparing a report that any person could use as a guide to complete the whole project on their own This book does just that for the Medicinal Herb Farmer. But this is more than simply a how-to book. The authors have woven their own story and thoughts about sustainable and organic farming into each chapter so the text is interesting and a pleasure to read. I marked many passages to revisit later and found the text encouraging and realistic.
(more…)

Seedtime

Reviewed by Larry Siegel

Seeds have developed a certain cachet; I can number a half-dozen books I have read on the subject in recent years. This is long overdue; the seed represents, after all, the vital link between yesterday and today and tomorrow (though the mad scientists are probably at work to eliminate this link). To the mix we can now add Seedtime by Scott Chaskey. The inner jacket of the book refers to Chaskey as a poet, farmer, and educator. (more…)

The New Organic Grower:

review by Jack Kittredge

This is pretty much the book Eliot wrote 30 years ago. There are some updates and new passages, but not a lot. You could say the lack of major changes by him is proof that he did a great job the first time, and you would be right.

But I was particularly interested in reviewing this anniversary edition to see if Eliot included any of the new thinking on tillage, information on the role of soil microbiology in plant nutrition or excitement about regenerating land while mitigating climate change via soil carbon sequestration.
(more…)

For All the People: Uncovering the Hidden History of Cooperation, Cooperative Movements, and Communalism in America

review by Jack Kittredge

For all the people coverThis volume has generally been recognized as the definitive history of cooperatives in America. As the extended title suggests, when speaking of cooperatives Curl includes trade unions, political parties, communes, and other organizations created out of working people’s efforts to rise out of wage labor (or small farmers to keep from being crushed by rising transportation costs and falling prices) and achieve a better life.

He begins with a look at the indigenous communities that functioned, in contrast to individuals, as the Native American productive units, exercising collective ownership within family-based groups, practicing hunting, fishing, and agriculture within a largely democratic structure.
(more…)

The Gospel of Kindness: Animal Welfare and the Making of Modern America

review by Jack Kittredge

This is a scholarly work, published by a university professor for use in university classes. So if you are looking for a soft read, look elsewhere. If, however, you are looking for a detailed factual history of the origins of the animal rights movement in America, its growth and close relationship to many other re-form movements like abolition, temperance, and suffrage, and its fascinating role in establishing a litmus test by which national assimilation was ascer-tained, you will want this short volume. Those who are interested in the mythology of American exceptionalism, that belief in the uniqueness and benevo-lence of America’s republican political institutions, will find much to ponder in its shared history with animal welfare concerns.

Although there were clear precedents in such conflicts as Puritans versus Royalists regarding animal sports in very early 15th century England, and the Massachusetts Bay Colony’s adoption in 1641 of a Body of Liberties which prohibits “any Tirranny or Crueltie towards any bruite Creature which are usuallie kept for man’s use”, Davis places the origins of animal protectionism in the Second Great Awakening, that Protestant religious revival movement which swept America from about 1790 to 1840. As a part of the much larger Romantic movement, that Awakening rejected rationalism and deism in favor of enthusiastic emotion and a direct relationship with God. One outward sign of that relationship, according to Davis’ reading of the period, was a concern with animal mercy.
(more…)

Breed Your Own Vegetable Varieties: The Gardener’s and Farmer’s Guide to Plant Breeding and Seed Saving

review by Jack Kittredge

Deppe book coverThis has been the go-to book for plant breeders in the organic and small farming world for a generation now. Like many plant breeders, Deppe feels it is fundamental to good farming to manage the biological as well as the agricultural systems involved. She has herself developed new varieties appropriate to her farming situation and believes it is a responsibility of any craftsperson to understand and control the materials of the craft. On top of that good reason, she also points out that no seed company, given the small level of seed sales involved, can devote resources to developing seed for gardeners and small growers. So if anyone is going to, we must.

Carol is an engaging writer. She brings you into her life as a farmer right away, introducing you to others – from the very young to the very old — who have developed important varieties, as well as into her own work. The principles she stresses – patience, respect for detail, judgment about traits and how they will impact the final product – are basic to any craft and she brings their importance home in her stories.
(more…)

The Human Superorganism:

The Human SuperOrganism cover Published by Dutton Publishing, 2016.
Penguinrandomhouse.com
Available in Hardcover, Audible, Kindle, Apple Books, and Google Play Books from $12.99 to $24.00.
352 pages or 10 hours and 19 minutes of listening time.
reviewed by John Duke

To be honest, I did not read this book. I listened to it, twice. I also watched the author present the book on a Youtube video dated November 2016, titled “Dietert, Human Superorganism” from Albert R. Mann Library. Rodney Dietert, PhD, is a professor at Cornell University in Ithica, NY. He has also authored Strategies for Protecting Your Child’s Immune System and Immunotoxicity, Immune Disfunction, and Chronic Disease. In 2015 he received the James G. Wilson award from the Teratology Society for the best paper of the year on the microbiome. In 2014 he appeared in the award winning documentary “Microbirth”.
(more…)

Denizens: A Narrative of Captain George Denison and His New England Contemporaries

review by Bob Banning

In about 40 essays, Denizens offers a series of narratives showing how the author’s seventeenth-century southern New England ancestors participated in the history of their times. In reading the book, we learn about a variety of features of life in those times in parts of Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Rhode Island, including a few things about food, drink, and agriculture.

One of the author’s ancestor’s, William Cheseborough, settled land including salt marshes on the banks of Wequetequock Cove, in present-day Stonington, Connecticut, because “salt marsh hay was prized as a food source for livestock until grazing pastures could be established.” Online, I found various sources expressing concern about the health of salt marshes of the Northeast. In early colonial times, the health, and even survival, of human beings may have depended on using salt marsh hay for fodder.
(more…)

Altered Genes, Twisted Truth: How the Venture to Genetically Engineer Our Food Has Subverted Science, Corrupted Government, and Systematically Deceived the Public

Reviewed by Jack Kittredge

This is an important book. Druker, a public interest attorney, sued the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 1998 to get to the bottom of why and how the agency made the determination that foods derived from genetically modified organisms (GMOs) were “Generally Regarded as Safe” (GRAS) when there was clear scientific evidence that they could not be regarded as safe. The memos and internal documents he uncovered, along with the other evidence presented in this book, tell a chilling story of how business interests have corrupted our political leaders and many within the science community.
(more…)

Mycoremediation Handbook: A Grassroots Guide to Growing Mushrooms and Cleaning up Toxic Waste with Fungi

Mycoremediation Handbook: A Grassroots Guide to Growing Mushrooms and Cleaning up Toxic Waste with Fungireview by Jack Kittredge

The purpose of this book, Alex says in the foreword, is to inspire people to use natural organisms to clean up human waste of all sorts. Fungi are particularly well adapted to this task of decomposition, he asserts, and this book is to serve as a guide to how to use them for this function.

He starts off making sure we are aware of the vastness of the problem of waste. Hazardous wastes, those that can cause “substantial threats to our health and the environment” are produced at the rate of 400 million tons per year. That comes, he says, to about 13 tons per second! These come from common products like batteries, cosmetics, cleaning products, paints, pharmaceuticals, and electronics. The US has 200,000 “superfund sites” that are unusually high in hazardous waste, whose cleanup will cost an estimated $1.7 trillion over the next 30 years. The scale and expense of this problem and its current technological solution make it daunting. One of the major techniques now used in such clean-ups is bioremediation with bacteria and plants. Dorr asserts, however, that mycoremediation can serve this role far more successfully and economically. He displays a graph from Paul Stamet’s book “Mycellium Running” which seems to demonstrate this advantage.
The next part of the book is devoted to showing how fungi (mushrooms, yeasts, molds, and mycelia) can degrade and remediate metals, chemicals and microbes.
(more…)

Charles Dowding’s No Dig Gardening, Course 1

Reviewed by Richard Robinson

dowding bookCharles Dowding is one of the pioneers of “no-dig” (or as we Americans call it, “no-till”) gardening. He has a large garden behind his house in Somerset, England, and a large following online and in bookstores. He is a celebrity gardener, whose nine books extol the virtues of the no-dig way in language that both instructs and comforts—this isn’t hard, and I’ll show you how. If you haven’t seen him on YouTube, take a few minutes, and you too might become a fan. I am.

So I was primed to like this book. I regret to say I came away somewhat disappointed.

The major problem as I see it is right there in the title: the book is apparently drawn from an introductory course that Dowding teaches, both in person and online. And like far too many books of similar genesis, this one comes across as a combination of lecture notes and handouts from a course that is likely much livelier and lovelier in its original venues, rather than a thought-through book on its own.

