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.

Klober likes hogs because in a seasonal production pattern, hogs can produce two litters of eight or more apiece each year. These pigs will grow quickly, producing several paydays each year. This book argues for raising hogs outdoors in order to greatly reduce the energy and facility costs.

Before starting to raise hogs, an initial assessment of the viability of a range or outdoor swine venture should ask the following: (1) Is labor available? (2) Will it compete directly with other ventures for available resources? (3) What are the available marketing outlets and options? (4) What kind of support infrastructure is available (e.g. vets, feed suppliers, seedstock sources, etc)? (5) Do you like working with hogs? (6) Is the family in accord on this venture?

Klober notes that the labor investment per year for a sow and her two litters is on the order of 20 hours or less. Klober also recommends establishing a loose network of area swine producers. As a group, they tend to hold suppliers in place and to draw more buyers to the area. They can often share the purchase of some inputs, and perhaps most important, they can provide each other valuable shared experiences and support.

Regarding fencing, the best choice for perimeter fence for hogs is a combination of woven and barbed wire. Also, a second electrified fence keeps the ani-mals back from groups of the same species contained in adjoining farms.

The single best place to buy a new hog is on the farm of origin. Klober lists several reasons for this: (1) You can see how the animal was produced. Facil-ities should be similar to yours, (2) You can view full- and half-siblings to see the strength and uniformity of the genetics, (3) You can view the breeding herd, including sire and dam, (4) It is probable that the small farmer working with limited numbers would value genetic depth and consistency, (5) You can visit with and get to know the producer, (6) The stress load on the animal will be much less if taken directly from the farm.

Veteran hog farmers recommend selecting replacement gilts only from their oldest sows. Their reasoning is that these females have had the time to build up the greatest levels of natural immunity to the “bug” mix on the home farm and to pass it on to their offspring. Also they are the most durable of the females.

Klober’s chapter on herd maintenance starts with a discussion of animal identification. The first choice for individual animal identification is ear tags. But ear notching is one of the oldest methods of swine identification and is the most long lasting. Herd records should include when the boar was introduced, exact breeding dates (if observed), ID of service sire, ration changes, health treatments, and general observations. In the days and weeks following birth, herd records would include losses during lactation, sow conditions, pig growth, and health care practices as they were delivered.

The book also has some marketing tips for those considering starting a hog business. First, have some really good business cards made for your farming operation. Second, develop some good letterhead and envelopes. Third, have a well designed road sign nearby. Fourth, prepare a simple one- to four-page, double fold flyer that potential customers can read over at home. Fifth, get the name, address, and phone number of every visitor to your farm and follow up with them after they visit. Sixth, cooperate with other local farmers to draw buyers to that area.

There were some weaknesses also in this book. The book had no glossary. A glossary would have been helpful for people like me who have never raised hogs before. The wagon wheel setup on page 42 had no information on measurements. No information was provided regarding how long the hogs are kept in the wagon wheel setup. Also is the wagon wheel setup really consistent with the author’s term free range?

Another weakness is the author’s suggestion of using soy feed supplements. There was no mention of the fact that most soy feed is genetically modified and there-fore dangerous to the health of the pig and to the consumer of the meat of that pig. Fagan, Antoniou, and Robinson (2014) note that GM soy had 27% higher levels of a major allergen, trypsin-inhibitor, than the non-GM parent variety. Also the GM soy was found to contain high residues of glyphosate (a known carcinogen ac-cording to the International Agency for Research on Cancer) and its breakdown product AMPA. Conventional and organic soybeans contained neither of these chemicals. Fagan et all (2014) gives a long list of other health hazards related to consuming GM food. Seralini et all (2014) also lists the health hazards of GM feed for animals. But not only is GM food harmful in many ways, the glyphosate used to produce GM feed causes the following problems: nutritional deficiencies, reproductive issues and increased risk to thyroid disease, kidney failure, cancer, tumors and early death. Glyphosate exposure also leads to an increased risk of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma (Samsel & Seneff 2013).

But soy in general (whether organic or not) has been shown to reduce the assimilation of B12, calcium, magnesium, copper, iron, and zinc, and thus can stunt growth. High levels of soy have been linked to thyroid and autoimmune diseases. As if that were not enough, soy foods contain high levels of aluminum, which can be toxic to the nervous system and kidneys. For more information on the dangers of soy, visit www.westonprice.org.

An alternative to feeding hogs soy feed supplements would be for the farmer to raise feed him or herself organically or to purchase used, left-over hops from a nearby beer factory if there is one nearby. Some farmers sprout grains and peas for feed (Foreman 2010:176). Also Mikkelson (2005) explains how he produces GMO-free feed for his livestock.

However, anyone considering starting a small scale operation of outdoor hog raising should consider reading this book.

References and recommended reading

Fagan, John, Michael Antoniou, and Claire Robinson. 2014. GMO Myths and Truths. http://www.nongmoproject.org/learn-more/gmo-myths-and-truths/
Foreman, Patricia. 2010. City chicks: Keeping micro-flocks of chickens as garden helpers, compost creators, bio-recyclers, and local food suppliers. Buena Vista, VA: Good Earth Publications.
Leu, Andre. 2014. The Myths of Safe Pesticides. Austin, TX: Acres.
Mikkelson, Keith O. 2005. A Natural Farming System For Sustainable Agriculture In the Tropics. Palawan, Philippines: Aloha House Inc.
Samsel, A., & Seneff, S. 2013. Glyphosate, pathways to modern diseases II: Celiac sprue and gluten intolerance. Interdisciplinary Toxicology, 6(4), 159–184. http://doi.org/10.2478/intox-2013-0026.
Seralini, Gilles-Eric, Emile Clair, Robin Mesnage, Steeve Gress, Nicolas Defarge, Manuela Malatesta, Didier Hennequin, and Joel Spiroux de Vendomois. 2014. Republished study: long-term toxicity of a Roundup herbicide and a Roundup-tolerant genetically modified maize. Environmental Sciences Europe 26:14.




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.

The book’s foreword by Sandor Ellix Katz, author and evangelist for food fermentation, serves to introduce and/or remind the reader that fermenting milk is an old and honored way of preserving this nutrient dense food as yogurt, kefir or cheese. From there, Asher’s introduction makes it plain that the revival of home and artisanal cheesemaking in the US and Canada (his Black Sheep School of Cheesemaking is located in British Columbia) has uncritically accepted the use of industrial cultures, and neglected the rich history of cheesemaking with wild cultures.

This book is laid out much the same as other books on home or small-scale cheesemaking – chapters on milk, cultures and other ingredients, equipment, and aging, followed by chapters with step by step recipes. The differences between this book and the others on my shelf are in the extensive discussions of the way ingredients we commonly use are produced to yield very controlled and reproducible fermentations, and how to move from them into a natural ecology of cheese with more room for improvisation on the part of the maker and of the fermenting curds.

