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.