(more…)

America’s Two-Headed Pig

reviewed by Dr. Stephanie Gilfoy, ND

The front cover clearly states the goal of America’s Two-Headed Pig: to explain how to go about treating nutritional deficiencies and disease in a genetically modified, antibiotic resistant, and pesticide dependent world. Author Leah Dunham is the daughter of a veterinarian and as such grew up seeing her father diagnose and cure herd illnesses through providing cattle with proper nutrition. As this book clearly describes in great detail, however, proper nutrition is a lot harder to come by and has been getting even more difficult in the more recent years as politics, money, and health collide.
(more…)

The Hop Grower’s Handbook: The Essential Guide for Sustainable, Small-Scale Production for Home and Market

review by William Wilson

To any gardener or farmer interested in growing hops; to the beer aficionado curious to learn the bubbly beverage’s thick history; to the social scientist studying the local trends involved in the craft-beer movement—allow me to introduce you to Laura and Dietrich. Laura, a beer blogger who works in the New York State Farmland Conservation office, together with her husband Dietrich, a beer salesman and avid brewer, have insightfully written The Hop Grower’s Handbook.
(more…)

Fields of Gold

Fields of Gold CoverPublished by Cornell University Press, 2020, $21.95 paperback, 147 pages plus 64 more of references and index
review by Jack Kittredge

This analysis of the current interest in treating farmland as an investment could not be more timely. Although the most recent boom in land investment peaked during the years 2008 to about 2014, following the international food crisis of 2007, there is still a very active market for farmland based both on the value of food it can produce and also the resources it harbors. This book looks at that boom in farmland investing in the US and in Brazil, the latter in part because you learn much more by studying the same phenomenon in two places — so you can compare and contrast — and in part because of the very size of Brazil and the extent to which capital is attracted to land investment there.
(more…)

Symbiotic Earth: How Lynn Margulis Rocked the Boat & Started a Scientific Revolution

review by Jack Kittredge

I have always wished that I had taken advantage of my proximity to Lynn Margulis during the many years she was a professor at UMass before her death in 2011. The time never seemed quite right to interview her on agricultural aspects of microbial behavior, and then, before history had a chance to recognize her Nobel-quality contribution to evolutionary biology, she was gone. This documentary is a tribute to her insights and her willingness to share them. It is composed of many photos and clips of Lynn throughout her life, explaining her work, and of her colleagues talking about her and the revolutionary impact she had on science.
(more…)

American Hemp Farmer: Adventures and Misadventures in the Cannabis Trade

review by Jack Kittredge

Doug Fine is a journalist turned hemp farmer, so who better to write a book about it, you would think?

That is what I thought when I picked this up, hoping to get a fairly straight story about farming hemp and the details of that trade. Unfortunately, while there were good tidbits and facts which I could pull out of the narrative, the writer’s style was so chatty that most of what he had to say was irrelevant to anyone looking for hard information. It is full of breezy references to hemp grower collectives around the country and Doug’s musings, cutting back occasionally to his own New Mexico goat farm and the time a bear killed most of his goats.
(more…)

Big Hunger: The Unholy Alliance Between Corporate America and Anti-Hunger Groups

review by Jack Kittredge

Big HungerFisher has been employed in the anti-hunger movement for 25 years as researcher, organizer, advocate, and executive director of national and local food groups. He has worked successfully in coalitions to obtain passage of many federal food and nutrition programs. Yet he has developed a critique of that movement for its failure to ask basic questions and press for fundamental change. Instead, he asserts here, too many in that field have become part of a self-perpetuating “hunger industrial complex” reliant on charity from many of the same corporations whose labor practices have fueled the economic problems driving hunger in the first place.
(more…)

The Art and Science of Grazing: How Grass Farmers Can Create Sustainable Systems for Healthy Animals and Farm Ecosystems

review by Josh Pincus

The Art and Science of Grazing, by Sarah Flack, is a wonderful and thorough examination of our current thinking on managing pastures for livestock. The book is both an essential introduction to the theories that guide pasture management as well as a detailed assessment of the science behind these prac-tices. This blend of breadth and depth makes this book an essential addition to the reading list for any aspiring or practicing grazer.

The Art and Science of Grazing is written in four parts. The first is Laying the Groundwork, where the author introduces some of the general ideas that overarch grazing and pasture management as a whole. The second section, Grazing from the Plant’s Perspective, focuses on how the actual plants in the pasture live and grow, how they react to different types of grazing, and the vital role that the soil beneath the grass plays in the process. In the third section, Grazing from the Animal’s Perspective, Flack focuses on rumination, how ruminants graze, how their gut generates the nutrients they need from the forage they consume, and some of the many challenges that grass based livestock can face. The final section of the book, Designing and Managing a Grazing System, takes a close look at how to actually put all of the previous ideas into practice out on the pasture. Every section is full of clear and helpful pictures, graphs and charts that help make the clear writing even better. (more…)

The Market Gardener, A Successful Grower’s Handbook for Small-Scale Organic Farming

Reviewed by Laura Davis

The original French language version of this book was published in the fall of 2012 and was titled Le Jardinier-Maraîcher.

As a fellow market gardener on a small piece of land, I pay attention when a farmer says they can bring in $60,000 to $100,000 income per acre annually with a profit margin of 40% in diverse vegetable crops on 1 1/2 acres of land, without a full size tractor. Jean-Martin Fortier encourages aspiring farmers to explore the idea of a profitable micro-farm and takes one on a step by step journey on how to achieve it. I enjoyed not only reading about Fortier and his wife Maude-Hélène’s success at making a good living but was heartened that their success was compatible with making a good life for their family.
(more…)

A Farmer’s Guide to Climate Disruption

review by Maryellen Sheehan

climate-disruptionA Farmer’s Guide to Climate Disruption collects together Rebekah Fraser’s “Changing Climate” columns originally written between January 2016 through December 2017 for the now defunct Growing magazine. Fraser updated and expanded these articles with additional interviews for the book. Each chapter explores one aspect of climate disruption on agriculture through the lens of researchers, climate leaders, and growers across the country.

The book covers a vast span of material, beginning with a broad look at food security and communicating changes, before digging into soil, nitrogen management, water, and pest issues, and concluding with examinations of individual applications of climate-smart farming methods.

One issue Fraser threads throughout is farming’s dual role in climate change. Our food production decisions can both worsen climate disruption from field to global scales, but also provide a major path to mitigate disruption. Fraser also poses the dilemma of looking into the future where we don’t just face growing crops in a changing climate, but also 30% population growth by 2050. With our global agricultural land base nearly maxed out, reaching this production level is doubly a challenge, and building resilience in our food system even more critical.
(more…)

Silvopasture: A guide to Managing Grazing Animals, Forage Crops, and trees in a Temperate Farm Ecosystem

review by Joan Walker

I was very interested to read this book as I have practiced Silvopasture for many years and am planning my biggest forest cut yet to support the practice for my 65 Devon cattle herd in the middle of New England.

Steve Gabriel, author of Farming the Woods (with Ken Mudge), is an ecologist, educator, and a forest farmer who has lived most of his life in the Finger Lakes region of New York and I have heard him speak at a few events, always interesting, always informative. Thus, I was looking forward to the book and his insight.

Steve breaks the book down into a logical format that brings clarity to farmers new to the practice but also with many well thought out insights for more seasoned practitioners of Silvopasture.
(more…)

The Garlic Farmers’ Cookbook

review by Christy Bassett

Garlic bookThese folks really like garlic. This cookbook begins with a table of contents that reads more like a menu: Appetizers, Dips, Dressings and Sauces, Beverages, Soups, Breads, Cakes, Cookies and Desserts, Chow Time, Entrees and Sides, Oils, Vinegars and Pickles, Tidbits and Fun. Who would have known that garlic had a place in every course?

In the introduction The Garlic Seed Foundation gives a brief history of how they collected recipes for the book from fellow farmers, garlic lovers and friends. They also mention that the recipes included are really more like guidelines- multiplying the amount of garlic from one clove to one bulb to taste in each recipe is mentioned more than once. (Because who doesn’t need more garlic?) Since it is written by farmers for farmers, the need for quick and easy recipes that can utilize homegrown ingredients is paramount. But the authors are also quick to note that winter time cooking may be different from kitchen activities during the rest of the year and include a handful of more time-consuming recipes as well. The additional information attached to these facts is infused with good humor and conversational tone.
(more…)

Whitewash: The Story of a Weed Killer, Cancer, and the Corruption of Science

review by Julie Rawson
NOFA/Mass has launched a “Campaign for Pesticide” Reduction (CPR) in collaboration with Toxics Action Center, a long term environmental organization in Boston. Interestingly, we last collaborated on a joint project with them back in 1997 when we were at odds with the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority because they were labeling their sludge product, ‘Baystate Organic’. We won that one and they took the word “organic” off their product. This campaign some 21 years later may be a little harder to win. We are hoping to pass as many municipal bans on the use of glyphosate and neonicotinoids as we can in the state of Massachusetts. On the positive side, we are assisting municipalities in establishing organic action plans for town owned and managed properities.
(more…)

Eager: The Surprising, Secret Life of Beavers and Why they Matter

eager Coverreview by Jack Kittredge

Beavers, the world’s second largest rodent (after South America’s capybara) used to be everywhere. They come in two varieties, the North American one (Castor canadensis) of whom there were an estimated 90 million inhabiting every stream and creek in the temperate part of the continent before Columbus, and a Eurasian one (Castor fiber) which was equally widespread in the old world.