Asher’s recipes for the most part acknowledge a starting point from a yogurt, kefir, previous whey batch, or moldy cheese already in existence, and then propagating the resulting culture to make it totally local to the experimenter’s own kitchen. The process is not unlike maintaining sourdough starter or making pain au levain with a chunk of dough from the previous rising. My personal experience with starting cheeses with whey from the previous batch have been very successful in creating a distinctly different flavor profile than inoculating with freeze-dried culture each batch. Unfortunately, as a small scale commercial producer, I know from experience that the regulatory agencies in Massachusetts would not approve my longstanding yogurt and kefir cultures from a colleague’s Uzbeck grandmother, and since they require all fermented milk products sold to the public to begin with FDA approved cultures, there is a long haul ahead to get traditional natural cheesemaking approval. This is discussed quite frankly in the book, and David Asher admits to being a “guerrilla cheesemaker”.

The book fails in one matter that is common to many of its neighbors on the bookshelf: there is no discussion of how milk from different species and/or at different points in lactation requires different handling. The only differences attributed to milks are raw vs pasteurized/homogenized. Having only ever used raw milk, and often using non-commercial cultures, I was disappointed by the broad strokes used to characterize the foundational product, the milk.

That being said, this book is wonderfully written and therefore a pleasure to just read. As a technical manual the clear explanations seem easy to follow, and I look forward to trying the recipes. There is much here to learn for experienced as well as new milk fermenteers.




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.

2myconThomas Barrett was born in 1884. He was a real Darwin fan, quoting the great scientist as saying, “It may be doubted whether there are many other animals which have played so important a part in the history of the world as have these lowly organized creatures.” And Barrett was a real earthworm fan, too. His book is divided into 2 parts – The Earthworm and Its Environment, and The Earthworm Under Control.

I found the first section of the book, The Earthworm and Its Environment, the most attractive and educational. Chapter one is on humus. “Humus is the end product of plant and animal life and must be created for current use from day to day and season to season,” according to Barrett. He speaks poetically of the single-celled yeast plant all the way to the giant sequoia eventually finding their way to the common burial place – the compost heap of nature. Barrett notes that the creation of humus from dead animal and vegetable matter usually takes from weeks to years with the notable exception that earthworms excrete humus. “Earthworms are the shock-troops of nature for the quick production of humus while she is waiting upon her slower processes,” says he.

Aristotle called earthworms the “intestines of the earth”. W L Powers, a Soil Scientist from Oregon State labeled them “colloid mills”. They produce the intimate chemical and mechanical homogenized mixture of fine organic and inorganic matter which forms their castings. In the alimentary canal the ingested materials undergo chemical changes, deodorization and neutralization, such that the resultant castings (manure) are a practically neutral humus, rich in water soluble plant food, and immediately available for plant nutrition.

According to Barrett, the earthworm is one of the strongest animals in nature for its size. Its body is formed by a series of from 200 to 400 muscular rings. “Thus everything that opposes itself to the blind attention of the earthworm becomes something to be devoured,” says Barrett. Here is how it works. The earthworm pushes itself through the soil, ingesting as it moves. All ingested material passes into the crop and then into the gizzard as a semi-liquid plastic mass. The grindstones of the gizzard, along with digestive juices similar to those found in human beings, act on the contents. A remarkable feature of the earthworm’s anatomy is the calciferous glands, located in the walls of the esophagus. They are unique to the earthworm. The liquid calcium that they secrete exerts its neutralizing action on the acids of the material that passes through the worm’s alimentary canal. Continuing with the digestive process, the material takes on valuable added elements from the intestines and urinary excretions. The end product is manure or castings.

Barrett enumerates the many values that worms provide to agriculture. Briefly, he mentions that they go deep into the subsoil and bring the minerals that are present there into the surface layers, and they greatly increase the air capacity of the soil and its water holding capacity. When their numbers are significant, they normalize pH, and increase calcium carbonate and nitrogen in the soil. The colloid humus content increases and the microbial life increases, and the nutrients in the soil are more highly water soluble and plant available. Finally, as a by-product of their castings production, resistance to pests and disease is enhanced in soils that are actively inhabited by earthworms. Barrett reminds us that the number of earthworms in a given environment is limited only by the amount of available food.

One of the most memorable parts of the book, for me, was the telling of a story by a friend of his about the friend’s grandfather’s farm in Ohio between the years of 1830 to 1890. This 160 acre farm boasted several paddocks that rotated between grain production, and pasture for mixed livestock. The barnyard, which opened into the paddocks, held oat and wheat straw stacks on raised covered platforms, for the livestock to eat during the winter and use as bedding. In the center of the barnyard was a compost pit that was fifty feet wide, 100 feet long and 2 feet deep. There were cables running between the barn and the pit attached to 12-15’ tall posts. Dump buckets from the barn were shuttled out to be dumped into the pit every day. From a spring nearby a flume was constructed to be used for adding water to the compost pit as needed. Chickens and ducks worked the pile throughout. At intervals, the farmer would add red clay in layers to the pile. When spring arrived, the compost (minus a starter of worms and compost for the next batch) was hauled away to the fields, and the compost and worms were ploughed into the field. The grandson’s job at this time was to shoot as many crows as he possibly could, because they came in the hundreds to devour as many worms as possible before they were ploughed into the soil! This farmer was renowned far and wide for his high quality crops, seed, livestock and ever more fertile soil.

The second half of the book talks about vermi-composting in more controlled settings like boxes in basements and/or shady outdoor locations (the author was from California). I found this section of the book not as intriguing, as a lot of the materials used in the process are not readily available now for possible replication. And, being a somewhat lazy farmer, my main interest in increasing worm populations on our farm is through appropriately worm-attractive practices in the field.

This book is short at 160 pages, and is an easy read. Some of the history in it is quite interesting, and Barrett’s ultimate enthusiasm for earthworms and their value is quite infectious. I leave you with the following quote: “We have written a book in an endeavor to create a mental picture of the most important animal in the world – the earthworm. When the question is asked, Can I build topsoil? The answer is ‘yes’. And when the first question is followed by a second question, ‘How can I do it?” the answer is ‘Feed the earthworms.’”




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.

There is way too much here to try to summarize, so let me just give you a couple of tastes.

Foliar nutrition is the subject of chapter 6. According to Brunetti, there are 5 primary advantages to foliar feeding;
enables rapid and efficient uptake of nutrients
provides nutrients in problem soils where there is limited biology, inhibiting the uptake of soil nutrients into the plant
minimizes the stress of weather extremes
incites Induced Activated Resistance – which is a grower’s way to stimulate a protective response in the plant
manipulates the metabolism of plants so that the growth or vegetative phase can be morphed into a reproductive phase when desired.

Cracks in the cuticle of the plant leaf, and also stomata, which are open in the cooler times of the day, are the entry points for foliar nutrition. This chapter discusses, along with leaf anatomy, timing for foliars (of the day and in the plant’s life), necessary physical characteristics of a successful mix, temperature parameters, and appropriate equipment to be used. Sticking agents and solution pH (finished tank between 5.0 and 6.0) are considerations to manage. Seaweed extracts, humic and fulvic acid, sea crop (a sea water product that has had most of the NaCl removed), blackstrap molasses and fish hydrolates are all components favored by the author.
I became a foliar fanatic about 4 years ago. Though I have been using mixes of commercially formulated fertility products, along with trace minerals, to good success, I have been on the search for the perfect homemade foliar spray. I think I found it here and will be using it regularly this summer. It features one of my favorite bio-accumulator plants, which I have growing all over our farm. It is comfrey.

cutaway leaf“Comfrey tea foliar can be produced by harvesting about twenty pounds of fresh leaves per 55 gallons of water. Add 10 pounds of compost or worm castings, 4 ounces of Epsom salts, 10 lbs of molasses, one ounce of sea salt and five gallons of milk. Let this all ferment in a vented container, stirring and shaking at least every couple of days for 3 weeks. Comfrey is very high in nitrogen because it is 25 percent or more protein. It’s loaded with macro and micro-nutrients as well as polysaccharides (long chain sugars) as a source of carbon. Strain and use as a soil drench or foliar at 3 to 4 ounces per gallon of water or 2-3% dilution.”

