A urban farming book review

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Flowering ramsons (bear garlic), I’m letting my small patch go to seed so I can have plenty of garlicky greens early next spring.

My recent thoughts about squeezing more food out of my urban lot led me to stumble upon The Quarter-Acre Farm: How I Kept the Patio, Lost the Lawn, and Fed My Family for a Year by Spring Warren (she has a nice website here). She is much further along the same path that I’m on – I haven’t converted my front lawn to veggie patch yet, but I’m plotting to do it. She committed to growing 75% of the food she would consume and her book is about her struggles and successes in doing that for a year. Plus, she has a goose with my name (a coincidence I’m sure).

Her motivations are all things I worry about. A primary reason for her was food safety and not really knowing what has been done to industrially produced veggies. She worries about the excessive fossil fuels used to produce industrial food and to get it to our plates. Yesterday my husband came home with asparagus from Washington State, the first reasonably local asparagus he has found. Over the last little while we’ve looked at the various tasty looking asparagus in the grocery store but not bought any because of how far they had come. Large scale meat and egg production is a big concern to her. I also worry about waste in packaging – growing veggies at home saves a lot of this waste.

Her northern California climate left me with plenty of garden envy, specifically citrus envy. I wish I could grow citrus, we try inside, but so far we’ve only ended up with buggy, pathetic trees that don’t even bother to flower. Excess olives are another problem I wish I had (if I did have this problem, Spring gives detailed instructions on how to salt cure them). I have to delve deeply into brassica diversity and odd/old crops to have something fresh to harvest year round.

I love her description of scrounging for the sake of her garden – gardens can cost a lot if you don’t do this. But, if you ask around plenty of things can be found for free. For example, we are off this afternoon to pick up a compost bin a college is giving us.

Spring ate her snails, albeit reluctantly, a delicious way to rid a garden of pests. Unfortunately, snail eating has been vetoed here. What is on my agenda is growing mushrooms – now I have a good idea of what to do and what not to do.

The Quarter-Acre Farm isn’t really a how-to-book, although there are some instructions and plenty of recipes that look good (I think I’ll try her preserved lemons, but sadly not with homegrown lemons), but it is a good story and easy to read. I enjoyed the book and recommend it to anyone who thinks about growing some of their own food.

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