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  You are here:  PublicationsMaine Organic Farmer & GardenerSummer 1998Reviews - Fall 1998   
 Reviews & Resources –Summer 1998 Minimize


The Farm She Was
Homesteading Adventures
The Green Food Shopper
The Shaker Garden
The Winter Harvest Manual
The Green Methods Manual
Videos

   English Cottage and Country Gardens
   Gardening with Summer Perennials

Ann Mohin
Ann Mohin


The Farm She Was
Ann Mohin
Bridge Works Publishing Co., 1998
Bridgehampton, NY 11932
256 pages, $22.95

This novel is the best “read” I’ve had in a long time. For a delicious hour or two each night, I lived through Irene Leahy’s 90th year with her. I heard, in her words, about her life on the New York farm where she grew up and from where she narrates the story; about her younger brother’s mysterious death; about her uncle’s joviality, sometimes inspired by the bottle; about her mother’s vegetable garden and her love for her flock of sheep; about her father’s disdain for the sheep, even though he was widely known as the best shearer around; about the one love of her life; about the change from horse to tractor power.

In each chapter, Irene relates some event in the present – problems of the woman who comes to care for her each day; visits from the local Reverend; visits from the local real estate vulture – and these events trigger a memory from the past. Past and present become one for this old, single woman, as she talks one minute about the need for sheeps’ wool during World War I, another minute about her dislike for the Reverend and his need to wish her a “blessed” day instead of just a good day, and yet another about wishing she had planned better for this last stage of life and for the future of her farm.

The Farm She Was deals with the everyday events that make life on the farm so special, and the bigger issues and questions of life as well. Warm, meaningful relationships – with the land, with animals, with nature and with people – permeate each chapter, and they are portrayed through a character the reader comes to love, an earthy, tough, irreverent, unyielding old lady who finds herself dependent on others. The ending is wonderful, uplifting. Every MOF&G reader would enjoy this book, which was a finalist in The Writers Foundation 1995 America’s Best Novel Competition.

– Jean English

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Homesteading Adventures
A Guide for Doers and Dreamers
by Sue Robishaw, 1995
303 pages, paper, $16.98
Many Tracks, Rt. 1, Box 52, Cooks,
MI 49817

Many MOF&G readers will identify with this book. Many could have written it! Its 20 chapters tell how Sue and Steve Robishaw decided two decades ago to leave the city, move to the country, live the good life, become self sufficient, et cetera. Their foibles and successes are revealed humorously, with each chapter covering one theme. Even experienced back-to-the landers will probably learn something from the work, and those who are contemplating the “simple” life will learn much.

Chapters describe building their underground home, the most practical type of building for their area; cooking with a solar oven; using solar and wind power; starting a garden, making maple syrup. The chapter on saving seed from your own garden vegetables is especially timely and is written so that a beginner can get started right away. Several recipes using food from the garden are enticing and, again, simple.

The excellent bibliography will be invaluable for the perspective homesteader. The soft gray, 100% recycled paper on which Homesteading Adventures is printed is a delight to the eye.

This book is available in the MOFGA library.

– Jean English

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The Green Food Shopper: An Activist’s Guide to Changing the Food System
Mothers and Others for a Livable Planet, 1997
175 pages $15 plus $3 postage
Mothers & Others members: $12 plus $3 postage 40 West 20th St., New York, NY 10011-4211

Every shopper is a potential activist who can make choices for a healthier family and environment with each food buying trip. Too often, however, shoppers complain that they can’t find a good selection of organic foods and fresh, local produce in their supermarkets. They feel stuck with the over-processed products of the chemical- dependent industrial food system. Now, the nonprofit Mothers & Others for a Livable Planet has published a book that tells shoppers how and where to get organic and local food and how to persuade supermarkets to stock it, spurring a change to a system of sustainably produced food.

