Tuesday, May 31, 2011

An Open Letter to Mark Zuckerberg: On Your Decision to Kill What You Eat

Dear Mark,

Kudos to you for attempting to take responsibility for your meat consumption, to face the face behind the body on your plate. I mean this with all sincerity. For reals. Killing your dinner is not easy in this age of neatly cling wrapped, sterilized-looking pieces of flesh lying in styrofoam cartons. In our modern day food system, we've lost all connection between the ingredient and end product. I hope that your decision, being that you are an ultra famous twenty-something billionaire, will have an impact on our culture and encourage more folks to explore the acts that bring a meal to plate.

But I'm really curious as to why you have decided to focus solely on being the henchman in that final moment of the animal's life, the proverbial "money-shot" of meat production. I'm sure you realize that there is so much more in getting that birria to the stew pot. There is, of course, the daily shoveling of shit, feeding, watering, and making sure the animals stay healthy. And what about a farmer's concerns of being profitable in an industry that one can barely make a living at, even if using subsidized GMO grains for feed? Or that the farmer or slaughterhouse has to rely on cheap, usually illegal, immigrant labor in order to survive in those businesses? Are those things that you will be educating yourself on in your endeavor to learn more about where your food comes from?

I don't mean to be overly critical because I do truly admire your resolve. You remind me of my twenty-year-old vegetarian self who had determined that one should only eat meat if they could kill it themselves. At the time, I knew I wasn't capable of the killing so I chose not to eat animals. But now that I am a middle-aged, carnivorous, not-even-close-to-being-a-billionaire-in-my-wildest-dreams urban farmer, I have killed and I have discovered exactly what it takes to produce the food we eat. It's a lot of work, Mark. A lot of rote, dirty, smelly, unglamorous, low-valued work. In essence, much more than just the killing.

Maybe you already know all this. Maybe these are things that you think about. But let's face it, you're a billionaire who rubs elbows with presidents, king and queens, and the richest of the rich. You can essentially do anything you want. Is your foray into grim reaper any different from the wealthy dude who hangs off the back of his Hummer on his Texas estate safari shooting at tigers for a prized trophy head to hang over the mantle? OK, OK, maybe that's a bad analogy. You're not shooting endangered, exotic animals from the back of a gas guzzling SUV for the sake of putting another notch on your belt. Make no mistake though, killing for your own meat is a trophy of sorts, just like learning Chinese or wearing a tie every day for a year.

This may be hyperbole on my part, but can't you see how this smacks of Hameau de la Reine, Marie Antoinette's play farm where she pranced around pretending to be a dairymaid? Isn't this a bit of  masquerading on your part? I mean, come on, you're a billionaire! You don't have to process one morsel of your own food if you choose not to. With your kind of money, you don't even have to lift your fork to your mouth. You really could pay someone to do that. It would be weird, but you could do it. People with your kind of wealth have an all access pass to do anything they want to do, including sauntering on to someone's farm and slaughtering animals. Any farmer would be more than happy to show you the ropes, probably for free, because you are Mark Zuckerberg, the Facebook guy and the youngest self-made billionaire EVER. You must know that you walk this earth in possession of more privilege than the other 95% of us combined. Can you see how this could look a little like "Oh, now he wants to amuse himself as farmer!" to the masses?

Maybe you're wondering why I'm being so hard on you. It could even look like jealousy since I'm more than a decade older than you without anything even remotely like your achievements under my belt and I am clearly not a billionaire and I'm possibly a little jealous that you are because I keep mentioning your wealth in, like, every other sentence. I promise I'm not pressing you on this issue, Mark, due to envy (though the billionaire thing does give me a twinge when my mortgage comes due). I just think that you could push yourself further on the "understanding where your food comes from" thing. If you are reading this, I'm sure you just muttered something like, "Hey crazy lady, I'm killing animals over here. What else do you think I should do?" Well I'll tell you: participate in how food is produced not just in how it meets its maker.

