Saturday, September 18, 2010

Summer Reading

I have several posts in my mind right now, but unfortunately, haven't had the time to get them out and onto paper. I thought I'd start this one by highlighting some of the reading I'd done this summer, and where I plan to take what I learned to investigate and write some new blogs in the near future. Call it a preview. With references.

I tend to read mostly non-fiction and in the last year have read a lot about food and food movements. I'm amazed at how influential the written word can be, how it can drive people to make wholesale changes in their lives and behaviour. The classics in local living, or at least the mosts referenced in my experience, are Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, and several by Michael Pollan, most often Omnivore's Dilemma.  I think the former tends to resonate heavily with people who like a personal story, to which they can relate and be encouraged to take on similar endeavors. Kingsolver makes it attractive to try living locally, at least just a bit. The number of people I have met who cite her book as a major source of change in their lives is huge. And more than one have taken steps such as raising chickens based on her family's story. I myself started making cheese solely based on her insistence that it really wasn't that hard to make mozzarella cheese. As a result of that chain, I now make yogurt every week, and it's the best you'll ever taste. So, those kinds of works are extremely motivating. Others like this are Plenty, by the Canadian couple who was among the first to attempt a 100-mile challenge, and the more extreme See you in a Hundred Years, from the New York couple that decides to regress to the turn of the 20th century in the Virginia countryside for a one year period. Ok, I'm not sure that the latter book will motivate many people to give up running water, even for a month, but it is interesting.

Michael Pollan of course has a long run of books that are fact-based accounts of food and food industry. Omnivore's Dilemma hit my sweet spot, at least for the first three-quarters of the book, and I found the material both shocking and enthralling.  I can source that book as a major change point in my life, leading to a massive reduction in the use of grade two corn products and a complete re-evaluation of our family's meat sources. Because of that material, I initiated group buying of pasture-raised meat and all of our meat in the last eighteen months has been purchased from local farmers practicing sustainable, admirable techniques. That book is a bit thick for many, and I know a lot of people preferred Food Rules, though I never read that one. Going outside of reading and onto the screen, the film Food, Inc. has had a massive influence people and the way that they think about food. I have had countless people ask me about that film and other tv reports that have spawned since it was released. Another fabulous fact-based book about nutrition, so with a different perspective than Pollan's work, is Real Food, by Nina Plank. I read that one sometime in the Spring, and I thought it was absolutely excellent.

But I digress, as I didn't read any of these works this Summer. I did read Organic, Inc. though, by Samuel Fromartz. This is sort of a mix of the two styles above. Fromartz discusses the history, motivation, and existing tensions of the organic food movement and industry, starting in the early twentieth century. He interweaves the stories of farmers who have tried to make a living from sustainable  agricultural practices in a global economy world. A central theme is this tension between organic and local movements, and whether that can realistically be one in the same. As organic food becomes more widely consumed, what is the impact of the resulting Big Organic industry.  It's definitely an interesting read for the lover of non-fiction, fact-based, stories kinda things. Here in Maryland there are a number of local farmers who are certified organic, and a number who aren't. I am also seeing more Naturally Grown labels posted. In any case, one of those is Nev-R-Dun Farm in Westminster, Md., owned by Tom Reinhardt. In the last few months, he went through his recertification process and I hope to talk to him soon about what that entails, why he's going through formal certification (which costs), and what he thinks about being an organic farmer in Maryland. More to come on that. In the meantime, you can find Tom at the Westminster Farmers markets (Sun/Tue) and at his website,

Another book I picked up in the middle of Summer and haven't completely made my way through is The Winter Harvest Handbook, by Eliot Coleman. This came to my attention through Amazon "recommended for you" and the subtitle is Year-round vegetable production using deep-organic techniques and unheated greenhouses. I like the idea of year round vegetable production, so I took a closer look. Low and behold, they are running a winter CSA (community support agriculture) in Maine, growing produce in unheated greenhouses. This just fascinates me to no end. I have a small greenhouse that I usually run as a cool house, meaning at around 40 degrees Fahrenheit, but here they are in Maine, in lots of snow, using no heater at all and making enough produce to sell to folks. It motivated me to get my own greens, like lettuce and a few other things, in the ground early enough so that they should provide a harvest without using electricity this late-Fall and winter. It also motivated me to find a winter CSA somewhere that I could take advantage of for fresh produce through the winter months. Thanks to Local Harvest (, I was able to locate a winter CSA about 40 miles away in Pennsylvania. It means we'll have to take a hike every few weeks to pick up food, but I gathered up some friends to pitch in, and it seems well worth the experiment. This CSA doesn't start until nearly Thanksgiving, but as it does, I'll report on that experience. The farm we've subscribed to is Everblossom Farm,, just outside Gettysburg.

Another book from this Summer was Made by Hand by Mark Frauenfelder. The subtitle of this new book is Searching for Meaning in a Throwaway world. This is a light read that fed into my own drive to be self-sufficient, or to at least have the knowledge that you could be. Fraenfelder takes the reader through his own adventures of raising chickens, keeping bees, building musical instruments, pursuing edible landscaping/permaculture, and the like.  I'm not about to raise chickens, but I do plan on writing a post about my friend who has taken on raising egg layers over the last year and a half.

Other things in the head and hopefully soon in the works are a few local farmers we buy from: Michael Akeys of Green Akeys farms ( just sold me eighteen chickens in the last few weeks after an eventful six months trying to get them all to processing stage, thanks to intervention by the local fox population. And, Greg Thorne of Thorne Farm in Westminster runs a naturally grown 25-acre farm with a wide selection of produce, but also flock of sheep that are used both for wool and meat. (

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