Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association


The Next Green Revolution
100 Vegetables and Where They Came From
The Interactive Manual of Woody Landscape Plants


The Next Green Revolution: Essential Steps to a Healthy, Sustainable Agriculture
by James E. Home, Ph.D., and Maura McDermott.
312 pages, $34.95 paper/ $69.95 hardbound.
Food Products Press (imprint of Haworth Press), 2001, ISBN: 1-56022-886-5.

If the words "green revolution" leave a chemical taste in your mouth, this book will put a refreshingly organic twist on the concept. The author, James Home, was promoting sustainable agriculture before it became a buzzword. It's more than farming, he says. A sustainable agriculture enhances the quality of life for farm families and revitalizes rural communities.

Home begins The Next Green Revolution with an indictment of modern industrial agriculture. Current practices endanger natural resources; hook farmers on fossil fuels, fertilizers and pesticides while downplaying the consequences; and bankrupt farmers, all the while ignoring the well-being of rural communities.

"As a result," says Home, "the food security of our nation, and our world, is threatened." Home sees a number of problems resulting from industrial agriculture. Erosion and mining of underground water rank high on the list, but monoculture claims first prize for most destructive practice, because it has brought about a tremendous loss of genetic diversity. This uniformity most threatens our future food security.

"What we have today is an unhealthy agriculture that cannot endure," Home says. "We need revolutionary thinking to rescue it." Home devotes the remainder of the book to outlining his eight-step program for weaning agriculture from its chemical addictions. Step One: Create and conserve healthy soil. An entire chapter is devoted to getting "down to earth." He discusses erosion and its causes and solutions; cover crops, nutrient cycles, crop rotation.

The following chapter focuses on protecting and conserving water, and on practices for managing organic wastes that avoid pollution. Home describes "silvipasture" and "agroforestry" projects at the Kerr Center in Oklahoma, where strips of trees act as a barrier to runoff on pastures. A checklist tells 14 things farmers can do to protect water quality on the farm.

Lots of other checklists for farmers are scattered through the chapters: How to encourage biodiversity; increase profitability and reduce risk; manage pests with minimal environmental impact. Checklists for non-farmers tell how to support healthy pest management (don't insist on cosmetically perfect produce); how to encourage biodiversity (grow a garden and nurture local varieties); and much more.

"Think local," says Home. All politics is local, and so is farming. Unfortunately, this small truism is too often overwhelmed by corporate hype and greed. "What farmers need today are plants that are resistant to local insects and tolerant of local weather conditions ... instead of hybrid plants selected only for great yields under ideal conditions."

Home argues for diversified farming – diversified on three levels. Level one is a diversity of habitats. A farm needs ponds, woods, strips of scrub and cropland. Level two is the diversity of species within each habitat – of wild plants and animals, but also of crops and livestock. The third level of diversity is genetic material within a species. Andean farmers harvest over 1,000 varieties of potatoes; our local garden store offers half a dozen, if that.

With the USDA still encouraging monoculture, and with terminator technology on the horizon, Home strives to drive home one thought: "A diversified farm gains economic resiliency and stability." That is what sustainable agriculture is about. But it's not an easy transition, he warns. Where the values of land stewardship have conflicted with conventional economics, the small farmer has lost out.

The next green revolution will be about "smaller is better." It will require a paradigm shift in how consumers view their food. The next green revolution will require more ethical, farsighted action. It will be the greatest challenge to face us in this new century, and has, in fact, begun. Even as you read this book, farmers and ranchers are collaborating with researchers through USDA-SARE programs to adopt sustainable practices that are profitable as well as being environmentally sound.

– Sue Smith-Heavenrich, Candor, N.Y.

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100 Vegetables and Where They Came From
by William Woys Weaver.
288 pages, $18.95, hardcover. Algonquin Books, 2000, ISBN: 1-56512-238-0.

This is a garden book for cooks – or maybe a history book for gardeners. However you end up thinking of it, 100 Vegetables and Where They Came From is a delight to read. The author, William Woys Weaver, is not only an internationally renowned food historian, but also a seed saver, a collector of unusual varieties. He grows nearly 3,000 varieties of plants in his Pennsylvania gardens – on a rotating basis, of course. This is his "seed collection," featuring vegetables from every continent – except the frozen one, he says.