Mark, I've got a great challenge for you. Instead of just executing your meals, why don't you raise a small flock of meat birds and laying hens? This way you can really get to know your animal before it makes it to the chopping block. Why poultry? Well they are pretty low maintenance where livestock is concerned and you can get meat as well as eggs. If you could spend an hour a day learning Mandarin, you could certainly spend 30 minutes a day feeding and mucking the coop of your little clutch of ladies.

Each year you engage in the classic conflict of man versus himself, but with the challenge you have set forth for yourself this time around, you have a golden opportunity to experience the entire process, to see how the rest of the world has to work in order to survive. On a micro scale, of course. If you keep track of your input versus output, you will quickly realize that it is almost impossible to be a profitable farm, even with economies of scale. Meat is not only a question of the ethics of "passing the buck" in the brutality of it all, but an issue of social justice. How many billionaires take the time to explore that?

I took the liberty of looking up your city's codes and all you need is a permit. I know your neighbors might get their feathers a bit ruffled, but I'm sure you've got enough space on your $7 million property to be relatively discreet. You could also use it as an educational opportunity to inform your neighbors on the benefits of raising their own food. Even famous folks like Martha Stewart and Olympic swimmer Natalie Coughlin are doing it. You wouldn't be alone. I'll even help you get started. For free! This weekend I'll be at the Sunset Magazine Celebration Weekend in Menlo Park, next to your home town as you know, with my friend Esperanza giving out free info on raising backyard poultry. There will be a booth near ours where you can purchase an attractive coop for your chooks and you can pick up some nice birds right in Menlo Park from Little Cluckers.

I tell you, Mark, this is going to be a great project for you and really only a slight expansion of your original endeavor. I assure you it will be more than rewarding growing and harvesting food that you have raised with your own two hands. And think of the street cred you'll gain with fellow farmers going through the entire process from start to finish.

With much sincerity, admiration for your responsible meat eating (you've certainly gone further than I have), and gratitude for connecting me with friends whom I never would have gotten in touch with if not for Facebook (I'm going to look past that privacy issue for now since this is meant to be a letter of encouragement and not a "bag on Mark" note),

Heidi Kooy

P.S. I think you should throw in a mini-garden too. Growing vegetables is often harder than it looks and involves way more killing than most vegans would like to acknowledge. I know this from experience.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Inspirations from the Big and Little Screen: The River Cottage Series

This week's video pick is again from our friends across the pond. Having been a big fan of British programming since I was a wee one watching reruns of The Young Ones on MTV, I continue to turn to the mother island for my entertainment and/or informational needs. Let's face it, the BBC kicks the American media's ass in all ways, news and otherwise. Though today's video is not BBC produced rather a product of Channel 4, it still lives up to the higher standards of British television in my opinion. Maybe it's the Brit accent. I've always been a sucker for it.

In a recent post, I introduced you all to Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and The River Cottage Meat Book. Aside from being an author of 19 books on food and food preparation, he is also a journalist, celebrity chef, and television personality having starred in several series on discovering what it takes to go back-to-the-land to provide for one's self. As a consequence of his television shows, Hugh has become a popular spokesman for self-reliance, free-range animal husbandry, and organics. When I first picked up his meat book, I imagined him to be a proper, reserved, maybe even uptight sort of Englishman. Nothing could be further from the truth. Hugh is an affable, slightly strange, food nerd hippy hybrid who pulls stunts in his River Cottage television series like inviting psychics to come help him with his mice problems or find the right kind of wood in the forest. There are scenes of him lying naked (no graphic images) in his tomato poly tunnel (hoop house) and taking a bubble bath with a rubber duckie. The man is a goofball, but a loveable one.