The hallmark behavior of beavers is to build dams to slow the flow of streams and raise the level of water, causing flooding. The resultant ponds enable the rodents to reach their favorite foods – trees such as willow, cottonwood and aspen. These, once toppled by the animal’s amazing gnawing capacity (using self-sharpening teeth) and floated to the center of the pond, can be piled and stored for winter fodder largely unreachable by predators on shore.
(more…)

Labor and the Locavore: The making of a Comprehensive Food Ethic

review by Elizabeth Henderson

I hope that many organic farmers and our supporters will read this book, the result of ten years of study of the conditions for farmworkers and farmers in the Hudson Valley of New York. Gray gives us an honest picture of how farm labor relations look through a labor justice lens. As passionately as any NOFA member, Gray wants to reform our food system, but she wants to be sure that in our rush to be more humane to chickens and earthworms, we do not leave out the human beings who do so much of the work. It might help you to start with the final chapter, “Toward a Comprehensive Food Ethic,” her testimonial as an ardent locavore, so that you can read the rest of the book without nagging worries that she does not care if she puts farmers out of business.
(more…)

The Lean Farm: How to Minimize Waste, Increase Efficiency, and Maximize Value and Profits with Less Work

review by Andy Fellenz

Ben Hartman grew up on a 400 acre farm in Indiana. Together with his wife, one part-time employee and several seasonal interns he operates a profitable 5 acre market farm growing crops on less than 1 acre, including 9,000 sq ft of greenhouse space, in Goshen, Indiana.  In Lean Farming he introduces farmers to the concept of Lean.  Unlike most books with farming in the title, Lean Farming doesn’t suggest the best way to plant something, what crops to grow or how to manage for insects or disease. Instead, it discusses the concept of Lean Management and how it can be used to improve farm profitability.
(more…)

Protecting Pollinators: How to Save the Creatures That Feed Our World

review by Sanne Kure-Jensen

protecting pollinatorsIncreasing media attention has focused on shrinking insect and pollinator populations. In this thoroughly researched book, Jody Helmer describes our dangerous situation and recent efforts to restore pollinator populations. The author quotes numerous research studies describing issues facing pollinators, successes and challenges of habitat restoration for native (wild) bee and pollinator populations as well as the dangers of inactivity. The book’s final chapter focuses on citizen science opportunities to collect valuable data. Helmers table called “Twenty-Nine Ways You Can Help Pollinators” offers a checklist for helping pollinators in residential yards, on city balconies or community gardens with pollinator-friendly plantings.

Helmer said thankfully, “farmers, gardeners, businesses, non-profits and eaters alike are stepping up to save the creatures that feed our world, planting habitats filled with native species, avoiding chemicals, participating in citizen science projects and spreading the word that pollinators are in trouble and we need to take action to save them.”
(more…)

Secrets of Fertile Soils: Humus as the Guardian of the Fundamentals of Natural Life

review by Jack Kittredge

There is a tradition in German writing going back at least to Kant or Hegel, possibly farther, that finds signs of Spirit in every manifestation of reality. Rudolf Steiner certainly is part of that tradition. So is Erhard Hennig.

It is difficult to convey this kind of thinking to many Americans, trained as we are in a very materialistic and reductionist science. It strikes one as impres-sionistic rather than linear, intuited rather than deduced.
(more…)

Letters to a Young Farmer: On Food, Farming, and Our Future

reviewed by Jack Kittredge

No, you aren’t seeing double. This and the previous book reviewed in this corner have very similar main titles, distinguished only by, as my old Latin teacher would call it, number.

This is the first book Stone Barns has published, and a remarkable one it is. Practically every writer of note in modern alternative agriculture has written an essay in it. Thirty-six of them, from Wendell Berry, Joan Gussow and Eliot Coleman to Joel Salatin, Allan Savory and Temple Grandin have weighed in.

The hope for this slim book, as the Stone Barns executive director says in the introduction, is that: “The letters and essays in this anthology reveal im-portant ideas about food, agriculture, and culture – how patterns of eating and farming have emerged and evolved, and sometimes devolved, and how they need to coalesce now in a way that creates a more sustainable future.”
(more…)

The Dawning of the Apocalypse:

Dawning of the apocalypse cover copypublished by Monthly Review Press, 2020, $27 paperback, 214 pages plus 88 more of references and index
review by Jack Kittredge

This book is a historian’s dream. It takes a vitally important current subject, subjects it to an erudite analysis illuminating many crucial aspects not widely discussed, and enables us, the readers, to understand how the subject fits into a much broader context.

Horne demonstrates how, during what he calls the “long 16th century”, slavery was transformed from a practice of selling captives of any race into bondage (with antecedents going back to ancient Mesopotamia in 3500 BC) to one of white supremacy specifically enslaving non-white Africans and Indigenous Peoples as a way of building settler colonialism and, ultimately, capitalism.
(more…)

The Farm Bill: A Citizen’s Guide

The Farm Bill coverreview by Maryellen Sheehan

Between being a farmer with a longtime side interest in agriculture and politics and working for NOFA-NY, I’ve always felt like I should know way more about the farm bill than I do. Yet self-education seemed an eye-glazing enterprise too hard for a tired farmer to jump in to read about at the end of a day. I don’t know how I missed the two earlier editions of this work, but Daniel Imhoff’s (with Christina Badaracco) 2019 edition of The Farm Bill: A Citizen’s Guide is the book on the farm bill that sleepy farmers (and all interested citizens) have been waiting for.

Imhoff takes this complicated, dense topic and breaks it down into its components in a compelling and page-turning manner that caused both my husband and me to geek out with this book for several weeks. They start off explaining the basics of the farm bill in the most readable format I’ve ever encountered. It then launches into the history of US food policy before exploring issue by issue policy topics and reform opportunities like “Nutrition, SNAP, and Healthy Eating,” “Ethanol,” or “National Security.” Imhoff concludes with a more hopeful “The Future of Food Policy” before wrapping up with excellent footnotes and a stellar resource guide “Activist Tool Kit.” Arresting charts and sidebars tracing the startling and at times eye-opening ups and downs of American farm and food policy enliven the entire work for more visual learners.
(more…)

Estrogeneration: How Estrogenics Are Making You Fat, Sick, and Infertile

review by Gregory Luckman

Jay has a Ph.D. in biochemistry from Boston University School of Medicine and currently researches stem cells and epigenetics at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. Although these credentials provide him with a scientific background and the perspective of an insider in the current medical research “establishment,” he remains independent and critical. In fact, he devotes most of Chapter Three to describing how funding bias, “alliance bias,” and publication bias have distorted the big picture that the peer-reviewed scientific literature provides to issues of nutrition and health. He picks up on this theme again and describes his own orientation in the Chapter Six subsection entitled “Estrogenics and Cancer” with the statement that “. . . the system promotes playing-it-safe and doing the same, tired, experiments everybody else is doing. Hedging bets and then sensationalizing the mundane findings is, unfortunately, the secure career path in science today. And that, my friend, is one of the reasons why I am personally not out on that academic ‘ball field,’ playing hard and wearing my team’s hat, cleats, and tight pants.”
(more…)

Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants

Braiding Sweetgrass Coverreview by Jack Kittredge

Kimmerer is a Native American Potawatomi, a professor with a PhD in botany, a single mother, a deep thinker and a very gifted writer. This book is composed of 30-some essays in which she reflects on the various truths she has come to know through those different lenses.

Her stories often start as simple memories, listening to a tribal myth or learning to make a woven basket from black ash. She writes about the memory — explaining it and how it fits into her Indigenous culture, talking about how it might be seen in the western scientific world, gently exploring the strengths and weaknesses of the various points of view, and ultimately drawing out of the whole narrative some very surprising insights about ourselves and our relationship to nature.
(more…)

Farmers of Forty Centuries: Organic Farming in China, Korea, and Japan

reviewed by Craig Soderberg

The material in this book is eye-opening. For more than 4,000 years, Asian farmers worked the same fields repeatedly without sapping the land’s fertility and without applying artificial fertilizer! How they accomplished this miraculous feat is described by author Franklin Hiram King, a former official to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. King traveled to Asia in the early 1900s to learn how farmers in China, Korea, and Japan were able to achieve successful harvests century after century without exhausting the soil — one of their most valuable natural resources. This book is the result of King’s research.

Containing more than 200 photographs, this book represents a valuable resource for organic gardeners, farmers, and conservationists.
(more…)

One-Straw Revolutionary: The Philosophy and Work of Masanobu Fukuoka

review by Bob Banning

This book is well worth your while. It is likely to teach and delight you, and may sometimes provoke you.

As many readers of The Natural Farmer no doubt know, in 1975 Japanese farmer-philosopher Masanobu Fukuoka (1913–2008) published a book that would become an international best-seller and change how many people thought about and practiced farming. The book acquired much of its influence through the English translation made of it by Larry Korn with the assistance of Korn’s friend Chris Pearce and of Wendell Berry (1978); eventually it was translated into 25 languages. The book was entitled The One-Straw Revolution.
(more…)

Resilient Agriculture: Cultivating Food Systems for a Changing Climate

review by Elizabeth Henderson

How are we going to manage to farm in the increasingly chancy conditions of global warming and advanced imperialist capitalism? We are bombarded by products, causes, marketing schemes and advice. How to choose? Here are two books that will help you design or redesign your farm to make it more resilient in these parlous times. Lengnick’s book suggests a method for resilience planning based on climate change predictions and the experience of sustainable farmers. Van der Ploeg provides principles and values from the lives of peasant farmers to ground your decisions.
(more…)

The New Horse-Powered Farm: Tools and Systems for the Small-Scale Sustainable Market Grower

review by Eli Rubin

While there are many books about the history of draft horse farming in the past, this 320 page book is about the practical application of farming with horses today. Intended for the organic, or ecologically minded, grower this book covers more than the basics of growing crops, with over 100 pages on market vegetables.  The author draws both from his own experience of over 20 years of growing organic produce and from a collection of other respected minds in the fields. The result is a beautiful blend of information from farms (mostly in the northeast) each with their own way of solving the riddles of commercial organic production, all compiled and told in one concise voice.
(more…)

Horse-Powered Farming for the 21st Century:

review by Louis H. Battalen

At the close of the past century, the revitalized draft animal power movement was proceeding steadily with its initial plowing, cutting a fresh regenerative swath nationwide into the stagnant and wearisome, mono-cultured agribusiness that has dominated that landscape since mid-century. The degraded petro chemical approach to farming is “going by the way-side,” replaced by the single- and multi-hitch plow alike and the sweet scent and “invigorative natural processes” of the closed-farm fertility.