The Green Food Shopper is a hands-on instruction manual, distilling the lessons learned from Mothers & Others’ “Shoppers’ Campaigns for Better Food Choices,” conducted in four cities across the country. “These campaigns combine educating consumers about the food system and increasing demand for regionally and sustainably produced foods,” says Wendy Gordon, Mothers and Others’ executive director. “The Shoppers’ Campaigns prove that supermarkets do respond to consumer demand,” adds Betsy Lydon, campaign coordinator.

The Green Food Shopper also examines such options as farmers’ markets, food co-ops, bulk food buying clubs and Community Supported Agriculture, including information on how to find them and ways to start them. Because food is so often the basis of community, as chef Alice Waters notes in her preface, The Green Food Shopper explores how we can begin to educate each other with harvest festivals, food tastings, town meetings and farm tours. It’s a manual to read, discuss and use every day. Special sections on “Eight Simple Steps to a New Green Diet” and the “Ultimate Forager’s Green Diet Tour of Your Supermarket” reveal what’s on the shelves and behind the packaging, helping people become savvy shoppers for the health of their families and future generations. The book is complete with sample “green diet” recipes, a list of organic food brands, and a glossary of natural food terms. It ends with an exhaustive resource section (including MOFGA).

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The Shaker Garden
by Rita Buchanan
Houghton Mifflin Company
160 pages, 1996, $27.85

As you watch the seeds you bought at the local garden shop poke through the ground, thank the Shakers – they invented the idea of putting seeds in small packets for the home gardener.

This is one of many fascinating gardening facts you will learn by reading Rita Buchanan’s The Shaker Garden. The Shakers, a religious community flourishing in the 1800s with settlements from Maine to Ohio and Kentucky, kept extensive garden journals. and much of the material that appears in the book comes from those journals and from the gardener’s manual that the Shakers published in the early 1800s to educate the general public on home gardening. The Shaker communities located in southern Maine at Alfred, Sabbathday Lake and Gorham were begun at the end of the eighteenth and beginning of the nineteenth centuries, with Alfred and Sabbathday Lake continuing to function into the twentieth century.

The boom in home gardening that has occurred over the past decade parallels a similar boom in the first half of the 19th century, described by Buchanan, when Americans increased the amount and variety of vegetables in their diet and home gardens became popular. The Shakers, by inventing small seed packets and providing merchants convenient counter top display boxes, encouraged home gardeners to try new varieties and expand their gardens. According to Buchanan, Shaker seeds were fresher and had a higher germination rate than their competitors, and as the Shaker approach proved successful, others entered the market. Shaker sales peaked in the 1840s or 1850s and sharply declined thereafter.

Like other endeavors for which they are known, such as making furniture, Shakers saw gardening as a spiritual activity. Statements such as, “The garden is … an index of the owner’s mind,” and “If you would have a lovely garden, you should have a lovely life,” reflect the Shakers’ view that the outer work is an expression of the inner life. Detailed journals were kept of work performed so that the results could be studied and improvements made. Buchanan, also the author of A Weaver’s Garden and coeditor of Taylor’s Master Guide to Gardening, presents excerpts from the Shaker journals, which today’s home gardener will find interesting and useful.

The Shakers also grew medicinal herbs. Like the vegetable seed business, the Shakers entered a rapidly expanding-market with a desirable product and, according to Buchanan, soon developed a reputation for quality and purity. Buchanan says that several important books promoting the merits of native medicinal plants were published in the early 1800s, a time when doctors used few plant medicines. The resultant proliferation of patent medicines created a big demand for medicinal herbs. By the 1850s, the New Lebanon Shaker community was producing up to 100,000 pounds of dried herbs and several thousand pounds of extracts annually, and publishing herb catalogs with 356 different medicinal herbs. The Shakers also grew poppies to produce opium, then a legal and common ingredient in patent medicines. However, as had occurred with vegetable seeds, competition and the Shakers’ dwindling population caused the Shakers’ herb business to decline in the last half of the 19th century.

Buchanan’s book is illustrated, well-researched and the material well-presented. Anyone who is a home gardener or who has an interest in the Shakers will find this book to be a pleasant and inspiring read.

