Nov 252011

In Seattle’s “…earliest days cows roamed the streets freely; their right to graze on anyone’s front lawn was protected by law, a law modeled on rural rights granting cattle access to public range land. As late as 1900…backyard cows still produced a third of Seattle’s milk…As rail lines were completed…it became possible for suburban dairies to replace the backyard cow.” Thus, in the city, people lost sight of the utilitarian value of the city living cow which soon became labeled a nuisance.” Seattle began excluding cows from its downtown core, and the cow free zone crept slowly outward from there.”

Food production was banished from the city. Suburbs were built with covenants that forbade chickens and front yard veggie gardens. Our food system became industrialized and controlled by the same people who control the fuel system and the medical system. Is it possible that this trend is reversing; that more people are inclined to take charge of what they eat? The Urban Farm Handbook may be evidence of such a trend.

There are lots of gardening books but only a few that I’d be willing to recommend: Steve Solomon’s books, Carol Deppe’s The Resilient Gardener and this new oneโ€”The Urban Farm Handbook. It’s a bit more than a book about gardening though the author’s provide lots of information on how to make food in a small space. More precisely, The Urban Farm Handbook is a book about food. It’s clear, concise, practical and covers lots of territory. The authors teach you how to run an urban farm operation. That is, how to make a small space extremely productive. The subtitle is “City Slicker Resources for Growing, Raising, Sourcing, Trading, and Preparing What You Eat”. Their approach is a bit different and the book is very readable with much good information all specific to our region.

There are chapters on grains, chickens, dairying with goats, small meat animals, locavoring (to coin a new word), preserving food, building food communities and various aspects of gardening, interspersed with recipes and profiles of people who leaders in alternative food systems. And, it’s all in the context of getting the job done on small city lots.

The authors have done what they are describing and their personal stories and experiences make the book accessible on an emotional level. You will marvel at what each of them has accomplished.

Gardening in small spaces is a particular problem which all gardeners face to one extent or the other. Even large plots of rural land often only provide a small area suitable for gardening and raising animals. The Urban Farm Handbook is full of useful and stimulating ideas. WCLS has a copy.


  6 Responses to “The Urban Farm Handbook”

  1. You must read like one book per day, Randy.
    I read one every 6 months or so ๐Ÿ™‚
    RIght now I’m reading The Beekeeper’s Lament. A great one, recommended.

  2. I have the one Randy checked out and it’s due back early Dec. Better get to reading. So far it’s a great easy read.

  3. I just finished a quirky but very interesting book about urban farming called “Farm City” by Novella Carpenter. It’s the story of a couple who routinely choose to live in marginal urban areas (i.e., lower rent areas) and always look for an apartment next to an empty lot, which they then squat. On the vacant lot in this book, they first raised a garden. Then they started raising a few chickens (fed them by dumpster diving in a Chinese restaurant district). They came rabbits (also fed via garden and restaurant dumpster diving). Finally the got pigs. This necessitated moving their dumpster operations to a much larger, upper scale restaurant area, and increasing the number of dumpster trips to daily as the pigs grew. In the process they were befriended by a well-known chef at the restaurant by one of their dumpsters who was intrigued by what they were doing and ended up teaching them his secret charcuterie recipes and techniques which he had studied for many years to learn. While I can’t say I’d willingly choose to live that way, there’s something about their urban resourcefulness that makes the story fascinating.

  4. Update: I’m 1/3 through the book and now feeling like I wasted the first 65 years of my life roaming the isles of Safeway and Fred Meyer.
    I suppose I was never curious enough to ask “how do you make cheese or sour creme?”. Raising chickens and milk producing goats isn’t rocket science either, but I wasn’t smart enough to ask how or even why I would want to do something like that. Turns out most of the processed food these days has managed to process out most of the good stuff, and leave the bulk and fillers. No wonder I have to take a mouthful of pills every night. My food is hollow.
    Next Chapter, please.

  5. I also read Farm City some time ago. Thought I had done a blog about it but didn’t. Did make some notes for a site called Goodreads where I keep track of stuff I’ve read. Reading my notes I see why I didn’t turn it into a blog post:

    “Admittedly, this is a strange read for a vegetarian. There was a time in my life when I might have closed it up and moved on. Perhaps I’m more open minded about meat than I used to be though Novella Carpenter’s lust for flesh hasn’t moved me to change my diet. Yet her story is compelling and she is an engaging and honest writer. At least I think she’s honest. I like to read books that take me to places I would never go to. The Oakland, California ghetto is one of these places. Here Novella creates an urban farm with a raised bed garden in a vacant lot. Over the years she adds fruit trees then chickens, ducks, turkeys, rabbits, bees and, finally, two pigs. Resourcefully, she and her boyfriend Bill, scrounge food for the pigs by dumpster diving behind a gourmet restaurant. In the course of retrieving brie, bread and melons from the dumpster she meets the restaurant owner/chef and in the climax of the book the pigs are slaughtered, butchered, and turned into various forms of meat. Novella apprentices with the chef and learns to cure pig meat. At one point in the book Novella attempts to spend an entire month eating only from her garden and doesn’t succeed. Quite laughable really to someone who has eaten raw for an entire year. The author is supposedly a lapsed vegetarian but one wonders. This is one of the meatiest books I’ve read as it brings you up close and personal with dead chickens, ducks, turkeys, rabbits and ultimately two large dead porkers. Her rationalizations for eating them are quite compelling but not convincing. That said, she has somehow turned this memoir into a page turner of a book.”

  6. 2/3 done (I’m not Randy)
    I find it fascinating to hear the story of garden evolution from all angles – the tilth, plants, insects, animals, and most of all the gardener.
    She makes a point that is starting to settle in that we just can’t do it all, it takes a community. She went from growing all foods and preserving stuff on a daily basis trying to supply the family for a whole year, to eating seasonal, and now to conserve energy and time, growing more of what they do best, and finding other gardeners and supporters to barter with. Foraging for urban food is a great one too. Why plant a pear tree when your neighbor lets the food drop and rot. Work something out.

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