nonfiction

Made From Scratch: Discovering the Pleasures of a Handmade Life- Jenna Woginrich

I have hobbies other than reading. (I hear you all gasping. I know. It’s scandalous.) I knit- nothing fancy, but hats and mittens and scarves and baby blankets and whatnot are all in my arsenal. I do a little crocheting- I’m still slowly plugging away at that giant blue blanket. I’m working on a cross-stitched table runner that my grandma had started before she passed away. I do a little sewing, we’re planning on expanding our garden this year, I cook almost everything we eat from scratch, I bake, I play a few different musical instruments (I mean, not professionally or anything, but I do okay). Basically, I enjoy a lot of the same things my great-grandparents did, aided by lightning-fast internet videos to grow my skills, and it’s because of this that Made From Scratch: Discovering the Pleasures of a Handmade Life by Jenna Woginrich (Storey Publishing, 2008) ended up on my TBR. One of the greatest pleasures of my life is reading books by or about people who are different than me in some way, but sometimes it’s nice to read books by or about people with whom I share something in common.

Mostly memoir but partly how-to, Jenna Woginrich moved to northern Idaho for a job, but also in search of a more handmade life, one where her food, her clothing, and her entertainment were more of her own creation and not store-bought or piped directly into her house via internet or cable. Gardening, baking, chickens, rabbits, bees, musical instruments, all of these and more became part of her daily routine. Leaning on neighbors and new acquaintances for help, Jenna learned new skills and the hard lessons that come along with living closer to the land (look away for a few minutes during the chapter on rabbits, animal lovers; all-natural lives aren’t always pretty. Though never delving in to gory details, Jenna has to put a rabbit down and it’s obviously not easy for her).

I’m not allowed to keep chickens where I live (and I’m not totally sure I’d personally want to- I have enough living creatures in my house to stress out about already, thank you) and I have no desire to keep rabbits or sled dogs, but I enjoyed this book, both the chapters that resembled my life and the ones that weren’t necessarily pertinent to my interests. Ms. Woginrich is very thoughtful and deliberate about her journey towards a more authentic life, never foolishly jumping in too deep, always venturing step by step down every new path, seeking the advice and tutelage of others who have gone before her. If you’re just starting out, wanting to learn what a more simple life might look like, this is a lovely introduction. I’ve been engaged in a lot of what’s included in this book for years, so while I didn’t necessarily learn anything new, it’s always nice to take a peek into what someone else’s life looks like, and to remember that all these things I’m doing have value. It can be hard to remember that when I’m stressing about what to make for dinner or putting off that pile of mending in order to get more reading done, but those are worthy projects as well, so I’m grateful that these books exist to help me remember that.

Some of the links in her section on research are now outdated and non-existent, but I’m sure anyone looking for more information can spend a few minutes on Google, sorting through links on whatever topic it is you need.

One important note: Ms. Woginrich began her journey to a more simplified life as a single woman with no kids (but employed full-time). Her free time and ability to learn, for example, to play fiddle and garden, is going to look very different than someone who has a spouse and a toddler and older child and all the errands and responsibilities that come along with that. I’m assuming she could do whatever housecleaning she needed and then her house would stay clean and not look like a Category 5 hurricane blew threw every time she turned her back for more than three seconds (LOOKING AT YOU, FAM), and thus had more time to spend enjoying her chickens and playing the dulcimer in the backyard. I’m on a pretty tight schedule around here and spend more time yelling at my daughter to PLEASE FOR THE LOVE OF ALL THAT IS HOLY FOR THE LAST TIME PUT YOUR SHOES ON OR YOU CAN GO TO SCHOOL BAREFOOT EVEN THOUGH IT’S NINETEEN DEGREES OUT (actual conversation we had last week), which seriously eats up any free time I could be spending to spin yarn, so my life looks a little different than hers. Don’t feel bad or like you’re not doing enough if you read this and wonder how you’re going to shoehorn in *more* things to do. Do what you can, when you can, and realize that you and the author may be at different places in your lives right now, and there’s nothing wrong with that. (I mention this because there was a time in my life where I would have needed to hear this message. My mom and I went on a tour of local houses once when my son was about two and I was super busy all the time. One of the houses had on display the wife’s collection of quilts that she had sewn, and it was a large, large collection. She wasn’t that much older than I was, and I was feeling horrible about myself, wondering how on earth she had time to DO all of that, and when I said as much to one of the people running the tour, that person happened to mention that the homeowners didn’t have children, and I nearly sobbed with relief, because THAT’S why they had that kind of free time. I felt like I’d totally been mismanaging everything up to that point because I didn’t have stacks upon stacks of homemade quilts!)