The lowly earthworm is the subject of Chapter 7. For good reason, Jerry has incredible respect and love for these creatures which he characterizes as a kind of hybrid between a chicken and a cow which sometimes acts like a “whale in the soil.”

Already convinced of their incredible capability to improve fertility, manage soil air and water, and build organic matter, in this chapter I was most interested in how to successfully increase the number of earthworms in a shovelful of dirt. Earthworms need an aerobic, cool, moist environment with adequate organic materials to flourish. They prefer soils with a pH between 5.5 and 8.5, and that has adequate calcium levels. That element is necessary for the mucus secretions of their calciferous gland. Direct contact with ammonia fertilizers (including slurry manure), insecticides, and tillage are hazardous to earthworms. A healthy soil food web that includes good numbers of protozoa will attract a strong earthworm population. Using alfalfa products as mulches, in compost teas, and as soil amendments will attract the protozoa that feed the worms.

An interesting fact that I learned in this chapter was that Charles Darwin studied earthworms for 39 years and published an important work on them in 1881. No scientist prior to Darwin had taken such an interest in earthworms, and many believed them to be vegetable pests that attacked plant roots as do parasitic nematodes.

Jerry’s love of earthworms is summed up in his closing words in this chapter – “…earthworms may provide answers for many of our challenges associated with topsoil conservation, feeding the hungry, recycling all of our biological wastes, preserving our watersheds, decontaminating toxins, restoring damaged landscapes, and providing a low cost feed for poultry (worms are rich in quality amino acids, fats, vitamins, and minerals). And there’s even the potential for cottage industries that can sell fish worms, compost worms, worm castings, and vermitea. Long live the earthworm.”

This tome is a textbook, a storybook, a practical how-to manual, and an inspiring call to action all in one wrapper. Jerry’s love of science, nature, farming, and humankind is a constant throughout the book. That enthusiasm kept me going until the end. Even during those periods where it got too “deep” for me to understand, I could always count on a return to practicality and lessons for me to put into place on our farm in 2014.




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.

One cannot discuss fermentation without mentioning yeast. “The Wildcrafting Brewer” devotes a whole chapter to yeast, a fungus that converts sugars into carbon dioxide gas and alcohol. Yeast and fungal spores are everywhere. 1,500 yeasts have been identified so far. Good sources for natural yeasts are:

  • Organic local grapes with a white bloom
  • Wild grapes
  • Organic gingerroot (Chinese gingerroot does not work; it may have been irradiated)
  • Fresh wild juniper berries (select edible varieties)
  • Elderberries or elderflowers
  • Blueberries
  • Blackberries
  • Fresh figs
  • Prickly pear cactus fruits
  • Tree bark (collect responsibly in late spring: birch, yellow birch or aspen)
  • Raw honey (unheated)

Avoid chemically treated or irradiated fruit. Wash fruits before use. Baudar advises novice fermenters or those uncomfortable with gathering wild yeast to begin experimenting with commercial yeasts.

  • Beer yeast for regular and wild beer recipes
  • Champagne yeast for sodas
  • Wine yeast for blueberries, elderberries and other wild berries

If a recipe calls for boiling ingredients, a yeast starter is needed to reintroduce yeast to the cooled liquid or “wort.”
Using commercial yeast instead of wild yeast typically yields beverages with higher alcohol contents. Baudar advises against brewing with bread yeast unless you want a beverage that tastes like bread.

Sweeteners for feeding yeast could be tree sap, honey, molasses, fruit juices, malted grains or even insect honeydew.

Boiling fruit juice or unripe green pinyon pine cones concentrates their sugars into syrup. When boiled further, syrup becomes a thick “molasses.” Baudar describes making his own “wild brown sugar” with molasses made from blueberries, dates, blackberries and elderberries. Adding lemon juice helps preserve homemade molasses.

The Flavor chapter admits to being incomplete as there are too many possibilities and combinations to list from the author’s southern California neighborhood and globally. Baudar’s rule of thumb is: use “bitter flavors… for beers [and] sweet and fruity flavors for sodas.” He admits to making exceptions and that many of his creations have “murky” classifications.

About a millennium ago, herb flavored beers or gruits were flavored with mugwort, yarrow, ground ivy, dandelion, rue and other herbs. In the 15th century, German law declared that “beer” could only contain water, grains and hops. They forgot to mention yeast.

In beer, hops act as a preservative and antiseptic. When mixed with alcohol, hops act as a relaxing sedative. Hops are in the Cannabis family and are related to hemp and marijuana.

Baudar breaks beers into five basic categories based on their ingredients. Meads can be broken into at least 20 categories. Changing the proportions of the same ingredient list can change a soda into a beer or change the category within a beverage type. Baudar’s favorite soda blend is mugwort, pinyon pine and pear.

Growing your own brewing garden is a great way to ensure a steady supply of your favorite ingredients. Baudar describes several herbal drying techniques from simple, inexpensive techniques like hanging herbs in a paper bag to using an electric dehydrator.

Brewing techniques can vary from steeping, cold brewing or hot brewing. Fragile aromatic herb flavors are often damaged by boiling so they are cold brewed or added late in the brewing or fermenting process.

Fermentation vessels and other equipment are thoroughly explained and illustrated. Baudar prefers natural carbonation from yeast rather than adding carbon dioxide gas. Under pressure, carbon dioxide is absorbed back into the liquid. When the pressure is released, lids may pop and bubbles fizz to the surface. Baudar shares tales of exploding jars of green pinyon pine syrup as an important lesson on why to use an airlock or a loose-fitting lid so concoctions do not explode during active fermentation.

As fermenters’ experience grows, Baudar recommends experimenting with a local “terrior” brew using bark, cones and mushrooms (safe varieties) from nearby forests, scrub areas, fields and/or gardens.

“The Wildcrafting Brewer” contains historical backgrounds and recipes for wines, meads and sodas. Baudar also includes ethnic beverages, bread and fruit kvass as well as medicinal brews.

The book’s Resource List includes reference books covering American and regional plants and ingredients.

Baudar advises pregnant women to defer experimenting with alcoholic beverages or teas made with herbs like horehound, wormwood, licorice, mugwort, yarrow until after their child is born. Experimenters should “start with something they actually know is not poisonous or unhealthy…a successful starter should smell good too.”

“The Wildcrafting Brewer” is an excellent follow-up to Baudar’s first book “The New Wildcrafted Cuisine: Exploring the Exotic Gastronomy of Local Terroir” released in 2016 by Chelsea Green Publishing.