"To understand the vegetable varieties that have been entrusted to us by past generations, as well as those that are being created for us today, we must look to the sum of their biodiversity," writes Weaver. This includes "the good, the middling, the less important and the truly great."

This book is a collection of tales of his favorite varieties, selected for their superior flavor and appearance. From the Aji Dulce pepper to Zwollsche Krul celery, he describes their history and culinary merit. The book is basically an encyclopedia of veggies, listed in alphabetical order by common name. Fortunately, he cross-references each variety in the index, by type of plant (potato, garlic), as well as family, genus and species.

For example, Apricot tomatoes from Ecuador are small, orange, fuzzy fruits that look more like kiwis than tomatoes. The inner meat is tart – possibly the reason they're called 'naranjillas' (little oranges). Incas collected these fruits centuries ago, gathering them wild from the jungle. The plants grow anywhere from 6 to 10 feet tall and have spiny stems. Not only are the fruits used, but the natives collected the stems for remedies to treat high blood pressure. According to Weaver, this plant makes a great ornamental for terraces and patios; it grows well in a tub, and bears fruit for three years.

Arran Victory potatoes, from Scotland, have skin the color of lilacs. All-Red potatoes, also called Cranberry Red, are just what they say they are: red on the outside, pink on the inside. There's a potato named Beauty of Hebron – an American heirloom developed sometime in the 1870s, and Garnet chili. Lumper potatoes resemble smooth, oddly worn stones. These are the infamous "Irish Potato Famine" potatoes. Negresse Potatoes, from Argentina and Peru, have jet black skin and, if cooked properly, tastes like a truffle; and the Rosevaal, from France, is a smooth, cherry red potato that's rather flat but has such an exquisite flavor that its vendors are mobbed at the market.

Looking for a perfect pepper to add color and spice to your life? Try the Buena Mulata pepper. It begins with a deep eggplant purple and, as it matures, turns salmon. Then orange. Then brown. Then fiery red. A rainbow of possibilities for the chef. Or bite into a tasty thistle. Eeyore wasn't the first to nibble on these spiny treats. Thomas Jefferson dined on Cardon de Tours cardoons.

There are beans galore: Ekaterinoslav, Flageolet Chevrier Vert, and Petaluma Gold Rush beans first served up in San Francisco in the 1840s. Frijoles Rojas de Seda are wine colored, with a pod that ripens to a vibrant, metallic pink. This one I must have in my garden, if not for the aesthetics, then simply because the recipe for "guarnachis" makes my mouth water.

For my sons, who have read every tale about King Arthur and his rowdy but chivalrous knights, there is Great Red plantain, which has been in kitchen use since the Middle Ages. Those who are looking for a way to tie into current events will appreciate a violet carrot that originates in Afghanistan. And for the pure novelty of it: snails.

Snails is the common name of Medicago scutellata, a relative of alfalfa. It's a wild plant, native to southern Europe. The pods spiral like snail shells. Picked green and tender, then steamed, they can be scattered over a salad. Perfect for the next garden club picnic!

A most useful source list tells where to obtain seeds and potatoes, and a bibliography will please the more historically inclined gardeners. If you' re looking for something new to plant this year and want a vegetable with an honorable pedigree, you might check out this book first.

– Sue Smith-Heavenrich, Candor, New York

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The Interactive Manual of Woody Landscape Plants
by Michael A. Dirr, 2001
PlantAmerica, Inc., 4350 North Fairfax Dr., Suite 350, Arlington VA 22203
1-888-PLANT-CD
[email protected]; www.plantamerica.com
$79.95 (Students get a 20% discount.)

Gardeners and landscapers who couldn't live without Michael Dirr's book Manual of Woody Landscape Plants have a new treasure in this CD-ROM, searchable "manual." This is Dirr's book on CD, with the addition of several photographs of most species. You can search for general plant material (tree, shrub, vine ...) or specific (tall, slow-growing, columnar deciduous tree with white flowers in spring and red fruits in fall, hardy in zone 4, etc.) using any of the 72 search criteria related to almost 10,000 woody plants. Used in conjunction with The Photo-Library of Woody Landscape Plants on CD-ROM, you'll have access to over 7,600 photos.

I found this CD-ROM easy to install and use. One capability I would like to have that does not appear to be on the CD is the ability to search for non-invasive species/cultivars.

– Jean English

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MOF&G Cover Spring 2002