This is a lovely little book, a quick read about what a slower life might look like. If you need a little inspiration, you might find some in between these pages. 🙂

Visit Jenna Woginrich’s farm’s website, Cold Antler Farm

Follow her on Twitter

nonfiction

City Farmer: Adventures in Urban Food Growing- Lorraine Johnson

So, remember when I said in August’s Monthly Roundup that my TBR blew up thanks to adding a bunch of books on urban farming? City Farmer: Adventures in Urban Food Growing by Lorraine Johnson (Greystone Books, 2010) is one of those books (and I believe the list that I dug it up from was here on Goodreads, if you’re interested in searching for other books on permaculture and homesteading). It just so happened that my library had a copy, so into the stack it went a few weeks ago when I was there, searching for books ON MY OWN. I’m still jazzed to have uninterrupted time to myself while my daughter’s in school; one of these days, I’ll even go- dare I say it?- browse the library bookshelves with no particular book in mind. That’s it, just browsing in hopes of stumbling upon my next great read. It’s been years since I was able to just go browse at a leisurely pace; I’ve had an exact list, complete with call numbers, in hand on every library visit for years!

Lorraine Johnson covers a lot of bases about urban farming in this book, including the fact that city farms actually end up being more productive- yes, MORE- than country farms, for multiple reasons. While growing your own food isn’t anything new (and she covers this by recounting a bit of the history of gardening, including the victory gardens of World War II), the ever-expanding popularity of farming in the city is, and thanks to gardeners and teachers and agitators, it’s growing more mainstream each year.

Ms. Johnson takes the reader on garden visits to Detroit, Toronto, Guelph, Chicago and beyond, visiting cement slabs covered in containers bursting with tomatoes, balconies dripping with herbs, tiny backyards that house a handful of chickens, and boulevards planted with beans. It’s not always easy, or even legal: plenty of cities have had to be talked into the benefit of growing food (both in public and privately owned property- I’m sure you’ve heard stories of home owner associations who don’t allow gardens or clotheslines, and some cities have hosted angry town hall meetings where people protest apple trees, even when groups are volunteering to do all the harvest and donate the apples to a food pantry. What a thing to to get angry about…), and fights still go on all over the world about this. It’s even local to me: a few towns over, a city banned the presence of hoop greenhouses in residents’ backyards (I find this incredibly stupid, but this is a REALLY snobby town, so. Local groups aren’t giving up, though, so stay tuned!) There are so many interesting stories and so much great information in this book about what growing your own food in the city looks like or could look like if we just open our minds about what our surroundings are supposed to look like.

The sections about gardening as a form of food security really struck me as deeply practical; Ms. Johnson quotes one source that states that Americans no longer grow enough fruit to serve everyone their recommended servings per day, which is…unsettling at best. All it takes is a small disruption in the food supply chain, which could happen due to weather, an accident, crop failure, *huge sigh here* politics, and suddenly, we’re out of dietary staples. While I don’t quite have a full year of food on hand, I do keep a well-stocked pantry that would leave us okay for a few months, but books like these make me well aware of the need to produce more of what my family needs on my own quarter-acre, and we’re planning on it (we planted one of our cherry trees the other day! As per our local arboretum’s suggestion, the other will spend the winter at my mom’s house, safe from my cats, and that way, we’ll have a backup if the one we planted doesn’t last through any of our heavier snows. Currently, we have an apple tree, a plum tree, and now a cherry, none yet fruiting, and most likely we’ve got years to wait). We’ve got three butternut squash on the counter right now, grown in our backyard, along with two small tomatoes- our tomatoes did terrible this year, but that seems to be the norm for around here. Just a bad year for tomatoes, I guess. We do have a few kale leaves sprouting in our new front yard garden patch, though!