– Mike Wilson, Lexington, Kentucky

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The Winter Harvest Manual: Farming the Back Side of the Calendar
by Eliot Coleman
Available from Four Seasons Farm, RR Box 14, Harborside, ME 04642
$15, postpaid

Whenever I talk with chefs and produce buyers, I always ask what items they need. Over the past few years, the most frequent answers have been “winter greens” and “berries.”

Several people have taken on those challenges. For the past eight years, Eliot Coleman has been marketing from October through May in local food stores, emphasizing mesclun mix, spinach, mache and radishes. The Winter Harvest Manual updates his experience from The New Organic Grower and Four Season Harvest, making it accessible to more growers.

Many MOFGA farmers and gardener have visited Four Seasons Farm over the past few years, through the Farmer to Farmer Conference and various chapter tours. This brief manual (56 pages) provides the results of Eliot’s recent experiments in pushing the boundaries of winter production systems in unheated greenhouses.

Pieces that will be useful to many include: updated strategies for keeping greenhouses affordable while making them portable; expanded use of precision seeders to improve yields per square foot; discussions about the importance of maintaining product quality; and specific varieties that have proven themselves in winter production. The major production barriers to date include suitable lettuce varieties for the coldest months of winter and ways to control meadow voles, which find the greens as tempting as buyers in any of the retail stores.

Given our relatively cold climate, some of these strategies may fit into many of our farms. Some buyers are already waiting. A copy is available in the MOFGA library.

– Russell Libby

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The Green Methods Manual
The Original Bio-Control Primer, Edition IV
Michael S. Cherim, 1998
$9.95, 238 pages
The Green Spot, Ltd., Publishing Division
93 Priest Rd. Nottingham NH 03290-6204

Fungus gnats invaded the very organic potting soil in which I grow nursery crops. I turned to the section on ‘Soil Pest Controls’ in The Green Methods Manual, learned about two parasitic nematodes that I could use to control the gnat larvae simply by mixing a preparation of the nematodes in water in my watering can and watering my plants with the mixture. (Growers with larger scale operations can apply the organisms through any irrigation system.)

The delightful surprise in this nine-page discussion on parasitic nematodes was that they might control fruit tree borers, too – the bane of my orchard and of many others. “One arborist wanted to try them against a species of borer by spraying them on the trunks of large trees,” says the Manual. “Apparently the nematodes liked the borers, their holes and the rough bark of the trees, because they performed much better than expected.”

The Green Methods Manual is like a course in biological control of pests, with many examples obtained “from real growers,” says a press release, about what does and does not and may work, whether you’re trying to control aphids, caterpillars, scale insects, soil pests or other pests. I don’t know of any other source of so much practical information about biocontrol. It should be required reading for each member of the Maine Board of Pesticides Control and for anyone going for a pesticide application license.

This book is also a catalog of average prices of biocontrol agents, most of which are available from The Green Spot, Limited. A copy is available in the MOFGA library.

– Jean English

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English Cottage and Country Gardens
Gardening with Summer Perennials

videotapes, 45 minutes each
The Larkspur Co., P.O. Box 938, Larkspur CA 94977

These two videos are good sources of inspiration for gardeners who want to grow perennials or design their own cottage garden. The one on perennials is best for beginning gardeners, as it covers the very basics of planting. Although it is shot on the West Coast, the basics are the same East and West, so it is worth watching. It features Michael Bates, an English gardener transplanted to the West Coast; Sarah Hammond, who has introduced many unusual perennials to the United States and who established the original Smith & Hawken nursery in Mill Valley; and Daria and Bruce Shanks, who own and operate the 2-acre Cottage Garden Growers nursery of Petaluma, California, specializing in perennials.

English Cottage and Country Gardens takes the viewer on an “open house” of eight country gardens in England, featuring old fashioned perennials, antique roses, aromatic herbs, and vines climbing old walls and arbors.

Both videos are in the MOFGA library.

– Jean English

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