Read about Pascal Baudar at www.chelseagreen.com/writer/pascal-baudar. Based in greater Los Angeles, California, Baudar continues his work as a wild-food researcher, wild brewer and food preservation instructor. His classes and seminars have introduced thousands of home cooks, chefs and foodies to Nature’s magical flavors. Find a schedule of Baudar’s upcoming programs at http://urbanoutdoorskills.com/schedule.html.




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.

This imagined greenway for the pollinators navigates a challenging urban landscape to create a new prototype that can be real in its ecological composi-tion. A unique combination of art and prose set against a rebellion against accepting the conventional and oft-described urban decay, Birk paints a hopeful and imaginative tool for urban design, rooted in science and biology.

The Pollinator’s Corridor captures the daily lives and aspirations of city residents who share the varying yet common thread of a vision for green urbanity — a vision that’s painted in their imaginations as an environ unabashedly urban yet used at a thrumming pace not just by its human inhabitants but by our pollinators. The book’s evocative illustrations capture the imagination of its characters that are working within their daily lives to paint that picture. Birk’s characters are representative of any or all of us – from the woman jumping into her local YMCA pool at the end of a tiring day to the artist looking for a yet bigger canvas, all looking for nooks and crannies, waterfronts and vacant lands, to plant the seeds that will welcome the pollinating communities into the city.




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.”

SUBURBS: The permaculturists interviewed are — Eric Toensmeier, Lisa Fernandes, Lisa DePiano, and Steve Whitman. There is a short sequence about composting toilets and another about using bicycle trailers to collect compost and recycling. Scenes are included of neighbors working together to implement permaculture designs. Multiple edible crops can be grown together in a small yard. The pawpaw, Asimina triloba, is an edible fruit native to North America and frequently mentioned in North American folklore.

CITIES: The people included are — Dwaine Lee, Andrew Faust, Paula Amram, Ari Rosenberg, Luis Sanchez, and Pandora Thomas. Topics include: growing food crops on rooftops, capturing rainwater from sloped roofs, planting neighborhood gardens and rain gardens in conjunction with local residents, and providing job opportunities for urban dwellers and ex-offenders. The potential of the urban landscape will surprise you!

FARMS: In this segment the experts are — Michael Phillips (2017 NOFA Conference keynoter), Keith Morris, Steve Gabriel, Rhamis Kent, Susana Kay Lein, and Mark Shepard. There is a sequence about growing shitake mushrooms on logs in a forest setting (the main pests are slugs, which are controlled by foraging ducks). Susana Kay Lein plants grain crops in succession without any tillage — an idea from Japan (The One Straw Revolution). New Forest Farm in Wis-consin replicates the “oak savanna” of ancient mammoths and bison — a fantastically productive habitat.

I grew up in the 1960s when environmentalists were saying: “humans are bad — we are a planetary disease.” This film says: “wait a minute — it doesn’t have to be that way. Humans CAN be good.” We can not only sustain ecosystems but we can restore and regenerate them as well. Scenes with children are prominent in the film!

In 1979, I received a B. S. degree in Horticulture from Michigan State University and began joining organizations in order to explore new ideas: The Maine Or-ganic Farmers and Gardeners Association, The Bio-Integral Resource Center (an IPM group in CA), The New Alchemy Institute, and the Biodynamic Farming As-sociation. I read about permaculture but did not follow up at that time. Then followed a period of working in the field of green architecture (earning paychecks and paying bills). In April of 2016, I attended a session of the Environmental Film Series put on by two activists at our public library. The film was Inhabit: A Permaculture Perspective. As the documentary unfolded, I thought: “this is what I have been searching for.”




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.

For the first few years after taking over the farm, not knowing what else he could do, Gabe continued the tillage, fertilizers and herbicides his in-laws had used. But then a farming friend suggested that no-till was saving him time and moisture and that Gabe should try it. But he cautioned Gabe: “If you do go no-till, sell all of your tillage equipment so you are not tempted to go back.”

Gabe couldn’t afford a no-till drill without doing that so he sold all his tillage stuff and bought the drill. The first year of no-till was fantastic, Gabe recalls. Not only did yields go up, but he was able to reduce nitrogen fertilizer costs by adding field peas to the crop rotation. The next year Brown’s spring wheat crop was devastated by a hail storm. The calves were unharmed, but with an operating loan and a mortgage, finances were very tight. Two years later another hail storm and a major medical diagnosis for their daughter forced both Gabe and Shelly to take off-farm jobs.

The “disaster years” continued for the Browns a couple more years, but like Job, he persevered and never lost faith. He kept learning, deciding to adopt a Savory grazing system, moving the cows to a winter foraging system because he couldn’t afford the twine to bale his hay, and suddenly noticed a large number of earthworms in the soil where previously he couldn’t find any. He knew he was on the right track. In the 20 years since the disasters Gabe has become a major spokesperson for what he calls regenerative agriculture.

More than half the book is devoted to the Brown Ranch story, disasters, changes, and all. The rest talks about applying what Gabe has learned to other situations. He in convinced that these lessons will work anywhere because they are the way nature works.

The five principles of soil health, according to Brown, are:
• limit disturbance – mechanical, chemical, physical
• armor – keep soil covered at all times
• diversity – strive for a diverse mix of plants, animals, and microbes
• living roots – keep plants alive in the soil as long as possible throughout the year
• integrate animals – they are necessary for a healthy, natural ecosystem

There is far more information in this book than I can describe, but I think any farmer will find it fascinating. Toward the end of the book Gabe discusses other farms which are also adapting regenerative agriculture – in Australia, Kansas, North Carolina, Alberta, Texas, Saskatchewan, and Montana – and succeeding. There is no simple formula, and these folks are also looking to creative marketing and diverse products to protect against downturns. But the key, he repeats, is first seeing the power of nature and understanding the farmer has to learn how to work with it.




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.

Caldwell’s book opens with two simple questions:

Do you love rising early and working long days, day after day?

Do you love washing dishes over and over again?

If you and your partner or family are prepared for lots of labor, periodic stresses and financial challenge, then you may have what it takes to run a cheesemaking operation.

Caldwell’s book guides prospective cheesemakers through a market analysis to discover future customers, how to reach them and at what cost. Readers can learn the many elements of a budget, complete business plan and potential sources of start-up and operating capital. Caldwell discusses the need for “food insurance”, also known as product liability insurance. She guides readers through considerations for health and auto insurance. Caldwell explained that when entering into a business with one or more partners, life insurance is an important consideration if the business is to go on without a key partner. Partnership agreements should also have an exit plan that allows one partner to leave the business, without a serious illness or death.

Finding good help is hard. Keeping and managing employees offers its own challenges. Caldwell discusses pay rates, job classifications and applicable labor laws.

“The Small-Scale Cheese Business” helps readers design a creamery. Caldwell briefly covers dairy management and the importance of starting with high quality milk. She thoroughly discusses equipment needs as well as lay out considerations for the milking parlor, milkhouse and makeroom. Aging rooms must have good temperature humidity and air exchange systems. Aging rooms may be belowground cellars or “caves,” repurposed refrigerator truck beds or walk-in coolers. Caldwell discusses shelf systems and ways to save money with used equipment.

Caldwell reviews design considerations for accessory spaces including an office, packaging room, tasting room, laundry room and bathroom.