Aside from his awkward antics, he has much information to share for the person interested in homesteading topics. He raises his own animals, grows his own veg, enters jam and veg growing competitions at the local fair, sells homegrown food at the local farmers market, invites knowledgeable neighbors over to help with his various projects of culling, butchering, animal husbandry, preserving, sausage making, foraging, cider brewing - you name it, he does it. I have learned so much from his programs and have been inspired to try things that I would have formerly shied away from thinking they were too complicated, like hanging a pork leg for several months to make prosciutto. He doesn't make things look easy, except the cooking part which is a genius at, but does make it accessible as he bumbles his way through various adventures. I love witnessing the raw, authentic emotion in his enterprises, such as seeing him weep when his first lamb was being born, hearing the disappointment in his voice when he finds out his cow is not in calf after having been bred, and observing the matter of fact attitude he develops toward animal loss on his small holding.

There are many series of River Cottage goodness, each containing 4-6 episodes: Escape to River Cottage, Return to River Cottage, River Cottage Forever, Beyond River Cottage, The View from River Cottage, The River Cottage Road Trip, The River Cottage Treatment, River Cottage: Gone Fishing, River Cottage Spring, River Cottage Autumn, River Cottage - Winter's on the Way, and River Cottage Everyday. If you read my blog, I know you will love these videos. Well that should keep you plenty busy until the next installment of Itty Bitty's Inspirations from the Big and Little Screens.

(By the way, let me know if you are enjoying these video reviews or if you'd rather I skip this stuff and get back to urban farming haps. I'd appreciate the input.)

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Name That Funky Skin Condition

Alright kids, have at it. I have no idea what this is. It's not scabby and no hair falls off, which is why I don't think it's rain rot or staph. Like I mentioned before, it's exactly like cradle cap. And it's all over her belly. Lucy has a little bit of it on the top of her udder, but nothing like Ethel. It was hard to get a good picture of it, but do your best and tell me what you think. If you figure it out, let me know. Thanks!

Look how much her chichis are swelling. I'm pretty sure she's got a bun in the oven.

And good news about Lucy. She is NOT pregnant, thank god. She went into heat this last week, tongue waggling and back end dripping. Must have missed her last cycle.

Pop Tart (Coq) au Vin

The time had come to honor the circle of life here at Itty Bitty. Pop Tart had been marinating in the freezer for six months and Monica, the Irish lass who found the poor divil lying dead at the foot of the coop, is off to her motherland for the summer. Clearly, a bon voyage party, with Pop Tart at the helm, was called for. But what to do with a stewing hen?

Ask around and you'll get a lot of naysayers to the eating of an aged egg layer. They'll tell you that the meat isn't fit for consumption; that it will be tough and stringy and disgusting. Well I'm here to tell you that they are wrong, wrong, wrongity wrong.

The folks that think a stewing hen is inedible are the ones who are attempting to prepare it like a broiler. That doesn't work. Broiler chickens, the kind that you buy at the store tidily wrapped in clinging plastic and styrofoam, are harvested at around eight weeks. Eight weeks, people! The incredible rate of growth is mind-boggling, unless you see it firsthand. Think about it. That creature hatches at only a few ounces and then puts on nearly a pound of weight a week. Those muscles that end up on your dinner plate probably haven't even been properly stretched. Talk about fresh, young meat. But of course a hen or rooster that has been running around the yard for a couple years will be a tad more rough and tumble in taste and texture, the tenderness and succulence of adolescence long gone. The secret to preparing one of these old cluckers is the same as with any tough cut of meat: cook the shit out of it for a really really long time under low heat.

I knew that I would have to find a tried and true recipe to prepare Pop Tart's thin frame so I turned to Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, British author of the award winning The River Cottage Meat Book, my crockpot, and the French. Coq au vin, as the name suggests, obviously descends from the French. Long considered a peasant dish, an old rooster who was losing his abilities between the legs would be cast into the stewing pot along with some wine, onions, mushrooms, salt pork and a bouquet garni. The lengthy cooking period broke down the tough connective tissues that tend to build up in older, active birds, creating a tasty and inexpensive meal. My modern version utilizes my crockpot for the slow, low temp cooking. Today, coq au vin is most often prepared with broilers and cooked for shorter periods of time. What a waste, I say. Let's create a stewing hen revival. I know Hugh is on board. He has several videos (look for more info in my next post) on his experience as a small holder, of which the American translation would probably be "hobby farmer", where he advocates for using all of one's resources in a sensible, holistic manner. He would never let an old rooster or hen go to naught.