The dawn of the 21st century finds teamsters, their animals—horses, oxen, donkeys, and mules in particular—and innovative equipment manufacturers collaborating in a groundswell of mutual activity, naturally lending itself to other forms of regenerative farming, including organics, crop rotation, and small-scale farming. The clock is not being turned back to some halcyon isolated moment in time and history and place; rather, in the turn to the next furrow, these practitioners are promoting an agroecological mindset capable of long-term sustenance that should carry us into good stead through this century.
(more…)

The Myths of Safe Pesticides

review by Jack Kittredge

André Leu, an Australian tropical fruit farmer, is a leader in the organic movement and president of IFOAM, the International Federation of Organic Agricultural Movements. He has occasionally written articles we reprint in The Natural Farmer, and I am glad to have a chance to review his book on the pesticide threat.
(more…)

Letter to a Young Farmer: How to Live Richly without Wealth on the New Garden Farm

reviewed by Jack Kittredge

I have long enjoyed Gene Logsdon’s writing – the humor, the self-effacement, the simple Midwestern (if Ohio is Midwestern) lack of pretension, the prac-tical tips and ideas. Gene’s core message is pretty much the same in every book he writes – you can live a happy life on a few acres of land. Don’t get all preoccupied by the money, it may not pan out that you can support a family that way. But you surely can raise a good one, tending to a few chores and reaping the healthy food that will result.

Gene calls his idea of this heavenly life the “Garden Farm” and quotes Robert Rodale, longtime editor-in-chief of Organic Farming and Gardening Maga-zine, that ‘In the future, most farms will be just very big gardens.’ He contrasts this message with that of Earl Butz, Nixon’s Secretary of Agriculture. Butz advised farmers to ‘get big or get out’. Logsdon, however, says: ‘get small and stay in’.
(more…)

The Secret Life of Groceries: The Dark Miracle of an American Supermarket

secret lifereview by Jack Kittredge

Benjamin Lorr is a terrific author who has taken on a substantial project – to expose the underside of the American grocery business. This project took him several years, during which he experienced some of the least desirable jobs the industry offers – cleaning the 38-foot fish counter at Whole Foods and removing the layers of ice, fish manure, rotting fish guts, pieces of cracked shells, and other 2-month old detritus, gagging at its reek of decay and preparing it for another go tomorrow, traveling the Interstate Highway in a refrigerated 18-wheeler with a blonde Amazon while she tends her 2 beagles and fends off drunk male drivers, managing to get the load to the warehouse on time most of the time, and riding a shrimp trawler as it scrapes the seafloor off Thailand with its huge nylon nets, like bulldozers bringing up everything and obliterating the remains of any ecosystem there, while listening to the story of documentless, regularly beaten and illegally trafficked Asians who are literal slaves, unwillingly laboring aboard such ships for up to 5 years.

In the meantime he gets to tell a few more palatable stories – the origin of Trader Joe’s at a disastrous Friday afternoon Hollywood bar meeting when Joe Coulombe learns a most important lesson, Ben’s discovery of Slawsa, the bright yellow condiment that will change your life accompanied by Julie, the woman who is bringing it through the maze of regulations, marketers, Fancy Food Fairs and tastings required to get it needed shelf space in grocery stores to prove itself, and two training sessions, one to be an “associate” at Whole Foods in which we learn about the corporate psychology which drives this particular company, and one with a motivational behavior expert who understands the consumer need for ethical sourcing and how that translates, very very loosely, into product certification.
(more…)

Changing Season: A Father, A Daughter, A Family Farm

review by Jack Kittredge

I have often hears of David Mas Masumoto, the California peach and grape grower on 80 organic acres who is a frequent and thoughtful writer of essays and books on matters agricultural and philosophical. But I had never read anything by him, assuming his location and farming scale must make his expe-riences quite different from my own. I finally took a book by him with me on vacation, and I am glad I did.

In this book David relates a little of his history. His grandfathers, both second sons and thus destined for poverty, left their families’ small Japanese rice farms seeking a better future in America. His family was agricultural laborers, just having saved enough over the years to think about buying some land when they were interned in 1942 along with 110,000 others Japanese Americans. His father, however, was assumed to be loyal enough to be drafted into the Army and his uncle was killed serving in France. After his discharge, his father and grandparents worked long hours until finally able to buy a small piece of land with lots of hardpan and rocks.
(more…)

Eliza the Pig

review by Jack Kittredge

When I saw the ad for “Eliza the Pig” that Alexandra sent to promote her book in this issue, I asked if she would send a copy to me. I wanted to try read-ing it to our 7 and 9 year-old grandkids, Sammy and Anya, to see if they liked it.

The story is that of a typical Nebraska farm town which experiences the introduction of a CAFO (confined animal feeding operation) for hogs. The smells, wind blown sprays of liquid manure which spatter passing cars, and traffic, versus the lure of jobs and taxes come to divide the previously contented town.
(more…)

The Art of Balancing Soil Nutrients, A practical guide to interpreting soil tests

First of all, my perspective as reviewer: I am a gardener, farm volunteer, and student of soil science, who has attended soil workshops and organic farming conferences, and done her own independent reading and experimentation.

The subtitle is largely what this book accomplishes, written from “Crop Doc” McKibben’s decades of experience as a soil consultant in NW Ohio. The reader benefits from case studies of individual farms as well as comparisons across farms, over the course of a season or in many cases, several years. There are dozens of soil test reports reproduced in the book, each serving to demonstrate some point made in the text, so the reader necessarily becomes familiar and comfortable examining soil test reports.
(more…)

Community-Scale Composting Systems: A Comprehensive Practical Guide for Closing the Food System Loop and Solving Our Waste Crisis

review by Bob Banning
Almost fifty years after the first Earth Day, enormous amounts of food scraps are still wasted instead of being returned to the soil, where they belong. James McSweeney wants to be part of the solution by helping people develop successful community-scale composting systems that focus on food scraps, and with this richly detailed manual you can benefit from the composting expertise he has acquired over many years of working with hundreds of composters managing every phase and aspect of the composting process and the composting enterprise.

McSweeney believes that such expertise is urgently needed because in the last five to ten years he has witnessed an acceleration in the rate at which new community composting enterprises are being started—to the point where we have a community composting “movement.” The more new composting enterprises there are, the more opportunities there are for people to make mistakes—some of them system-wrecking—that could have been avoided if the operators had the necessary knowledge, knowledge that’s available if you know where to look. McSweeney wants to get the word out about known best practices so that more and more communities will not just try, but succeed at composting.
(more…)

The Greenhouse and Hoophouse Grower’s Handbook: Organic Vegetable Production Using Protected Culture

review by Richard Robinson, farm@hopestill.com

I try to start my tomatoes extra early, and know I risk inducing “transplant shock” in some portion of them when I begin transplanting into my unheated hoophouse in mid-April. This spring, with the first batch I was scrupulous about covering them at night with several layers of row cover, but got a bit lazy with the later transplants, because after all it was already May and I was growing inside, so really, they should be fine. Here in southern New England, the entire month of May was cold and cloudy, and although they survived, still to this day (I am writing in mid-July) many of those later transplants haven’t taken off—they are thin, knotty, and stunted, and sporting early fruit clusters that will be their downfall, unless I snip them off. Meanwhile, the tomatoes I transplanted the earliest, and pampered through their first several weeks in the ground, are taller than I am and bearing gloriously.

Andrew Mefferd has written a book that explains exactly what happened—why I succeeded with the early group and failed with the later ones, and how I might have avoided failure by preventing the temperature swings my poor later transplants suffered. Early chilling sends tomatoes (and many other plants) into a “generative” mode, concentrating on setting fruit at the expense of growing the vegetation to support it. Steady—and high—temperatures early in life promote a more “vegetative” mode, exactly what my early transplants got, snug under row cover for the first several weeks of life.
(more…)

Hay Fever: How Chasing a Dream on a Vermont Farm Changed My Life

review by Jack Kittredge

This is the book written 6 years ago by Angela Miller about her decision to move from a successful career as a literary agent in New York City to become a goat cheese maker in Vermont (while still dabbling as literary agent via telecommuting). It is, I know, relevant to many in NOFA who have chosen to change from what our culture would consider a career with high status or income or both to an agricultural or food-based livelihood which may have nei-ther. All for love of the work.

The authors (Miller is happy to acknowledge the role of Ralph Gardner in helping with this book) do a good job of giving the reader a lively, real-time sense of Angela, her life and loved ones, and how she juggles her careers — one in the fast lane in Manhattan and one in the slow Vermont fields once owned by Consider Bardwell and family where she has built an artisanal farm-based food business.