Using Caldwell’s guidelines, readers can calculate their water needs, explores different types of heating systems and wastewater handling options. Efficiency is critical to any business; Caldwell advises readers to purchase the right sized equipment for peak efficiency in energy use as well as upfront and operating cost.

Details on planning, daily chores as well as food safety requirements and liabilities help a new cheesemaker ensure customer safety and operational efficiency. Caldwell discusses Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) Plans and the need to develop a plan, set up regular monitoring and verification, establish record keeping and follow through with action plans.

Recalls are any food manufacturers’ nightmare. Caldwell explains preventive steps and federally required traceability tools that can help minimize the impact of any recall, should there be a problem with a particular batch.
Agritourism, Agritainment and Open Houses bring additional customers and revenue to farm operations across the country. To bring in extra revenue, cheesemakers can offer public workshops or offer consulting and training to other cheesemakers.

Caldwell even has a chapter on how to manage runaway success – when cheesemakers need to buy in more milk than they can produce because of high customer demand. There is another chapter on how to re-energize when the honeymoon is over and everything about the business seems overwhelming.

An extensive Appendix lists sources for equipment, resources, training, associations and sample layout diagrams.

This book was originally published in 2010 as “The Farmstead Creamery Advisor.”

Learn about Gianaclis Caldwell at http://gianacliscaldwell.wordpress.com/ or facebook.com/pages/Gianaclis-Caldwell/409644159053571. Learn more about the author’s farm and cheesemaking operation at pholiafarm.com.




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.

Although I found the first several sections of the book accurate and useful in describing the selection of a breed and understanding goat needs, as a semi-experienced goat owner I was most interested in the final section on solving goat health problems. Lucky for me, this section makes up a good portion of the book’s contents. Holistic Goat Care is formatted as a resource book, with excellent labeling, indexing and searchability. The diagrams and tables are useful visuals that correspond well to the medical conditions and treatments that are shared. Chapters within this section are separated into the various systems within the body, making it easy to find and read through when you are faced with specific symptoms in your herd. Each chapter also includes a chart that identifies signs or symptoms that may appear along with a list of possible causes, allowing a quick glance at possible diagnoses.

Most common ailments that the small-scale goat owner will experience are covered well, beginning with a description of each condition and the typical cause of the onset. The author then breaks down the signs and symptoms, treatment and prevention plan for each condition reported, being clear that these statements do not replace a veterinarian’s input. I appreciate Caldwell’s focus on organic and extensive care, highlighting the fact that farm management and preventative care are the keys to maintaining a healthy herd, while recognizing that there is a balance between conventional and organic methods of care.

Unfortunately, for strictly organically managed herds, there are limited treatment options for sick animals and oftentimes the plan of action is to do nothing, resulting in death of the animal. As Caldwell suggests, however, identifying the condition and isolating or euthanizing the animal can be extremely helpful in preventing the spread of a disease or allowing a condition to further manifest. I value the overall caring tone of the book, but also the practical and realistic approach to holistic goat management. As stated in Chapter Two, “Not everyone is lucky enough to have the acreage to manage goats more extensively, nor fortunate enough to have organically produced feeds readily available-or affordable. I believe the most realistic approach to reaching this goal is to find a balance between what you’re currently comfortable with and what you can envision as the most organic and extensive management choices possible for your farm.”

Published in Winter 2018-19 issue.




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.

My neighbor and friend Tish Streeten, who produced the documentary Juliette of the Herbs, stopped over when I had the book out. She is a colleague and friends of Rosemary Gladstar and the Carpenters and said she›d heard many good things already about this book within the herbalist community. We thumbed through the book together and she too was impressed with the wealth of information. On that winter afternoon, the book sparked a great con-versation about the upcoming spring and possibilities of growing herbs.

This book is beautifully organized starting with the excellent foreword by Rosemary Gladstar. The first seventeen chapters cover each aspect of Medicinal Herb farming in detail. For instance in the chapter about “Tools of the Trade” the authors talk about both hand tools and power tools and include re-sources showing where to purchase the best tools. Under “Thinking Like a Business Manager”, they include ideas about how to manage employees, what data is most important to gather and how they used it to make progress. They are generous in sharing names of people they’ve consulted to help them with their planning. Any farmer would find this chapter useful in conducting their business.

The authors tackle every imaginable aspect of medicinal herb farming from the super practical such as how to build an herb drying shed, to broader top-ics such as why we need growers so that wild American Ginseng doesn›t go extinct.

The two column graphic layout of the book is enjoyable to read with clear subheadings. The book is richly illustrated with a wealth of photographs from the Carpenter’s farm. They use many informational graphics and sidebars very effectively to delve more deeply into topics.

The second half of the book includes 50 entries about each of the individual herbs covering Life Cycle, Plant Description, Growing Conditions, Propaga-tion; Planting Considerations; Medicinal Uses; Harvest Specifications and Pricing. There are a few plants missing such as milk thistle and borage that perhaps could be in a second edition.

I always enjoyed getting back to the book because of the Carpenter’s excellent writing. Their enthusiasm for their chosen profession practically jumps off the page, tempered with many helpful hints for avoiding some of the pitfalls they encountered. Many of these tips can be applied to other types of farming. This is a book that would be of interest to all types of farmers, not just herb farmers. While I enjoyed reading the book chapter by chapter, it is also easy to open at any relevant chapter to find specific information.

The only question I’d like to know is how this busy couple found the time to write and produce such a superb book while running a productive and thriv-ing farm. Clearly they are rising stars on the horizon of the farming renaissance.




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. There are moments poetic and there are moments agricultural, but, in writing this book, Chaskey has primarily assumed the role of educator. The words, and thoughts, of many individuals have been distilled and presented. (The list of sources runs eight pages and it would surprise me not at all to learn that Chaskey has read most of them.)

Subtitled On the History, Husbandry, Politics, and Promise of Seeds, it is just that, the various facets interwoven to create a whole. The reader will gain a historical perspective, an understanding of the current state of affairs, and a sense as to how current conditions might be addressed and altered. The reader is also introduced to a number of individuals and organizations dedicated to that task. The overriding question, for me, is whether this cadre of folks can pull it off. I hope Chaskey’s book finds its way to a readership beyond the NOFA audience, because, in my opinion, it is only in numbers that profound changes can occur. That they need to occur is unmistakable. But, the likes of Monsanto will not bow out gracefully.

As a footnote, the cover photo by Maria Bowling sparkles. If one could, in fact, tell a book by its cover, this cover is telling one to read on.




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.

The New Organic Grower has been a go-to manual for serious organic farmers for 30 years. Virtually every aspect of what you need to know about small organic vegetable farming in the Northeast is given thoughtful treatment – scale, land, labor, capital, marketing, harvest, crop rotation, cover crops, tillage, fertility, seeding and transplanting, weeds, pests, season extension and greenhouse design, winter production, the importance of tools, incorporating livestock. Some only get 3 or 4 pages, some get many more, and diagrams to boot. But every page bears the imprint of his philosophy – plan thoughtfully, innovate if you don’t like your options, take care with details, focus on quality instead of quantity, be watchful, always learn.