Hugh's recipes have never steered me wrong so I went with a variation on his coq au vin.

  • old laying hen
  • onions
  • a couple bulbs of green garlic
  • 1/2 pound button mushrooms
  • 1/2 pound bacon
  • half a glass of brandy
  • 2 cups red wine (I used Bogle's Merlot)
  • 2 cups water
  • a bouquet garni of celery, parsley, thyme, and bay leaf
  • pepper to taste
First I quartered the hen. Her meat looked fantastic, though there wasn't a lot of it. And did you know that chickens have hair? Like really long hair, almost four inches! I guess it's tucked in between the feathers. How that stuff gets plucked out is a mystery to me. Pop Tart still had most of hers. I figured they would cook off, which happened to be the case. Next I chopped up the bacon into small pieces and fried it. While the bacon drained, I sauteed the onions and green garlic in the bacon grease. Then I placed both the bacon and onions in the crockpot. I dredged the quartered chicken in flour and browned it in the same pan that I had cooked the bacon and onions in. After the skin got a nice crisp coating, I poured the brandy over the chicken while tipping the pan so that it would light on fire. When the flames died down, I transferred the pieces to the crockpot and added the wine to the pan to deglaze all the goodness. As soon as the wine bubbled, I poured it into the crockpot and added a little pepper. I set the crockpot to low for six hours. After about four, I added the bouquet garni. Then one hour before the chicken was done, I sauteed the mushrooms (sliced) in a little butter and moved them into the crock as soon as they developed a good sweat.

Little Pop Tart strutted across the stage of existence one last time in a serving vessel fit for a queen (one of my finest thrift store finds).

We served her with a lovely spread of homegrown artichoke hearts, homegrown pickled carrots, pickled beets, and grilled asparagus. Her flesh, atop heaps and heaps of mash, transformed into a toothsome meal good enough for any king.

And we, the court, made merry one last time before our summer apart.

What will I do without my farm sitter?

    Tuesday, May 24, 2011

    Maker Faire Fun

    What an incredible and exhausting weekend! The last time I was at the Maker Faire it was about a quarter of the size that it is today. Holy macaroni, I had no idea the event had gotten so big and crazy. It was something like a cross between Burning Man and a Professional Engineers conference: high on geek factor, low on e-bombed ravers. Since I'm a tee-totaler, it was the perfect blend.

    On Saturday, I gave a workshop on urban goats and did a little cheese making demonstration. The talk went well, but I found it difficult to make cheese while milking the goat and talking. As a consequence, the milk burned a little giving the cheese a charcoalish flavor. How embarrassing! Whatevs, the goats were a hit.

    Photo courtesy of Rachel Brinkerhoff at Dog Island Farm
    Photo courtesy of Rachel Brinkerhoff at Dog Island Farm

    After the talk, we had a great time parading the goats around, though we could never get very far as everyone wanted to get a pet in. Like I said, the goats stole the show. Thank goodness for Vanessa and my brother, Jan. They came along to help and I don't know what I would have done without them. Thanks guys!

    If I had to pick the highlight of the day, this would have been it:

    Photo courtesy of Rachel Brinkerhoff at Dog Island Farm
    Lucy was so jealous that we got to drive that cupcake. It was pretty awesome. I'm trying to convince Esteban to build us one.

    We even made the recap videos of the Faire. Watch Lucy destroy expensive sound equipment.

    Um... sorry dude, but I did warn you.