This is as direct and honest a story as you are likely to get from anyone who runs a company. Angela is people-centered and doesn’t seem to need to inflate herself. She talks about her employees as if they were family. She remembers details of triumphs and tragedies equally, and treats them all as significant but not determinative events in her life.
(more…)

The New American Farmer: Immigration, Race, and the Struggle for Sustainability

The New American Farmer coverreview by Liz Henderson

The new farmers whose stories Laura-Anne Minkoff-Zern recounts are Latino/a farmers who have miraculously managed, despite the many obstacles she enumerates, to move from farmworkers to farm owners in the US. Out of the dozens of farmers she interviewed, almost all use organic practices, though only two are certified organic. Since the NOFAs, as well as the National Organic Coalition and the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, seek to become more inclusive and to join in dismantling the racism that distorts our society, we would do well to heed Minkoff-Zern’s recommendations for reaching out more effectively to Latino/a farmers.
(more…)

Food from the Radical Center: Healing Our Land and Communities

Food from the radical Centerreview by Bob Banning

Gary Paul Nabhan has seen people collaborate to heal their land, food systems, and communities, and he wants us to see what he sees. He imagines many more people doing the same joyful, hopeful work, and he wants us to imagine with him the further spread of this work. He continues to work with old friends, new friends, and friends-to-be to bring about further healing, and he invites us, if we’re not already so engaged, to take up this work.

In the introduction, Nabhan, a celebrated environmental writer and, according to the dust jacket, “recognized as the father of the local food movement,” evokes the joy of working to restore one’s own local food system—“conservation you can taste,” as he calls it. However, he’s concerned that environmentalism, which “began [in the 1970s] as a nonpartisan effort to protect our planet[,] has become one of the most perniciously divisive issues in public life.”
(more…)

Discoveries in the Garden

review by Richard Robinson
Gardeners are experimentalists—we try new varieties, push the limits of weather, till or don’t. We observe, try something new, and observe again. Any gardener who has been at this a while accumulates a pretty large store of knowledge about the what, when and where, but less of the why. We learn that peas need a tight trellis to climb, while beans will gladly climb a straight pole. But why the difference? We know that topping a Brussels sprout plant will promote heavier sprouts, but why?

James Nardi, a research scientist at the University of Illinois, has written a book to help curious gardeners ask and answer some of their own “why” questions about phenomena they observe in the garden. The book includes large amounts of plant anatomy and physiology, a good number of classic plant biology demonstrations and experiments, line drawings that explain how to set up the experiments, and micrographs to show what’s going on at the cellular level.
(more…)

The National Green Pages: Green Your Life, Green the World (annual publication)

review by Alan Eddy (member of Green America since 1983, active in NOFA since 1986)

Green PagesI know what you are thinking: “I don’t want to READ ABOUT sustainability, I want to DO SOMETHING.” I feel the same way. Well, the good news is that there is something you CAN DO — right now, without writing to Congress and without waiting for the next election.

The National Green Pages is an annual publication and also a website — GreenPages.org, produced by the activist membership organization Green America, active on a wide front of environmental and social justice issues, such as clean energy, regenerative (organic) agriculture, fair labor practices, and non-toxic chemicals. It was formed in January 2009 by the renaming of Co-op America.
(more…)

Defending Beef: The Case for Sustainable Meat Production

review by Lucia Stout Huebner, grass farmer, Beechtree Farm, Hopewell, New Jersey

The question of how meat is raised deserves much more discussion and examination. A lucid writer and a thorough researcher, Nicolette Hahn Niman’s 241 page book serves both as an excellent nonfiction reading and reference book on the subject of raising cattle and eating beef. The footnotes she includes on each chapter are worth the price of the book alone.  Niman delves into the science behind her arguments but also weaves in her personal voice, which holds the reader’s attention and keeps the subject from becoming too dry.
(more…)

No Till Intensive Vegetable Culture:

O'Hara book coverreviewed by Julie Rawson

First I must let you know that Bryan O’Hara is a very good friend of mine and someone with whom I share a passion about no till, nutrient density, soil restoration and pesticide-free farming methods. We are in the same “tribe” as it were. What I most like about Bryan is that he has a strong sense of self, is never afraid to go against the norm, is thoughtful and kind, is eminently generous with his time for others, takes real charge in his life, is family centered, and has an ever curious nature and is ever willing to evolve his methods. I like his book dedication – “To increasing the abundance of life.”

This book is humble, as is Bryan, and in this book he offers his perspective while not eschewing the perspectives of others. Taking us carefully through his process of evolution as a farmer in each chapter, one gets a sense of where he has been and how it has built on his present practices. From the introduction: “…These methods are successful because they are interconnected, actions rely on and assist other actions. Growers may do well by carefully following these methods. However, the primary objective of the manual is to help growers formulate a set of actions that may be best in their own environments, and in that regard some methods described herein may be more appropriate for adoption than others. As such this manual is meant to develop growers’ abilities for their own situation, but it is certainly not the last word on vegetable growing technique.”
(more…)

Organic Struggle: The Movement for Sustainable Agriculture in the United States

review by Jack KIttredge

orbach-bookObach, a professor of sociology at the State University of New York at New Paltz, is a student of social movements who has also written about the labor and environmental movements. As any scholar would, he starts with a history of the organic movement, beginning with Jerome Irving Rodale and his concerns about synthetic fertilizers, already used in agriculture in 1942 when “Organic Farming and Gardening” was first published, and the proponents of natural and spiritual approaches to farming such as Albert Howard, Rudolf Steiner, Eve Balfour and Ralph Borsodi. Come the nineteen sixties and seventies, of course, the advent of Rachel Carson and Cesar Chavez’ indictment of agricultural chemicals and the growth of the counterculture seeking an alternative to a cor-rupt commercial society came together to create the back-to-the-land movement of food coops and communal farms.

Organic sales, going from the insignificant output of a fringe movement in 1971, when NOFA began, to a still small but obviously growing market worth $1 billion in 1990, not only selected for hardworking and business oriented farmers but also was attracting the attention of outsiders. At first denouncing organics as a ‘food fad’ and threat to good nutrition, establishment figures such as Cornell’s Kenneth Beeson and Harvard’s Jean Mayer and Frederick Stare (whose self-interest in extensive ties to the food industry Obach neatly exposes) were quick to rail against the movement as ‘anti-science’.
(more…)

The Soil Will Save Us: How Scientists, Farmers and Foodies Are Healing the Soil to Save the Planet

By Bill Duesing
I’ve been studying about, working with and excited by soil for over 40 years, yet Kristin Ohlson’s book, The Soil Will Save Us: How Scientists, Farmers, and Foodies Are Healing the Soil to Save the Planet produced a number of exciting a-ha moments.

Published just this year, it is a very interesting book about an extremely important topic. Understanding her message and putting it to work in our farming, gardening and grazing should provide many important benefits for us and the planet.
(more…)

The Regenerative Grower’s Guide to Garden Amendments

The Regenerative Growing Guide Reviewed by Caro Roszell

What struck me most while reading Nigel Palmer’s The Regenerative Grower’s Guide to Garden Amendments is that this book is much like a good NOFA Conference. It unapologetically brings together ideas from both science and spirituality, traditional practices and emerging research.

That eclectic, heterodox approach reminds me of nothing so much as a NOFA conference, where in a given day you can attend sessions from farmers on no-till and organic farming methods to Extension researchers discussing the latest research on brassica diseases to herbalists discussing home apoth ecary and biodynamic farmers explaining how to make cow-horn preparations.
(more…)

The New Wild: Why Invasive Species Will Be Nature’s Salvation

The new Wild coverreview by Jono Neiger
Highlight quotes:
“We have bought into some dangerous mythology about how nature works.”

“Please judge the species I describe by what they do or don’t do and not by the label attached to them.”

“Mainstream conservationists are right that we need a rewilding of the Earth, but they are wrong if they imagine that we can achieve that by going backward. We need a New Wild…””

The New Wild is the latest book by Fred Pearce, a science writer and environmental journalist who writes on science, the environment, and development. He has written a wide range of books including The Land Grabbers: The Fight Over Who Owns the Earth, and The Climate Files: The Battle for the Truth About Global Warming, among numerous others. He is currently the environmental consultant for the New Scientist magazine and a regular contributor to numerous newspapers and publications.
(more…)

The Beef Industry:

Santa Fe, NM: Sunstone Press, 2015, sunstonepress.com
$26.95, paperback, 229 pages
about 70 photos, some color and some black and white
reviewed by Bob Banning

Dr. John Peirce, veteran veterinarian, would like you to listen to the perspective of conventional beef producers. So would I. But I would also appreciate it if he himself spent more time listening. To see what I mean, read on.

Peirce wants his readers to know “what they don’t tell you” about the U.S. beef industry. “They” are the industry’s “critics,” “you” are consumers who object to how the industry operates, and what you need to know that they don’t tell you is accurate information about how conventional beef is produced, information that the author believes will lead you to view the industry more sympathetically, maybe even to admire those who work in it.
(more…)

Farming While Black

review by Anna Muhammad
Farming While BlackFarming While Black is a great resource that provides both ‘how-to’ for the new and novice farmer while giving historical context to injustice and theft of lands from Black farmers and farmers of color.

