Naturally the first term that came to my mind when I saw this title was "city-slicker," and that's in this book's subtitle, The Urban Farm Handbook: City-Slicker Resources for Growing, Raising, Sourcing, Trading, and Preparing What You Eat. It's published by my favorite Northwest press, Skipstone. Please, Skipstone, expand your food publishing scope. You're a natural in this subject.
If you live city-side and can't exactly leave, or don't want to leave--and I can see why you wouldn't want to. Lot's of benefits to city livin: public transportation, the possibility of a smaller carbon footprint because you can walk or bike wherever you need, cultural diversity, diversity of all sorts, really. And a plethora of events to choose from, foods and markets to choose from, too.
But surely, reconciling your urge to live off grid in the nitty gritty city poses a few problems. Like getting around all the crazy ordinances that prevent you from keeping chickens within city limits, which is something that my particular slice of city is dealing with right now. I've written my city commissioners because I want to keep chickens. We have less than an acre. And I investigated keeping dairy goats a few years back, and the guy with the city with whom I spoke wasn't too encouraging, so I didn't pursue it. He asked, "You ain't planning on breeding 'em, are you?" Guess I could move.
Right. We could all move. Wrong. Moving isn't as simple as it used to be. Real estate tanked. Property on the market in my modest neighborhood moulders for 18 months or more. So Annette Cottrell and Joshua McNichols' book was published at the perfect time and offers fantastic solutions for those who feel trapped by their lifestyle, but want a different lifestyle. Basically this book is about going local, and not leaving your city to do so.
Oh yeah, one caveat, The Urban Farm Handbook is specific to the Pacific Northwest, so all ya'll southerners and otherners who read my blog, we're SOL. But, it's fantastic reading. It illustrates Annette's logical progression from locally sourcing each product: Grain, Eggs, Dairy, Veggies, etc. But, a few paragraphs down, I tell how the book is divided, and Annette writes about what fruits and veggies are in season in each section of the book. Naturally that varies somewhat between the PacNW and the Southeast. She includes a sample produce eating plan on page 105, and that's likely wonky for we southeasterners, too.
Annette (or is it Joshua?) goes deep into soil conditioning, compost, biochar, etc. and how to make the most of what you've got in your small lot or plot. They provide the basics of composting and testing, of course, and that will get most everyone started. Yet, from the very little I recall from my natural resources courses, the topography and soil in that region is very different from here. Welcome red clay soil. Anyway.
Another cool thing about this book are the producer profiles. Annette and Joshua got friendly with farmers, beekeepers, and gardeners, so readers meet several interesting characters, described as "old hippies or high-tech dropouts". Recipes are included for every section, and I was particularly enchanted by chapters fourteen and fifteen (raising small animals for meat) which give pointers on rendering lard or tallow, a lost skill if there ever was one. And remember, you are what your animals eat. If you eat animals. I struggle with that more each day.
What started this whole "Crazy Bus" project was when Annette Cottrell bore two boys, both with vastly different nutritional needs. When her pediatrician wanted her to supplement with processed, unnatural foods, she researched and built a garden and fed them from the fruits of her labors. She buys cuts of animals from local farmers and harvests fruits and vegetables that she cans each seasons.
Joshua's story is much the same as Annette's, after the birth of his son, he planted fruit trees, a kitchen garden, and a blueberry patch in the yard of the home he and his wife made together. They yearned to sell out and move to the country, but their jobs had them tied to the city. He met Annette via an online forum and she offered to give he and his family a locavore makeover.
Amazing how children change our lives, isn't it? They change our point of view and turn us into better people who search for alternatives to what we've grown up with or settled for. I feel this way. I choose organic fruits for my daughter. Who knows what food choices were made for me that have contributed to my health issues? I want to save her from those problems.
What's most appealing about this book is that it leaves a lot of space for readers to use what information they can and cobble together an approach that matches their lifestyles. For example, Joshua talks about how he uses a bread machine to make his bread, but that Annette is hard core. She kneads her bread by hand.
Beginning with Winter, the Urban Farm Handbook is divided seasonally into four main sections. Annette begins with grains and remarks that she spent $6 for bread at the store made from grains that weren't local, but when she starting making and baking her own bread, after finding a local source of grain, it costs her 50 cents to make a loaf. I know, I'm wondering if either price really captures the true cost of the loaf of bread--the cost of transportation, gasoline, etc. In chapter two Annette answers the question about whether its cheaper to buy store-bought eggs than to keep backyard hens. I won't give you the answer, but she says
most of those 'free-range, organic' eggs at at the farmer market-the ones that cost five to seven dollars a dozen- cannot hold a handle to backyard eggs.
Other than all the "specific to PacNW" stuff, there's so much of value in this book that is universal and applicable to everyone, no matter what region you/we live in. Chapter thirteen is all about building food community, and that, my friends, is the most important thing in my estimation. So much rich information within this book, besides this chapter. But it reminds us about the age-old tradition of bartering as a means of commerce. And chapter fourteen "going whole hog" reminded me of a thought I had while at the Southern Food Writing Conference earlier this month. John Guenther of Muddy Pond Sourghum Mill talked about how he and his family raise cows for beef to sell to people (as a side money-making endeavor). I meant to follow up with him about that and see what kind of arrangements that takes, because I want to get away from the big business meat machine.
The end bits include Annette's calendar which makes planning your next year easier. You PacNW peeps will know when to get new chicks and ducklings, when to make herb tinctures, etc. Over a dozen small-font pages of edible plants are listed which makes figuring out what to plant in your small-plot garden easy. And the resources in the back include where to find grains, chickens, goats, supplies for cheesemaking and home dairy, foraging, gardening, beekeeping, food preservation, local farmer markets & csa programs, buying clubs, meat, and soaps and lotions. Those resources are both bibliographic, educational--as in a governmental organization, or a business or trade organization.
The publisher and they sent me a review copy of Urban Farm Handbook. Just letting you know, so I'm in accordance with the new FTC regulations, but otherwise, I received no other form of compensation.