    Monday, May 23, 2011

    Reviewing the Reads: The Wisdom of the Radish

    Another book that was sent my way to have a look at is the memoir by greenhorn farmer Lynda Hopkins, The Wisdom of the Radish: And Other Lessons Learned on a Small Farm. If you've ever wondered what it might be like to drop out of the rat race and try your hand at growing food, raising chickens, and milking goats for a living, this is a not to be missed book.But even if you are only remotely curious about what it takes to become a farmer in this day and age, you'll still want to have a gander. Lynda brings the reader on her hilarious and trying journey from her San Diego suburbanite, M.A. in journalism, which-end-of-the-potato-is-up background to full fledged, honest to god, selling-at-a-Northern-California-farmers-market farmer. The bumps and mishaps this twenty-something year old and her partner in crime boyfriend experience along the way feel like the universal, wet behind the ears beginnings to any new adventure. Her ability to discuss some of the more political and technical aspects of farming with humor and an engaging writing style keep the reader informed as well as entertained. Lynda is a young, funny, beautiful (there's a picture of her on the front cover), intelligent, and talented writer. I would hate her if she wasn't so gosh darn charming and sweet (you know how you can just tell someone is a truly nice person and not faking it just because they wrote the book?)! And I can't help but admire her persistent personality seemingly willing to plow through any hardship. I'm sure part of the reason I like the book so much is that she reminds me of a younger (and more talented) version of myself. She even has had several traumatic chicken incidents. I can hardly believe that there is someone out there that has had it worse, but it looks like Lynda may have topped even me on this one. After you read the book, you can continue to follow her adventures on her blog.

    Just so you know, I didn't give this book a good review because it was given to me and Ms. Hopkins is not a friend. I have no desire to clutter up my house with crappy memoirs, even if they do pertain to things I am interested in. I was honestly charmed by this book, laughed out loud on several occasions, and learned a few things to boot. I call that a good read.

    As for last week's giveaway, the winner is  #4, brittabelle. Please email me your address so that I can mail it to you.

    Saturday, May 21, 2011

    At Least One

    The strawberries may be a little worse for the wind wear, but we were at least blessed with one ripe specimen. Ute and I split it. As you can see, there may be a couple more on the horizon. I can't wait as that ripe one was beyond delicious.

    - Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

    Friday, May 20, 2011

    Come to the Maker Faire!

    I will be giving an urban goat workshop at the San Mateo Maker Faire this Saturday at 10:30 a.m. If you live in the Bay Area, you should come. There's going to be all kinds of cool stuff there. My friends Esperanza of Pluck and Feather and Rachel of Dog Island Farm will be presenting on converting your backyard to food at 11:30 the same day. On Sunday, Esperanza and I will be talking about keeping urban livestock, also at 11:30. All of the food and farm related stuff will be happening in the Homegrown Village. Hope to see you there. If you read this blog, come up and say hi! You can find the full schedule of events here.

    Wednesday, May 18, 2011

    Inspirations from the Big and Little Screen: Victorian Farm

    This brilliant, six episode BBC series stars historian Ruth Goodman, and archaeologists Alex Langlands and Peter Ginn as they recreate a year in the life of Victorian era farmers. If you have a penchant for the "old ways", you won't be able to stop at just one episode. This is some serious homesteading crack. Ruth shells out all sorts of fascinating tidbits about 19th century domesticity, housekeeping, preserving, and cooking, while the boys are off raising the animals and growing the crops. The show gives wonderful insight into day to day Victorian life as it must have been by recreating the mundane tasks, as well as the celebratory occasions. We see how wheat crops were grown and harvested using only the tools available in the 1800s, how laundry was cleaned (you will worship your wash machine after you see how the Victorians had to do it), how cooking was done on a coal range, what preservation methods were available at the time, how dairying, beekeeping, and shepherding were done in the 19th century, the kinds of artisan crafts that were popular, and how holidays were celebrated. In one episode, they show a great trick for preventing rats from getting into your feed. My daughter watched this episode with me after having woken up from a nightmare. Nonetheless, in her half-sleep haze, she pointedly made me take note that this was something I should keep in mind: "Mommy, remember that thing about keeping the rats away. You need to remember that." She's a good little farmer girl. I found the series inspirational on so many levels: seeing old school skills in action that I could apply to life even in the modern age (not the washing bit, of course - I'm not that big of a masochist.), peering through the looking glass into a bygone era and observing what it might have been like for farmers of the day, watching the daily struggles with crops and animals that any farmer in any time period could relate to, hearing the history of long gone skills recounted and illustrated by local experts who keep the old fashioned crafts alive, if only by a faint heartbeat. So if you love history, farming, the d.i.y. life, traditional skills, and/or have a crush on Peter Ginn like I do, you will want to watch this series again and again and again. The same team also did two other fabulous BBC programs, which I will post about in upcoming weeks.