In Farming While Black, Leah Penniman provides historic notes and clear explanation on the damage that white supremacy and racism has done to Black farmers and farmers of color. At the same time, Leah provide resources for farmers to plan the farming enterprise in detail, look for funding (there are listings of crowdfunding organizations, USDA farm financing agencies and other organizations can provide funding for new farmers.) Leah also gives a clear description of the road that she took to establish her farm and the community drive that encourage her to take on such a great task. Her story and the book provide real world examples of the pitfalls, mistakes and missteps that slow down any new farmer.
(more…)

Mycorrhizal Planet:

published by Chelsea Green Publishing, White River Junction, VT
2017, 256 pages
review by Julie Rawson

As the wife of the editor I see all the books that come in for review – and I get to cherry pick the ones I want to review. When I saw this title, and its author, I knew it would be well worth my while. Thank you, Michael, for your dedication to Jerry Brunetti — “You walked the walk with cows and herbs in the rolling hills of Pennsylvania. Your green insights and cheerful tenacity will long be appreciated. Godspeed brother.” Jerry Brunetti became a good friend and colleague of mine. His far-reaching vision, and his insights regarding soil, animal and human health have informed much of what NOFA/Mass does today.

Phillips has a playful, poetic style, and he anthropomorphizes soil micro-organisms. At times I found this style confusing, but in large part I enjoyed his light touch. He succeeds in disseminating complex scientific information in a manner that kept me attentive and often chuckling. Take, for example, his first sentence: “Mycorrhizal fungi have been waiting a long time for people to catch on.” It turns our usual interaction with soil on its head. I have walked away from this book with my thinking inherently changed; I can’t walk anywhere now without considering the ones under our feet who really run the show — if we let them. I look forward to this spring, to work with the mycorrhizal fungi and all the others living down there.
(more…)

Perilous Bounty: The Looming Collapse of American Farming and How We Can Prevent It

Perilous Bountypublished by Bloomsbury Publishing, Bloomsbury.com
hardback, 256 pages, $28.00, eBook $19.60
review by Jack Kittredge

Tom Philpott is a serious journalist, but also a farmer. I first heard of him when he was writing for the environmental organization Grist, but he moved to Mother Jones in 2011 and has done excellent work there. I learned reading this that he also spent 8 years farming in North Carolina, which gives him a star in my book for feeling, as well as understanding, what he is writing about.

What he is writing about will not be news to readers of this journal. Among other things, this book is a text about the over-expansion of American agriculture in the two spots of which our farmers and agricultural experts are most proud – the Central Valley of California and the Corn Belt of the Midwest.
(more…)

How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, De-pression, and Transcendence

How to change your mindReview by Jack Kittredge

This is an intriguing book. Of course that is not a remarkable thing to say about a work by Michael Pollan. He has established a reputation, at least among folks I know and respect, for thoughtful analysis of important questions. Prior books like “A Botany of Desire” and “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” have secured a place for him as a person who asks the right questions and probes far enough below the surface to reach answers that truly satisfy.

Even so, this is a new direction for him. As an intellectual, he rightly prizes his mind, gravitates toward scientific explanations of phenomena, and readily admits he doesn’t think he has ever had a ‘spiritually significant’ experience. As he puts it: “My default perspective is that of the philosophical materialist, who believes that matter is the fundamental substance of the world and the physical laws it obeys should be able to explain everything that happens.”

So why is he investigating something that flies in the face of his background, training, and comfort zone?
(more…)

The New Peasantries: Struggle for Autonomy and Sustainability in an Era of Empire and Globalization

review by Elizabeth Henderson

In the great cauldron of ideas that stew in our brains, mix Resilient Agriculture with New Peasantries. It may seem far-fetched to bring in peasants, but I urge you to set aside whatever bias you may have about peasants as backwards and primitive, and focus on what you can learn from land-based people who have survived for millennia. After all, organic farming as most of us know it in the NOFA world, grew out of peasant practices in Europe and India. Sir Albert (one of Rodale’s teachers) and Rudolf Steiner (inspiration for Biodynamics) both studied peasant farming, Sir Albert in India and Rudolf in Austria. Most likely, none of the farmers Laura Lengnick interviewed for her book would identify as peasants, yet the practices they use and the changes they are making on their farms to better adapt to climate change follow from the peasant principles and design ideas as delineated by van der Ploeg.
(more…)

Nourishment: What Animals Can Teach Us About Rediscovering Our Nutritional Wisdom

review by Jack Kittredge

Fred Provenza is a lifelong westerner. Born and educated in Colorado, he was a university professor for 35 years in Utah before retiring to Colorado and Montana. He brings an amazing observational acumen, as well as a thorough knowledge of plants, herbivores, and their grazing habits on both wild and domestic fodder, to this book.

His basic insight about the existence of ‘nutritional wisdom’ is something most of us at some level already know. He perhaps states it best early in the book, discussing his experiences as a young college sophomore, collecting and identifying hundreds of plants along a Colorado stream and meadow.
(more…)

The Ever Curious Gardener: Using a Little Natural Science for a Much Better Garden

review by Jack Kittredge

Those who have read a Dr. Reich book (yes, he does have a PhD – in horticulture), or who have attended one of Lee’s NOFA conference workshops, know the care with which he covers his topics. That approach continues in this, his latest gardening book.

From the book’s earliest essay, on seed sprouting, in which he explains the mysteries of dormancy, stratification, plant hormones that inhibit or encourage germination, and scarification, to its final one, on flavor, exploring the impact of microclimate, pruning for light, soil quality, harvest timing, even the mysteries of terroir on this vital quality, his curiosity and knowledge combine in a speculative blend that fascinates.
(more…)

Return to Resistance: Breeding Crops to Reduce Pesticide Dependence

Return to Resistance Coverreview by Liz Henderson

This book has been available for over 20 years, but the theme relates perfectly to the theme of this special issue of TNF, connecting the method of plant breeding that has dominated in the US with the need for the excessive and increasing use of pesticides. Robinson, who passed away in 2014, according to Wikipedia, was “a Canadian/British plant scientist with more than forty years of wide-ranging global experience in crop improvement for both commercial and subsistence agriculture.” He was a practitioner and a champion of horizontal or population breeding, an approach that attempts to replicate the level of resistance to pests and diseases found in uncultivated crops and resembles the way farmers have selected crops for millennia.
(more…)

Restoring Heritage Grains:

Published by Chelsea Green Publishing, 2016
$24.95, paperback, 272 pages, 16 page color inset
review by Kathy Morris

Restoring Heritage Grains is a book about a journey; not only of wheat but of the author.  Eli Rogosa began working with wheat in Israel where she moved from Maine to find partners for peace through organic farming.  While traveling she observed farmers successfully growing a diverse variety of wheat without external inputs and saving seeds from the varieties and plants that performed the best under the growing conditions.  This was the beginning of her quest to bring landrace wheat back from the brink of extinction and this book details her quest.  A treasure trove of information, it is filled with the history of the cultivation of wheat; the diversity of the cultivars; the cultural folklore surrounding its cultivation; a ‘how to’ for growing heritage wheat; and finally using the cultivars.  It is also a call to all of us to save seeds (not only wheat); to discover what grows best for us and select for traits that we want.

The first chapter deals with wheat and its evolution since it was first wild-gathered over 23.000 years ago and cultivated over 12,000 years ago; to present day where profit is the overriding goal rather than nutrition.   And, when you consider co-evolution, here is a grain that has evolved over thousands of years with the people who cultivate and ingest it and in the twentieth and twenty-first century it has become toxic to a percentage of those people.  Thus the issue of gluten intolerance and wheat allergies is introduced in this chapter and later in an appendix.
(more…)

Pandora’s Potatoes: The Worst GMOs

review by Bob Banning

pandora-potatoesIn this self-published book, Caius Rommens, a former genetic engineer who developed GMO potatoes as an employee of a potato company, wants to warn us about these potatoes. Their claimed benefits, he says, are false, but the harm they can cause to both farmers’ profits and eaters’ health is real and serious. He supports his argument with 109 endnotes, most of which appear to be citing scientific and trade journals.

In the book’s foreword the author relates that over several years while working for his now-former employer he gathered observations about unintended effects that his work had on potatoes. He left his employer because he couldn’t in good conscience continue to do the work that his position required.
(more…)

Global Eating Disorder

reviewed by Billy Wilson

As a student of anthropology who is slowly finding his footing somewhere in the world of sustainable agriculture, I can’t say I’ve recently happened across a book whose content I’ve been more excited to digest than Global Eating Disorder . I was actually surprised at myself. The book looks at the globalized food system—it’s development, it’s footprint, it’s human-impacts—predominantly through a social scientist’s perspective.

As implied by the title, Global Eating Disorder seeks to convey the pathologies intrinsic to our industrial food system. There are the easi-ly-stated-but-not-so-easily-explained agricultural pathologies, such as 1) international markets demanding the flow of cheap foods causing farms to become bigger, while specializing in a few commodities—I mean “food”. This up-scaling is known in agro-business as “market rationalization”. Involved here are also GMO seeds, an unsettling reality, taking monoculture to greater heights. Ninety percent of US-grown soybeans are GMO crops. 2) Land use alterations worldwide se-riously skewing the distribution of US farmlands. Two-thirds of New England used to be farmed. This was all changed with urbanization and residential building. Farmland itself urbanized in the Midwest where tracts were cheap, abundant, and eventually consolidated. No wonder the quantity of chickens produced in the US increased fourteen-fold while, simultaneously, the quantity of chicken farms decreased by 98%! This explosion of chickens, by the way, is very much related to the explosion of GMO soybeans.
(more…)

Bringing Back Biodiversity, and Restoring Nutrients to our Food

reviewed by Jane Hammer

You know that first warm, sunny morning of the New England spring, where you can finally feel in your bones that yes, the seasons keep on turning and it will be green again…that is how I felt reading Cows Save the Planet. This book presents the first real message of hope about our future in the face of weather extremes and global warming: how people from North Dakota to Australia, New England to Zimbabwe are cooling their local climate naturally, regenerating their soil and water resources, and sequestering carbon for the betterment of their own lives as well as global systems. It’s a pretty quick read—succinct, inspiring, well designed and not preachy. Readers receive a thorough introduction to many of the pioneers of soil carbon farming and a good explanation of how carbon and water cycles are related to soil health, food security, climate stability, and rural livelihoods.
(more…)

Water in Plain Sight: Hope for a Thirsty World

This is an excellent book.

