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The Green Life: Book Roundup Wednesday: Micro-Farming

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May 04, 2011

Book Roundup Wednesday: Micro-Farming

Every Wednesday, we review a selection of new and upcoming books addressing a specific aspect of environmentalism. This week, we're recommending books about living off the land, when your backyard is all the land you've got.

Book Roundup WednesdayYour Farm in the City (by Lisa Taylor, $13, Black Dog & Leventhal, Feb. 2011): Forget about 40 acres and a big red barn. If you come home to a miniscule Manhattan apartment whose most significant outdoor space is the fire escape, you can still compost, grow vegetables, and keep bees (in keeping with local zoning codes, of course). This book is hefty and looks good on a coffee table, but the lightweight cover and practical, attractive layout clue you in that this a book to be carried outdoors with spade and hoe. Follow its simple steps for designing a garden space, learn to harvest eggplants, and weigh the pros and cons of keeping goats. This book is for you if you've ever thought about starting a backyard farm but were too scared to ask the novice questions.

Urban Agriculture: Ideas and Designs for the New Food Revolution (by David Tracey, $15, New Society Publishers, Apr. 2011): Here's another crash course in backyard farming (sans goats) that takes you step-by-step from your barren plot of dirt to an agricultural Eden. Along the way, you pick up tidbits about why urban farming is the way of the future and how it can help save the planet. Unfortunately, the book's activist message somewhat kills its design, so that it's more a volume to sit down and read than one to prop open while you work the soil. Most pages are blocks of text, which makes finding basic guidelines for certain projects a bit cumbersome.

The Backyard Homestead Guide to Raising Farm Animals (edited by Gail Damerow, $16, Storey Publishing, Mar. 2011): Remember that NYC fire escape? OK, that might be a little small for the projects in this book. But in the average backyard, there's a wealth of possibilities for raising pigs, rabbits, sheep, even cows. A companion book to The Backyard Homestead, which focuses on vegetable crops, this big, colorful book employs effective design to outline everything (and we mean everything; ever seen a rabbit-birthing diagram?) about the backyard ranch. A guide like this, which takes the guesswork out of buying, handling, and (sorry, this is kind of the whole idea) eating these animals, makes the notion of keeping chickens, rabbits, or bees quite tempting.

Home Dairy with Ashley English (by Ashley English, $13, Lark Crafts, Mar. 2011): OK, say you get yourself a goat or cow and stock up on fresh milk. Now what? There's a wide world of cheeses, yogurts, and butters to be explored, and this book is where to start. More of a cookbook than a farm manual, it comes from a series by food blogger English that also includes Keeping Bees, Keeping Chickens, and Canning and Preserving. All are packed with lovely photos and easy-to-follow guides for making the most of your backyard produce.

The New American Landscape: Leading Voices on the Future of Sustainable Gardening (edited by Thomas Christopher, $23, Timber Press, Apr. 2011): Maybe you aren't sold on the benefits of a backyard farm, or maybe you think it sounds cool but want the details on why they're so good for the planet. If so, check out this book, which looks and reads like a textbook but is far from boring. Each chapter explores a specific facet of sustainable gardening (native plants, green roofs, pest solutions, water conservation, and more) and is written by a different "leading thinker," including Cornell horticulture professor David W. Wolfe and Landscape Architecture contributing editor Linda McIntyre. The book's a little too hard-nosed and dry to be a practical farm manual, but should serve to arm you with a solid rebuttal to anyone who thinks growing artichokes in your backyard is crazy. 

--Tim McDonnell

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