In 2018, given what we now know about climate change and the buildup of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, a lot of thoughtful farmers are reassessing their practices to be more protective of soil carbon and the microbial biodiversity it sustains. They recognize that regular tillage can be destructive to beneficial fungi (creatures that are crucial to the crop quality Coleman seeks) while it and bare soil are major contributors to the carbon oxidation that fuels global warming.

I was hoping to see recognition of the impact of these practices in this volume by someone so committed to innovation and learning. Instead I saw repeated descriptions of various tillage devices and illustrations of them and orderly crops, surrounded by bare soil. The republication of a book of this reach, written by a wise elder, seemed like an opportunity to explore this topic for new readers. I was disappointed that it was not taken.




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.

And ‘mercy’ was the operative term in the early part of this movement, not the current preference for ‘vegetarianism’ and ‘animal rights’. As Davis puts it, “…a flesh-eating, deeply religious constituency that supported euthanasia and tolerated the presence of animals in entertainment would likely seem un-familiar to animal activists today.”

She tracks the interaction between animal welfare activity and the larger social history through which it passed from the early years of American colonial settlement until the end of World War Two. Several key influences were abolition, temperance, the changing technology of transport, and American impe-rialism.

The parallels between abuse of animals and slavery were clearly drawn by activists by about 1830. The treatment of animals was used as a litmus test of character in abolitionist writings, which in the last three decades before the Civil War increasingly focused on the slave’s excruciating bodily suffering. The advent of nitrous oxide gas and ether anesthesia in medical and dental experiments at the time had the unexpected effect of redefining pain itself as preventable — no longer an inevitable symptom of God’s wrath – and therefore a product of human agency.

The legal partnership of George Angell, founder of the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, and Samuel Sewell, prominent abolitionist and Massachusetts Senator, was a major resource in support of the suffering. Their office defended fugitive slaves and was a Boston head-quarters not only for abolitionists such as William Lloyd Garrison, John Brown, and Wendell Phillips, but also the internationally known gentle horse trainer John Rarey. When he funded the US publication of “Black Beauty”, Angell referenced the inspiration he received from Harriet Beecher Stowe’s “Uncle Tom’s Cabin”.

In its day the Women’s Christian Temperance Union (founded in 1874) was a major engine of reform with Departments of Mercy (animal welfare), Purity in Literature and Art, and Penal and Reformatory Work along with the activities focused on alcohol abuse. The all-female group used the valorization of marriage and motherhood in contemporary society to enhance the appeal of its messages. The Department of Mercy was active in opposing vivisection (surgery on living creatures for research or educational purposes) as well as protecting domestic and wild animals. Wearing parts of birds in women’s hats was a major fashion trend around the turn of the century and became a focus of Department of Mercy efforts to pass legislation, including the 1900 Lacey Act prohibiting interstate commerce in specific birds.

A major current in animal reform movements was to characterize animal abuse as “un-American”. Immigrants were associated with eating dogs and pas-senger pigeons, overworking and beating carthorses, encouraging dog and cock fights, and inhumane slaughter when MSPCA president Francis Rowley clashed with Jewish leaders over shechitah or the kosher requirement to have an animal conscious when its throat is slit. D. W. Griffith’s short 1913 film The Battle at Elderbush Gulch even has Native Americans snatch puppies from two tearful white girls to celebrate the “Feast of Dogs” (never fear, the US Cavalry saves them in the end!) American civics textbooks such as “The Teaching of Civics” (also 1913) exhorted immigrant children to practice animal kindness (“always protect birds and other animals”) as a pathway to proper citizenship.

Animal welfare was even associated with justifying American imperialism abroad. Congress, in the July, 1898 annexation of Hawaii, passed an expansive animal welfare law for the islands. A year later we established a “Protectora de los Animales in Puerto Rico, and in 1900 banned cockfighting in Cuba. In 1902 the Mu-nicipal Board of Manila, working directly under civil governor William Howard Taft, passed an “Ordinance for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals”. As far as the use of animals in war itself, although some leaders such as George Angell opposed the Spanish American War on the basis of “all the animal creations that suffer so terribly in wars”, others applauded the patriotic service of horses, mules, elephants, camels and dogs on the battlefields of World War One.

As the centrality of animal power to our economy slowly changed to mechanical power, so too did the concerns of the animal welfare movement. Before World War One animals were ever present in most people’s lives and cases of suffering from bad treatment were evident to all. As the years progressed, however, draft animals slowly disappeared from view and livestock operations became larger but more remote and less visible. The fragile status of wildlife, though, became more central in popular media.

During the first half of the twentieth century animal advocates lost two important allies. As a result of the professionalization of the social sciences during the Pro-gressive era, child welfare organizations turned away from their alliance with animal welfare ones in favor of a more scientific and less emotional approach. Tem-perance groups precipitously lost influence after the repeal of Prohibition and tended to stick to lecturing about the dangers of drunk driving and not characterize drink as the source of creeping moral degeneration and cruelty.

After World War Two animal advocacy appeals have separated into two overlapping stands, both somewhat more secular than the strong Christian “stewardship” basis of the early movement. One was still concerned with animal welfare and prevention of suffering of other fellow creatures. The second stressed animal rights to self determination and concerned itself with liberating animals from serving human uses, including dietary ones. Future directions for animal welfare are not clear, but environmental consciousness about human activity causing elimination of habitats is certainly growing, as is a recognition of the role of biological diversity in the functioning of ecologies and natural sustainability.




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.

She organizes the bulk of the book around stepping through the basic factors any breeder will have to consider.

  • How much of your life do you want to devote to this effort?
  • What do you want to get at the end?
  • How will you get useful germplasm to start with?
  • How will you evaluate your work and get useful information?
  • How do normal plant genetics work?
  • Are there special genetic processes you need to understand?

These pages include as good a lecture on Mendelian genetics as I’ve seen. It explains the predictable traits you find, and their mathematical distribution when you cross different pure breeding diploid varieties in F1, F2, and F3 generations. They also include a good lecture on modern genetics: chromosomes, linkage, mitosis and meiosis, alleles, as well as the ways in which Mendelian laws do not always apply — codominance, mutation, lethals, aberrant segregation, expressivity and penetrance, and many more. These are explained simply and clearly, and will doubtless become reference material for anyone who begins actual breeding work and comes up with some unusual results!

Also included is a table of 801 plants (selected from 3000 in Stephen Facciola’s book Cornucopia), listed alphabetically by scientific name, and giving for each plant such vital information as type (annual, biennial, perennial, herb, shrub, tree, etc.), diploid chromosome number, genomic formula, breeding system (outbreeding, inbreeding), flower type, percent contamination frequency, self-compatibility information, recommended isolation distances from various sources, yield of seed, location in USDA plant germplasm system, and sources of this information. The fledgling breeder will not need most of this right away, but once questions pop up such answers are invaluable.

Also, the 2000 2nd edition has been expanded to include 50 pages – 6 chapters – on seed saving, and another 2 chapters on crops for a sustainable future, focusing on a negative example (the corporate FlavrSavr tomato that bombed so badly in the 1990s) and a positive one (the Sandwich Slice summer squash that showed up in Carol’s squash patch in 1998). These additions are valuable. The seed saving section has helped create a serious movement among growers to select and save seed – the first step of plant breeding. The section on developing crops for our collective future takes the reader into a discussion of pleiotropy – the tendency of genes to work holistically and impact many traits, not just the ones the engineer wants to affect. And it gives an excellent example of a farmer’s quest to improve on a variety that has presented itself, to find the flavor, convenience, marketability, size, healthfulness and all the other traits that will make it a winner.