Water in Plain Sight Hope for a Thirsty WorldJudith is an easy-to-read writer who has a knack for discovering people who are doing ground-breaking environmental work. She visits them, relates their story, explains the insights they have had, and shows us how their work can restore the natural order. You will be wiser and much more hopeful when you finish reading it.

The topic of Water in Plain Sight is, of course, water scarcity, which is growing worldwide. Schwartz travels to many places where water used to be available and is no longer. She meets with people who understand what has changed, have a solution, and are implementing it.
(more…)

Fruit from the Sands:

Fruit from the Sands cover copyPublished by the University of California Press, 2019
hardcover, 392 pages, $29.49
review by Jack Kittredge

For anyone interested in the history of food plants and how they have influenced human culture, this book is full of discovery. Spengler, an archaeobotanist at the Max Planck Institute for the Study of Human History, proposes that the Silk Road and the botanical exchange it facilitated between East Asia and cultures in Central and even West Asia prefigured the Columbian Exchange by thousands of years and was as significant for the human diet today as was that pivotal event.
(more…)

Grocery Story: the Promise of Food Co-ops in the Age of Grocery Giants

review by Liz Henderson

Grocery Story coverGrocery Story is a good lively read as is appropriate for a book that the author intended as an organizing tool to boost public awareness of the benefits of food co-ops. I met Jon Steinman when he came to Rochester, NY to speak at the Abundance Co-op, his first appearance on a 300-stop tour of co-ops and bookstores around North America.  Together with Melinda, the Marketing Manager at Abundance, we appeared on Connections, the local public radio talk show. After spending a decade producing a show called “Deconstructing Dinner,” where he took viewers for a close look at all the ills of big food, Steinman wanted to imagine an alternative food system – he found his answer in the network of food co-ops.

The book opens with a concise history of how this country went from small local groceries to chains of groceries to the concentrated supermarket chains of today. Consumer weakness for convenience proved a useful tool in the hands of food industry titans. The first A & P opened in 1859, proliferating over the next decades till there were 16,000 stores in 1929, together with 70 factories assembling products and 100 warehouses.  Kroger was born in 1883; by 1927, its stores numbered 3,749. A Piggly Wiggly was the first self-service grocery, a model quickly taken up by competitors.  A favorite technique for driving out smaller stores was loss leading, until the practice was banned in 1933.  Steinman has an amazing quote from Huey Long, a powerful right wing demagogue: “I would rather have thieves and gangsters than chain stores in Louisiana!” With all his power, Long could not stem the relentless chain store tide that anti-trust actions held back for a while through the 1970’s until Reagonomics opened the flood gates to the mergers of the 80’s and 90’s and the advent of Walmart (1988).
(more…)

Restoration Agriculture: Real-world Permaculture for Farmers

reviewer Alan Eddy, NOFA member, Wallingford, CT

restoration AgricultureMark Shepard discusses ideas that he has put into successful practice. There are plenty of opportunities for people to pick up where he left off and ex-pand the ideas further. The book is open-ended.

So, what are his techniques? Agroforestry and “perennial polycultures” in conjunction with free-range livestock, are what he recommends. Expanding on the principles of permaculture, he plants nut trees, fruit trees, shrubs, vines, cane fruits, berries, and smaller crops on his 106-acre farm in Richland County, Wisconsin (New Forest Farm). If you are not familiar with permaculture, Wikipedia has a good article.
(more…)

The Worm Farmer’s Handbook: Mid-to-Large-Scale Vermicomposting for Farms, Businesses, Municipalities, Schools, and Institutions

Worm Farmers HandbookReview by Ben Goldberg

As an Extension Specialist and head of the Compost Learning Lab at North Carolina State University, and organizer of the annual international NC State Vermicomposting Conference, Rhonda Sherman is a dedicated and motivational voice for vermiculture and vermicomposting. Her book, The Worm Farmer’s Handbook, is the printed version of this dedication. Be prepared to go on an engaging tour of the diverse and fascinating world of worms as Rhonda shares her long-accumulated wisdom about maintaining a healthy and productive worm farm or vermicomposting operation.

As defined by its subtitle, Mid To Large Scale Vermicomposting for Farms, Businesses, Municipalities, Schools, and Institutions, the book is in-tended to be a guide to establishing a successful worm composting venture, whether for profit or ecological benefit. In no way, however, does that lessen its value to small scale worm farmers, or for those who simply maintains a bin down cellar or under the kitchen sink. As the book strongly emphasizes, there is tremendous value in gaining a practical hands-on understanding of worm composting basics before growing in scale. Drawing from her own experiences and those of others, Rhonda offers valuable tips and strategies that are appropriate to all skill levels and sizes of operation. She creates a solid platform of understanding that will help you productively manage not only your worms and system of operation, but your business management procedures as well.
(more…)

Uncertain Harvest

Reviewed by Andy Simon

“Ed stood on the summit — or near enough for a good story when he got back to New York. His open mouth chewed thin air, which hit his throat like liquid nitrogen.” These first sentences of Charles Simpson’s novel hardly seem like the opening of

a book about genetic engineering in agriculture. However, this is only the first of many surprises in this fast-paced, intelligent, political, exciting book. Simpson manages to combine a taut, erotically- charged detective story with a fine-grained analysis of Big Ag and Big Tech’s plot to control global food production. It’s quite a read.

(more…)

A Soil Owner’s Manual: How to Restore and Maintain Soil Health

A Soil Owners Manual Coverreview by Liz Henderson

This little book, only 75 pages long, is a great introduction to caring for the health of your soil whether you are gardening or farming, small or large-scale. For non-beginners, rereading this book at the start of each new farming/gardening season would also be a helpful refresher. In Stika’s words, this book “is a soil-centric view on restoring the soil first and then realizing all of the crop production and environmental benefits that will follow.” (xvi) Before taking up a plow or fork, Stika wants us to understand how soils function so that when we maximize productivity, we do not undermine future yields and ecosystem health.
(more…)

Pomona’s Lost Children: A Book of Uncommon Antique Fruits

review by Jack Kittredge

I’ve always had a soft spot for minor fruit – things like paw paws, mulberries, persimmons, elderberries, gooseberries, etc. that taste wonderful and grow easily organically in our area, but for one reason or another have not been bred for market. Some like the paw paws can’t take handling, others take too long to pay someone to harvest and are only suited for kids or homesteaders to pick and eat on the spot.

Stratton seems to be another fan of such fruits. This book contains a chapter on each of the above (except mulberries), plus ones on currants, black cur-rants, quince, blackberries, medlar, jostaberries, saskatoon, and cornel. He also includes a few paragraphs on wild black cherry, chokecherry, mayhaw, rosehips, rowanberry, and rowan dream.
(more…)

Soil 2017: Notes Towards the Theory and Practice of Nurture Capital

review by Jack Kittredge

Woody, studied practitioner of the bon mot, starts this compendium saying “I’m sad as hell and I’m not going to fake it anymore”. What follows, which he terms “a call to farms”, is a booklet of poetic free association/verse and snippets about history, literature, economics, popular culture, natural science, agriculture, contemporary politics and virtually everything else which enters Woody’s wide-ranging mind.

Tasch’s strength is that he conflates diverse ideas from these various streams, many of which turn up topics (soil, microbes, carbon, health, simplicity, life) with which most readers of this journal are quite familiar. This sometimes illuminates truths not contained in any of the individual citations but that are visible for a moment in the flash of something reflected.
(more…)

Perennial Vegetable Gardening with Eric Toensmeier (DVD review)

Reviewed by Sanne Kure-Jensen

Gardeners and farmers considering permaculture or season extension will find this film an excellent resource. It features over a dozen perennial vegetables on Toensmeier’s Massachusetts garden. The host also shows high-elevation, temperate gardens at Las Cañadas in Huatusco, Veracruz, Mexico (bosquedeniebla.com.mx). Those growing conditions are comparable to those in the Pacific Northwest. The final segment of the video covered Toensmeier’s workshop at ECHO’s global farm in North Fort Meyers, Florida (echonet.org).
(more…)

The Carbon Farming Solution:

review by Jack KIttredge

I have always enjoyed reading Eric Toensmeier. His enthusiasm for perennials is infectious and we have planted several varietal selections found in his 2007 book “Perennial Vegetables” on our farm in Barre, MA. The amazing 1/10 of a acre he and Jonathan Bates planted to perennials in their back yard in Holyoke, “Paradise Lot”, is a wonder of diversity.