    May Happenings

    As always, all kinds of crazy things are happening around here. Spring is always the most rambunctious of times and this year's season has not failed to perform.


    So here we are in May and it's still raining. I don't want to complain too much since rain means less watering for me, but I'm kind of getting sick of the damp. I think the animals have had their fill too.


    With all the wetness, Ethel has developed some weird skin thing. While clipping her hooves today, I noticed that her belly is covered in brownish, oily skin flakes. Like a lot of it. It's even down her legs. I'm not sure what it is, but it does look an awful lot like cradle cap or seborrhoeic dermatitis. I've never heard of this being a problem in goats, but I did read that seborrhoeic dermatitis may be some kind of yeast flare up and I've been seeing some weird, yeasty smegma in the folds under Ethel's tail. Ugh, more animal ickies! I'm going to treat it like I did the cradle cap my daughter had as a baby: moisten it with an oil like neem, olive, coconut, or taminu and exfoliate with a soft toothbrush. Considering the area that it's covering, this will take awhile, need at least two people to perform the operation, and make for one unhappy goat as she will have to lie on her back for the entire procedure. And she'll probably need a bath after all is said and done. Sounds like fun, eh?

    On the up side of things, I think Ethel is pregnant. Her udder is beginning to swell and I've noticed some waxy discharge from her teats. But before you get all excited, I have also observed that Lucy hasn't gone into heat since Fred left. Shit, he was only in the pen with her for maybe 10 hours tops and she showed no signs whatsoever of ovulation. I'm hoping I just missed the signs this month. Let's keep our fingers crossed on this one as we don't need anymore incestuous matings happening over here.

    Speaking of incest, I've heard from Pam, the baby goats' new owner, that Ginger is ready to kid any day now. Yup, the chastity chonies were a fail. Fred knocked her up and now she's a baby having babies. Jerry Springer, here we come! I've got my fingers crossed that all goes well for her. I'll report back as soon as I receive news.

    Chickens and Chicks

    The cluckin' stubborn bumblefoot keeps reoccurring. I've dug into Sweet Pea's foot twice now and still haven't found the "plug". The last foray into the pad retrieved a few gooey, milky white strands, but definitely no marble of yuck. She's back to laying, but if it flares up again I think I will have to give her some internal antibiotics.

    The other two adult hens just started laying again this week. They seemed to have finished their weird off-season molt and are back in squawky high spirits.

    The chicks are almost ready to go outside. One more week of my craft room looking like a chicken coop. I can't wait to foist them into the great outdoors. The fresh air will be good for them, I'm sure.


    The garden is looking so lush right now with the Oregon Sugar Snaps reaching towards the sky, the Aquadulce favas bearing prolifically, and the lettuces and brassicas creating a carpet of greenery across the yard. In the above picture, you can see the herb/strawberry spiral that I built a few weeks ago. One of the ladies who hangs out with me on the farm, Erika, ripped out that palm, which was in such a weird spot under the loquat, and we replanted it in a barrel container to put on the sidewalk in front of the house. I know the herb spiral is a total permaculture cliche, but they really are an efficient use of space. I've got it crammed with all kinds of herbs and strawberries. The poor berries have been getting their asses kicked by the wind so I've put up a little wind barrier that I made out of the leftover corrugated roofing from the animal pen cover. It's helping, but I think I might have to do better.