My only beef with this book is with ME- why do I always pick fall and winter to read gardening books??? They make me want to plant ALL THE THINGS and I found City Farmer so inspirational. If so many people can grow so much more, in spaces so much smaller than what I have, I need to get a move on- and I will…once it’s actual planting season. Until then, I’ll plan and dream and read on.

For a short bio on Lorraine Johnson, click here.

nonfiction

The Suburban Micro-Farm- Amy Stross

I’m not a country girl whatsoever. I admire the people who leave it all behind and go live on the farm of their dreams out in the middle of nowhere, but that’s not for me. I grew up in a smallish town and I start feeling claustrophobic when I’m anywhere with less civilization than that small town (which is still pretty small). I am, however, a huge fan of permaculture and making the best use of what growing space one has, and so on my spree of putting gardening and homesteading books on my TBR, I added The Suburban Micro-Farm by Amy Stross (Twisted Creek Press, 2018) and immediately requested it from the library. Amy Stross knows what she’s talking about; along with having worked as a landscape gardener and a CSA manager and being certified in permaculture, she runs a blog called Tenth Acre Farm about her own suburban homestead, handing out tips and ideas about permaculture gardening in the suburbs like candy at a parade.

The Suburban Micro-Farm is a gorgeous book, crammed full of beautiful photographs of flowers, vegetables, fruit, and landscape, right alongside information about what permaculture is and how we who live in the suburbs can turn our lawns and what we previously thought of as unusable areas, into productive gardening zones that cut our food bills, provide plants and shade for pollinators and other native creatures, and turn our boring lawns into beautiful, generative farmland. If you’re ready to move beyond the rain barrel, Ms. Stross has plans for rain gardens, if that’s something that suits your property, and she offers up ideas for everything from container gardening to raised beds to shady spaces to wide expanses of lawn. There’s literally something in here for everyone who’s looking to turn every inch of their property from something that consumes into something that produces.

This book really got me thinking about better usage of the land we live on, and we’ve already started with some work that will hopefully improve it and set us down the path to growing more of our own produce (and I have more work to do as soon as this heat wave passes! I’m not spending hours out there in 89 degree heat…). I love that she’s not afraid to admit that she’s made mistakes in the past and that sometimes it just takes trial and error to find what grows best on your own particular property. Her message of ‘try to figure out what went wrong; figure out what you need to solve the problem; sometimes you just have to try again next year’ really resonated with me; it helps my perfectionist tendencies to hear someone with far more experience and expertise to say that not only is it okay to screw up, it’s expected, and it’s not a big deal. We can always fix it next season.

If you dream of turning your home into a homestead and your lawn into a lush garden exploding with gorgeous produce, you need this book. It’s one I’m considering actually buying, because it’s that good of a reference. Ms. Moss introduced me to quite a few new concepts, including that of a tree guild, which intrigued me, as we have a baby apple and a baby plum tree that we planted last year, along with two tiny cherry trees that we sprouted from pits (this isn’t as simple as, say, sprouting a bean; it involved freezing the pit in sub-zero temperatures for a time!). I love those trees and want them to be as productive and healthy as possible, so this is something I’ll definitely put to use!

Grow food, not lawns. It’s a fabulous concept, and hopefully in a few years, I’ll be participating in it more!

Visit Amy Stross’s website here.

Follow her on Twitter here.