All told, this is a solid basic text for the aspiring plant breeding grower. My only complaint, however, is that I would have liked a lot more illustrations. The many various flower types, the simple logic of the laws of inheritance, the generational steps in making and unmaking hybrids – all would benefit from simple drawings. I am a visual learner and for me an illustration is often worth many words. The two pages of drawings of various vegetable flowers in Appendix A seem almost to flout the lack of such useful help anywhere else in the book. But don’t let that keep you from getting a copy. Right now this is the best book available for the small amateur plant breeder. Have fun!




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.

From an agricultural perspective, probably the most interesting passages in the book were the ones that discussed New Englanders’ relationship with their apples. When Europeans first arrived, the only apples they found here were crabapples, but soon colonists began taking apple seeds and scions from England and grafting English varieties onto native rootstock. They chose to propagate varieties on the basis of productivity, beauty, flavor, and ability to store well through long, harsh New England winters.

The author discovered evidence that one influential variety, Denison Redding, may have “gotten its start as a scion brought from England [in the mid-seventeenth century] by Ann Borodell Denison,” one of her ancestors. The fruit was described as “small, beautiful, and very pleasant.” Through research, the author found one remaining tree of this variety on a farm in Pawcatuck, Connecticut.

In the eyes of many New Englanders, however, the highest use of apples may have been to make cider—especially, hard cider. The author quotes a 1901 book as explaining, “English grains did not thrive well those first few years of settlement, and were costly to import, so New Englanders soon drifted from beer-drinking to cider-drinking.” Cider soon became cheap, plentiful, and the most popular beverage in the region. In the most remarkable quote I read in Denizens, the author cites the same 1901 work of history describing the population’s infatuation with hard cider: “All the colonists drank cider, old and young, and in all places. . . . Infants in arms drank mulled hard cider at night, a beverage which would kill a modern babe. It was supplied to students at Harvard and Yale colleges… Old men began the day with a quart or more of hard cider before breakfast. Delicate women drank hard cider…All laborers in the field drank it in great draughts.”
If producing fruit for cider was the highest use of apple trees, perhaps their lowest function was a certain work of decomposition performed by their roots: we learn that an apple tree ate the bones of Roger Williams, the seventeenth-century religious leader who founded Rhode Island; and those of his wife. According to an 1871 publication titled The Apple Culturist, when Williams’s descendants decided to move his and his wife’s remains from their original location, near an apple tree, they found that one of the tree’s roots “had pushed its way through the earth till it reached the precise spot occupied by the skull of Roger Williams. There, making a turn, as if going around the skull, it followed the direction of the backbone to the hips.” And so on. Rev. and Mrs. Williams’s bones were gone, displaced by roots. “The fact proved conclusively,” said The Apple Culturist, “that bones, even of human beings, are an excellent fertilizer for fruit-trees.”

The author also researched the flowers grown by her ancestors and learned that lilacs from Europe were being grown in New England within a few years of the landing of the Mayflower in 1620. She read documents telling that a passenger on the Mayflower had brought lilacs from Holland and grew them in Duxbury, Massachusetts, and that lilacs thought to be from England were growing near the home of one of her ancestors in Stonington, Connecticut, as early as 1629.

Here I’ve reviewed the portions of Denizens that I think would be of most interest to readers of The Natural Farmer, but for history buffs, Denizens affords a wealth of additional information about life in southern New England in the seventeenth century, including abundant quotations from primary sources most of us don’t have access to. It would also be an excellent resource for purchase by the libraries of towns, cities, colleges, and universities throughout the region.
Published in Winter 2018-19 issue.




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.

Stamets remediationMetals – 53 of the 118 elements on the periodic table are considered heavy metals, many of which have toxic effects on human health and the environment. These metals cannot be reduced to something simpler, but they can be remediated in any of four ways.

• Mycosorption uses the fungal mycelium to bind up the heavy metals via an ion exchange mechanism and concentrate them in its polysaccharide cell wall, later to be chelated and reclaimed. This is particularly useful when the metal is contaminating waterways.

• Solubilization makes metals more soluble or immobile by producing organic acids and other compounds which form complexes with the metals. Solubilization is best practiced using mycorrhizal fungi in combination with plants on contaminated soil.

• Translocation accumulates metals into mycelial networks where they are channeled into fruiting bodies, nature’s way of eliminating them from the soil.

• Mycoaccumulation is similar to translocation, allowing accumulation of the metal into a mycellial network. Various ways of disposing of the accumulated metals are then brought into play.

Chemicals – Fungal ability to produce powerful enzymes is well known. Brown, White, and Soft rot fungi actively degrade trees, including cellulose and lignen, and various manmade highly toxic materials such as Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCBs), DDT, Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) , and Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAHs). Many complex chemicals are degraded to their constituent elemental ingredients, leaving harmless residues.

Microbes – Many common pathogens (bacteria, viruses, protozoans) are harmless, but a few cause food poisoning or deadly infections. Fungi are able to attack and kill many such pathogens (penicillin was one fungal product that started the whole industry of fungal antibiotics).

Much of the book is composed of lists of metals, chemicals, and microbes and which fungi can remediate them. These are listed both by pollutant and by fungi, for ease of finding by the reader.

Dorr discusses the practical details of mycoremediation projects, including needed bench scale tests before starting the whole project, and on-site pilot tests to find the practical realities you will encounter before undertaking the actual work.

The key to fungal usefulness in remediation is their ability to secrete enzymes. Some 4000 are recognized and a total of at least 25,000 are speculated to exist. Various ways to extract enzymes are provided, and a list of some 3 dozen types is given along with the species that produce them and their common uses.

A section on water – fresh and salt – pollution and remediation is interesting. One project which caught my interest was dealing with the amazing amount of floating plastic trash in our oceans. Dorr reports a plan to collect that trash (there are natural spots where ocean currents bring much of it together), expose it to ultraviolet light, and then degrade it with fungal enzymes.

The endophytic fungus Pestalotiopsis microspora, which can use polyurethane plastic as a primary food source either in the presence or absence of oxygen, is proposed as a way to manage our toxic landfills.

Of course any type of remediation is potentially dangerous as it deals with deadly substances and powerful enzymes, and Dorr cautions the reader about such dangers. A number of practical plans to help the amateur get started cultivating fungi seemed well thought-out. Inoculating cardboard and various substrates to get easy cultures, making a glove box for semi-sterile work, building a laminar flow hood for isolating your culture from contamination, making agar, preparing grain, making a spore print, and cloning mushrooms are among the practices suggested and shown.

For the young scientist, Dorr outlines a case study on fungal remediation that would make an ideal science project. It involves mycoremediation of cigarette butts, one of the most littered objects in the world. An estimated 1.7 billion pounds of them are disposed of per year, a huge amount of cellulose acetate plastic that can be broken down by appropriate microbes.