    I've also finally installed my drip irrigation system. Hallelujah! It wasn't as intimidating as I made it out to be. Look for an upcoming post on drip irrigation for the technically challenged.

    My tomato starts are starting, but are not quite as big as I would like them to be. This year I started the seeds outside in a makeshift greenhouse. Big mistake. It took them over three weeks to germinate and I still haven't been able to get enough heat on them to get them to take off. They're doing alright though. A couple years ago I started the seeds on my stove top since I've got that super awesome vintage Wedgewood with the constant warmth from the pilot light. The major drawback with this method is that I ran out of room in our small kitchen and dining room area for all of the plants. This led to some strained marital relations so I went with the outdoor plastic covered plant stand on the front porch method. Marriage saved. Tomatoes stunted. Next year I will be starting my seeds in late January or early February, inside, and with a fluorescent shop light over them. The fluorescent bulbs use little energy and since we have solar panels, I won't feel the least bit guilty.

    I think that pretty much sums it up. How is your May going so far?

    Monday, May 16, 2011

    Reviewing the Reads: Your Farm in the City (Our First Giveaway!)

    And yet another thing that I've been meaning to do: review books related to urban homesteading/farming. Over the past couple months, I've received a handful of tantalizing books to review on this blog. Gotta love the swag. Either people actually read this blog or some publishers out there are desperate to get anyone to review their books. I'm going with the former so that I can feel warm and fuzzy rather than sad and pathetic, which would lead me to have to evaluate the meaning and purpose of my life and that's just too much for me on this rainy Monday morning. Instead, I will just promise to review related books on a weekly basis. That will give me purpose, I'm sure.

    Today's review is of Your Farm in the City: An Urban Dweller's Guide to Growing Food and Raising Animals by Lisa Taylor and the gardeners of Seattle Tilth. And guess what? They sent me an extra to give away, which means free stuff for you too! (I assure you that gratis goodies will in no way influence my opinions. I'm a lady that says what she thinks.)

    I like this book, in all honesty, because of the pictures. I know that sounds totally superficial and kindergartnerish of me, but I can't help it. Fonts and graphics grab my attention and break up what can sometimes be dry, informational reading. To be sure, there are a couple spots in the book where the busyness gets in the way of the content making it difficult to read some of the text. On a page dedicated to what not to put in a compost pile, "pet poop" is almost completely obscured by the giant "O" of "oils". Kind of an important thing not to compost and you wouldn't want to overlook it. But this is minor and a bit nit-picky of me. Overall the layout is gorgeous and engaging. If I had picked this up at the bookstore, you can bet I would have snatched it up right quick.

    As for the content, this is a very general book to get you started on all things urban farming. It covers a lot of ground in its not-so-densely-texted 335 pages. Topics covered include planning, building soil, container gardening, working with small spaces, growing from seed, soil fertility, general info on many fruits and veggies, pests, fertilizing, strategies to keep things growing past their typical season, and information on livestock animals that are well suited for an urban setting. The book speaks to the newbie of urban farming. If you've been wanting to grow a few things in the yard and raise a couple chickens but have been hesitant to get your feet wet, Your Farm in the City will set you on the right track and provide a good amount of inspiration and knowledge to get you started. If, however, you've been urban farming for awhile, the book might be a little too basic for your needs. While reading, you get the gist of the subject matter yet nothing is expounded upon in depth. The section spotlighting various fruits and vegetables is incredibly general with not much more information than is found on the back of seed packets. Again, this kind of simpler presentation would be ideal for the fledgling urban farmer, who could easily be overwhelmed by the abundance of information out there on each of the above topics. That being said, I, somewhat experienced urban farmer, did glean a few quality nuggets of info amongst the pretty pages.