Many of us in NOFA have been focused on developing practices and tools that sequester carbon and mitigate climate extremes when raising primarily an-nual crops, especially those grown in the northeast. The term “carbon farming” has been used for these practices (although often, according to Toensmei-er, it is associated with direct compensation of the farmer for such sequestration.) Now Eric has taken on the long-needed task of analyzing perennial plantings from the same perspective.
(more…)

Organic Hobby Farming: A Practical Guide to Earth-friendly Farming in any Space

review by Richard Robinson
Hobbies are respectable enterprises, and everyone should have at least one. But nonetheless, the phrase “hobby farm” grates on me like fingernails on a chalkboard. It’s a phrase I have only ever heard from the mouths of people who are not farmers and have done no farm work, and in fact are deeply alienated from the work—physical, mental, aesthetic—that farmers do every day to make food, and beauty, from the land they care for. To me, a more-than-part-time-but-less-than-full-time farmer, “hobby farm” evokes a combination of condescension and cluelessness, such that I am predisposed to reject out of hand a book that calls itself “Organic Hobby Farming,” even when it follows that up with its more promising subtitle, “A practical guide to earth-friendly farming in any space.”
(more…)

Fertility Farming

Reviewed by Noah Courser-Kellerman

Fertility farming author Newman turner“When I came to Goosegreen farm” Newman Turner begins the 1951 classic Fertility Farming, “the first calf was born dead. Disease was already master of the farm. Was I to be man enough to face such a master and turn his efforts to my own advantage?”

This book is part memoir, part practical guide and part fiery manifesto. It is about the power of good farming to resuscitate a dying farm and a vision for a new, regenerative agriculture based on biological principles, keen observation, respect for the land and hard work. I believe that Turner’s work is not as well known as it should be, and that his writings deserve a place in the canon of visionary organic writers in the company of J. Russell Smith, Masanobu Fukuoka, Sir Albert Howard, Lady Eve Balfour, Rudolf Steiner, William Albrecht, George Washington Carver, Edward Faulkner and others.
(more…)

Big Farms Make Big Flu: Dispatches on Infectious Disease, Agribusiness, and the Nature of Science

copyright 2016, 456 pages, paperback, $38.76
review by Jack Kittredge

When I saw this book I knew I had to read it. Although published in 2016, long before the Corona Virus jumped species and created such havoc in our world, I suspected that the tale it tells of the evolution of viruses like our current nemesis is an all too common one.

Rob Wallace is a serious journalist. An evolutionary biologist and public health phylogeographer (one who studies the historical processes responsible for the contemporary geographic distributions of individuals), he is presently at the Institute for Global Studies at the University of Minnesota. Wallace has consulted for the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and is co-author of Neoliberal Ebola: Modeling Disease Emergence from Finance to Forest and Farm, and of Clear-Cutting Disease Control: Capital-Led Deforestation, Public Health Austerity, and Vector-Borne Infection.

(more…)

Less Medicine, More Health: 7 Assumptions That Drive Too Much Medical Care

Reviewed by Larry Siegel

I do not read books on matters medical. Until. Having conducted more than half my life guided by the philosophy that less is more, I was drawn to Less Medicine, More Health like a bee to nectar. I was not disappointed. Fair warning: if you are comfortable with conventional medical care, with its plethora of diagnostic tests and pharmacological solutions, do not, I repeat, do not read this book. If, however, you harbor, with me (healthy) reservations that all is not healthy in the health-care world, then this book becomes a must-read. Dr. H. Gilbert Welch has turned the prevailing assumptions that drive medical care on their ears. I have the notion that were the author to appear before a jury of his peers, he would be judged a heretic and burned at the stake.
(more…)

Grass, Soil, Hope: A Journey through Carbon Country 

This is such a delightful book. Courtney White takes a very serious subject, climate change, and addresses this massive topic in an always upbeat manner with a very light touch. He took a trip around the world to visit a number of exemplary farmers, ranchers, wild life experts, ecologists, business people and scientists who are demonstrating successful models for bringing carbon back out of the atmosphere and into the soil to build stable humus. And that premise (that we can bring atmospheric CO2 levels down to climactically safe levels) is the reason for the “Hope” in the title.
(more…)

Grass, Soil, Hope: A Journey through Carbon Country

Reviewed by Julie Rawson

This is such a delightful book. Courtney White takes a very serious subject, climate change, and addresses this massive topic in an always upbeat manner with a very light touch. He took a trip around the world to visit a number of exemplary farmers, ranchers, wild life experts, ecologists, business people and scientists who are demonstrating successful models for bringing carbon back out of the atmosphere and into the soil to build stable humus. And that premise (that we can bring atmospheric CO2 levels down to climactically safe levels) is the reason for the “Hope” in the title.
(more…)

Freedom Farmers: Agricultural Resistance ad the Black Freedom Movement

review by Jack Kittredge

Freedom FarmersFreedom Farmers is an interesting amalgamation. In her introduction, professor White introduces a theoretical framework she calls ‘collective agency and community resilience’ (CACR). Although it was a little hard for me to wade through the verbiage, I think collective agency refers to a group of people acting out of a belief in their mutual success, and community resilience means community-based forms of social organization that respond to natural and human-induced disasters.

White then uses this framework to look at African American practices connecting land, food, and freedom. Although focusing on the Southern Cooperative Movement of the late 1960s through 1974, she sees early slave gardens at the time of the Middle Passage as good examples of CACR: independent production grounds controlled by slaves representing a strategy of resistance to a corrupt system and an effort to create food security.
(more…)

Land Justice: Re-imagining Land, Food and the Commons in the United States

Land Justice: Re-imagining Land, Food and the Commons in the United States review by Liz Henderson

If you are looking for a deeper understanding of the ills in our food system and how to address them than “vote with your fork,” this is a book you should read as soon as possible. Land Justice stands in contrast with so many food movement books that never question the basic premise that with a few adjustments, we can correct the excesses of the capitalist marketplace. Eric Holt-Gimenez lays out the book’s basic premise: “Racial injustice and the stark inequities in property and wealth in the US countryside aren’t just a quirk of history, but a structural feature of capitalist agriculture. This means that in order to succeed in building an alternative agrarian future, today’s social movements will have to dismantle those structures. It is the relationships in the food system, and how we govern them, that really matter.” (P. 2)
(more…)

The Bee: A Natural History

the bee natural history reviewreview by Julie Rawson

We are relatively short in beekeeping experience and wisdom at Many Hands Organic Farm. Way back in about 1981 or so we got a beehive under the auspices of the Dorchester Gardenlands Preserve in Boston and put it in our tiny side yard. The bees died. But I must say that I had no training from an-yone on how to manage them, and as I was managing 4 children under 4 at the time, I perhaps didn’t have the energy or time to educate myself. We brought that hive out here to Barre in 1982 and perhaps put in another batch of bees that died. After a hiatus of 34 years, Jason, one of our most enthusi-astic employees, got us started with bees last year, under the guiding hands of Roland Sevigny and Charlotte Trim. They did fantastically, but alas, we missed the window for adding more frames and the queen took off with half the hive. There was no viable queen left in the hive and the colony died. They did produce a wonderful supply of scrumptious honey, however. With more help from Roland and also Dan Conlon, Clare has taken over the bee yard, and we have added another hive to our holdings. The bees have been here two weeks. Although we have a bunch of beautiful fruit trees in bloom and a plethora of dandelions to feast on, the bees have barely come out due to the constant cold, rain, cloudiness and drizzle. Hopefully with next week’s forecasted warm and sunnier weather the girls will take flight and start working full-time. (more…)

Lawns into Meadows: Growing a Regenerative Landscape

Reviewed by Ellen Walther Sousa

lawn into meadowsAn established meadow can store 70% more carbon than a traditional monocrop turf lawn, and can improve the environment by supporting pollinators, increasing biodiversity, and enriching soil health as well. In Lawns into Meadows, Owen Wormser uses his wealth of experience to create a readable and up-to-date manual of meadow startup and maintenance for properties large and small.

Far from being as simple as throwing down a packet of wild flower seeds and letting your lawn ‘go wild’, a successful lawn-to-meadow conversion is generally a multi-year process, requiring knowledgeable site assessment, careful plant selection and design, and ongoing upkeep in the form of an annual mowing or weeding out of woody trees.
(more…)

Farming with Native Beneficial Insects. Ecological Pest Control Solutions

review by Eli Rubin

This book is about the unsung heroes of agriculture: Predatory insects, spiders and mites.  The book is filled with gruesome action shots of bugs eating bugs, just the sort of thing to inspire you to go out and make habitat for these beneficial insects.  Where this book is unique is its sole focus on native beneficial insects (as opposed to the introduced beneficial insects most common commercially), and the tools and tricks needed to increase their population in your own farm or garden.  The book pulls examples from large farms and ranches, but also contains sidebars of what-this-means-for-home-gardens as well.
(more…)

100 Plants to Feed the Bees: Provide a Healthy Habitat to Help Pollinators Thrive

Feed the Bees Book Reviewreviewed by Jack Kittredge

This is an impressive little book. Besides a detailed 13-page introduction about plants and pollinators, which ought to answer the questions of most people about pollination – its biology, evolution, importance, rewards and risks – the following 200+ pages are devoted to the 100 plants in the title.

They are divided into native wildflowers (43), native trees and shrubs (32), introduced trees and shrubs (2), introduced herbs and ornamentals (12), and native and non-native bee pasture plants (11). The book is intended for use throughout North America and each plant is accompanied by a map showing it’s native range. A list of the plant’s uses is also provided and is very helpful as anyone tending to the needs of pollinators is likely also attuned to other benefits of plants such as reclaiming land, restoring wetlands, providing hedgerows, hosting butterflies, providing nutrition or herbal medicines, or simply looking beautiful. (more…)