Dorr used Pleurotus ostrestus from a liquid culture, trained it on clean butts, then exposed it to dirty butts. Within a month it was colonizing the dirty butts, having developed the enzymes necessary to degrade them.

Dorr is not a scholar and this is not a scholarly book. It is a handbook for those who want to get involved with fungi as a means of cleaning up toxic waste. If that fascinates you, I can’t think of a better book to get started with.




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.

The story begins in 1996, when Druker became interested in the effort, just beginning to be commercialized, to restructure the genetic basis of the world’s food supply. The decision by the FDA to allow these foods onto the US market was key to the success of this technology, and he wanted to understand how that happened. His suit resulted in the turning over of thousands of documents from the FDA. An analysis of these documents revealed that the scientists within the FDA had issued strong warnings that genetic engineering of foods entailed significant risks, and they should undergo serious long term safety tests before being released to the public. Yet those warnings had been ignored and over-ruled by the political appointees at the head of the agency.

The bulk of Druker’s book is a narrative of how this new technology, guided by commercial interests and an ideological rejection of regulatory caution in favor of “regulatory relief”, came to be so successful. It is written as a page-turner, a narrative telling the story of people — how some of those people became so focused on victory that they were willing to cut corners and conceal the truth. Of course this is an old story, but it is one with important lessons for today’s citizens.

The record of President George H. W. Bush’s “Competitiveness Council”, headed by Vice President Dan Quayle, and its efforts to sidetrack the government’s regulatory scientists, is a sorry one. Yet it is the drama repeated now in virtually every gathering of establishment scientists or publication in which biotech companies advertise.

Anyone who disagrees with the dominant paradigm – in this case that GMOs are safe – is automatically driven from the community of respectable scientists. This inquisition does not proceed by burnings at the stake, but by funding cuts, rejection by peer reviewed journals, failure to get tenure, even termination. Who, in that environment, has the strength of character to continue to pursue independent studies where they may lead? Far easier to follow the herd and either avoid the topic entirely or forego your integrity and make sure your studies don’t ask the critical questions.

This is the real value of Druker’s book. It shows us how science, the modern era’s last remaining bastion of unchallenged authority now that church and royalty have been debunked, has itself been consolidated.

But, like all efforts to canonize doctrines that fly in the face of common sense, the dogma of ‘GMOs as safe’ is already collapsing. Polls show even gullible Americans are no longer fooled but want labeling so that, once labeled, they can refuse to buy them. Despite the chilling morality tale Druker recounts, the conclusion is going to be a reaffirmation of faith in people.




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.

The author deeply explores how alternative motives and vested interested affect our plants, animals, and us; how what we once thought were quick and cheaper solutions have become complex and very expensive issues; and how if we don’t do something soon to change it, there may no longer be any nutrition in our food. For example, this book gives a fantastic description of how the weeds and pests solution was ‘fixed’ with herbicides and pesticides, but how that lead to the genetic modification of plants, animal food, and as a results, our food. It describes how the GMO plants then affect the animals, making them weak, deformed, and ill, and how that lead to antibiotic and hormonal treatment. These sick plants and animals, covered in herbicides and pesticides, and pumped with medications are supposed to provide us with the best nutrition. The style of this book is interesting in that each chapter describes an animal illness and how it has been affected by a political agenda, and in reality, has nothing to do with providing our nation, or world, with healthy food, and especially not animal welfare.

As a naturopathic physician, I found this book to be of great interest and importance. Although much of this book is written to explain the relationship between animal illness and disease, I could not help to draw parallels between all that is going on in our food supply and the patients that I see daily in my practice. A huge part of treating patients from a naturopathic perspective is to replace the nutritional deficiencies. In my office, I always try to start with healthy food, but as this book clearly points out, it can be difficult to do so if our food itself is full of nutrient deficiencies. Overall, I found this book to be a very interesting and informative. I was eager to learn more about the animal illnesses and relate them to what I see in humans; I was frustrated to learn about what is actually going on; and I am happy to have a much clearer understanding of how to feed my family and guide my patients. I think everyone who cares about or is interested in their health, animal health, or the environment should read this book.




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.

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Vermiculture Technology is the Bible of worm composters

The text is a synthesis of the hop and beer history, farming and harvesting practices, basic soil science, along with a what-to-expect understanding of the craft beer and hop markets as they continue to unfold. It’s very much a multi-disciplinary read, as the authors guide us through the anatomy of the hop plant (humulus lupu-lus) at the experimental hop yards at Cornell and UVM, or visit 400-acre “challenge yards” in Washington where rhizomes are tested for disease control. Fur-thermore, Laura and Dietrich implement what they’ve learned into their own one-acre hop yard in western Albany County, NY, allowing them to recognize and convey their successes and follies, advantages, and cautions. The synthesis of academic knowledge and first-person practice provides the backbone to this book—Laura and Dietrich’s thorough integration of industry practices, university research, along with their first-hand, trial-and error knowledge, informs just how comprehensive the text really is.

Throughout the Hop Growers Handbook, it becomes clear that growing hops, though meticulous at times, is a rather malleable activity. Hops can be grown on trellis systems eighteen feet high for hundreds of hectares, or simply included in a gardener’s permacultural setting. They can be harvested by machine, dried with an industrial kiln, pelletized, packaged, and shipped east, or simply picked from a vine off the façade of a building, dried in a Panini press, and steeped in a wort for homebrew. It’s simply a matter of what the grower seeks to accomplish.

An obvious undercurrent throughout the book is the authors’ emphasis on growing in the northeast region. Although Laura and Dietrich admit that “virtually all the country’s commercial hop production happens in the northwest”, farmers and hobbyists located in the northeast receive tons of encouragement with an opti-mism that until now occurred seldom in the hop growing discourses. That being said, research on growing hops in New England is still adolescent. Even in light of the observations by the Cornell Extension Program and University of Vermont (two very integral resources), there still remains a rather slim body of literature. And while the state universities of Washington and Oregon produce immense amounts of writing, their concerns are tailored in accordance to their climate and condi-tions. The northwest region, for instance, hasn’t much of an issue with downy mildew or Japanese Beetle infestations—rather, they’re much more concerned with Powdery mildew, or pests like the California prionus beetle. So hop farming in the northeast is somewhat of a frontier, where managing problems related to soil and moisture is still developing, particularly when a grower seeks to be organic. Books like the The Hop Grower’s Handbook are crucial in synthesizing the re-gional information from which farmers and hobbyists can learn.

A couple things should be taken away from this reading, however. One, hops were once grown widely in the northeast. In the 1840’s, New York had roughly 40,000 acres of cultivated hop growth. The reason hops were brought to places like Yakima Valley (WA) is, yes, in part because of the downy mildew and the farmers’ ina-bility to manage it, but also because of the Prohibition era, where laws—such as the Jones Act—transformed homebrewing into a felony. Secondly, growing in the northeast still requires protection and management against downy—your biggest threat. Should you wish to grow hops, however, choose the aroma hops. They contain more oils, helping defend the plant from developing fungi and parasites. In fact, Laura and Dietrich allude to an interesting observation of how, in humid climates, aroma hops will learn to develop more essential oil, thus increasing their immune system and overall survivability. To any brewer, this is great news, since oils just so happen to be a great guarantor of flavors and aromas.