    Should you buy this book? Well I guess that all depends on your level of urban farming experience. If you can't tell a leek from a potato, a container garden from a raised bed, or a chicken from a duck (ok, that was a bit over the top), this book would be an ideal place to get you started. On the other hand if you've cleaned more chicken crap than you care to recount, successfully grown a few edible crops, and done your time in the compost trenches, this might not be the book you're looking for to take you to the next level. Still, I would have bought it if someone hadn't sent it to me first.

    What's your favorite book on farming or homesteading? For your chance to win a free copy of Your Farm in the City, leave a comment before midnight Sunday and I will pick a winner on Monday. I'll announce the giveaway winner with next week's book in the Reviewing the Reads series. Good luck!

    Friday, May 13, 2011

    Inspirations from the Big and Little Screens: My Urban Garden

    There are so many videos that I have been meaning to share with you all, but just haven't gotten around to doing so. I can hear my mother's voice echoing in the distance, "Shit or get off the pot, daughter!" (I love my mother. She swears like a sailor.) Did I mention that I am a professional procrastinator? If only that job paid.  Well I'm finally doing it, shitting or getting of the pot that is, and am making these video posts a weekly feature.

    For this first installment, I've chosen a sweet, 1984 short produced by the National Film Board of Canada featuring a woman named Carol Bowlby who grew massive amounts of food in her Nova Scotian urban backyard. Talk about packing it in! This lady had a mere 260 square feet of space in which to plant and was able to produce enough to keep her family of five in veggies for seven months out of the year. Now that's impressive. I've been able to glean several useful and thrifty tips on small space growing from the film. But the icing on the cake has to be the film's classic late 70s-early 80s ambiance: an earthy, handmade pottery sense of style set to an airy flute combined with tinkly xylophone soundtrack, just like all of the educational films us 40-somethings watched in elementary school. The helpful, timeless tidbits overlaid by the dated fashions and sounds make this one a real gem.

    Tuesday, May 10, 2011

    The Chick Deck

    The little chickadees aren't so little anymore. At four weeks, they are almost fully feathered and ready to be housed outdoors. Thank goodness! Those little buggers have been flying out of their cardboard box brooder and running all over my craft room pooping on the floor; there's a layer of fine dust on absolutely everything caused by the chicks scratching and churning up the leftover micro-particles of feed; and the peepers are starting to get aggressive with each other. Their time indoors needs to end soon. The newest pastime is to hop on top of the brooder to sun themselves under the heat lamp. What a bunch of kooks.

    - Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

    Friday, May 6, 2011

    Got Gardener's Hands?

    Try my healing balm. According to all who have used this stuff, it's the shiznit. My sister swears it healed the chronic rash on my nephew's hands. I've put it on the hubby's eczema and poof, those red bumps disappeared in less than 24 hours. It also seems to speed the healing process of the cooking accident burns that I seem to acquire every week or so. I bet it would work wonders on dry, cracked hands. Here's the top secret recipe:

    Heidi's Healing Balm for Hard Working Hands

    1 8oz jar of shea butter
    a few squirts of avocado oil (maybe like 1/2-1oz?)
    at least 4 droppers full of 800 IU vitamin E oil
    a couple handfuls of calendula blossoms (fresh or dried)
    1/2 a handful of lavender blossoms (fresh or dried)
    1 handful of chamomile blossoms (fresh or dried)
    30-40 drops of lavender essential oil
    10 drops rose essential oil
    5 drops chamomile essential oil
    15 drops benzoin essential oil

    Melt shea butter over low heat and add other oils and flower blossoms. Put in a 200-250 degree oven for one hour. Strain. Add essential oils and stir. Pour infused oil into small containers. I reuse those little metal medical marijuana containers since I know someone who has a lot of them. They're the perfect size and easily fit in a pocket or small purse. If you want the balm to solidify quickly, pop the containers in the fridge. Otherwise leave them at room temperature and they will firm up after several hours. If you make it, let me know if it works wonders for you too.

    - Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone