The Backyard

The Backyard

Friday, February 22, 2008

Book Review - Animal, Vegetable, Miracle - A Year of Food Life

You'd think I just finished a fictional love story the way tears are streaming down my face. Why is it the most unexpected of things force a burst of tears? Edward Scissorhands had me sobbing -- now its the birth of baby turkeys as I flipped the final page of Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. 15 years ago when Rick and I first moved to our little house in the country, I picked up a book called The Good Life, by Helen and Scott Nearing. It talked about living off the land, and being self sufficient - "homesteading" it was called. The book was written at a time in the 40's, 50's and early 60's when it was the "norm" to live and buy locally. Helen and Scott both lived into their nineties from what they believe to be "the good life" of eating their own foods. At that time, there were few industrial agricultural operations of "CAFOs" as they are called today (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation).

Animal Vegetable Miracle takes you through a modern day experiment of one-year of living off the land with only food they grew themselves or purchased from local farmers market -- always making sure the food was in fact "local" and not shipped (using precious resources) or chemically-produced with pesticides/herbicides. The book reaffirmed what I felt 15 years ago, that you CAN live off the land and buy only local; but it takes work and lot of it - starting seeds, planting, weeding, harvesting, canning/freezing, and the part that in my opinion takes the longest - cooking a beautiful meal from scratch. Time-consuming, but SO worth it when you grew it yourself. But this mom, dad, and two daughters loved and lived for every moment of their 1 year experiment. She planned for 3-years in advance of the experiment of what she'll need to sustain her family. She planted fruit and nut trees along with perenniels that would be producing by the time of the experiment -- rhubarb, asparagus, strawberries and raspberries. Realizing the drastic changes in their food habits during their 1st week of grocery shopping, they allowed themselves each one luxury item that is not available in the Northern Hemisphere -- coffee for dad, spices for mom, dried tropical fruit for the eldest daughter, and cocoa for the youngest daughter. Each luxury item had to come from a Fair Trade organization and be organic. The only other item they couldn't find within 100 miles of where they lived, was 100%whole wheat flour to make their own daily bread. They had that shipped from Vermont. They even raised their own chickens and turkeys -- explained in detail from the varieties they picked to be good egg-layers that winter well, to the heritage turkey that actually breed themselves which is what brought the tears to my eyes. 99% of modern day turkeys are the breed Broad Breasted White which is artificially inseminated by humans. They've been bred over the years specifically to be raised for meat and get SO fat, they can't breed themselves...thus human intervention. Barbara Kingsolver selects a heritage turkey breed that by the end of the book, hatches their on brood. A final chapter in the final month of their year of living locally. That was her success of the entire project and the icing on her cake.

The book goes month by month, featuring an animal or vegetable dominant in that month. Of course early spring was what to eat? It was a monthly discovery of food, family gatherings, and learning from neighbors. At one point they visit an organic Amish farm and shell peas for dinner as a group; at another time they visit an organic home gardener in Maine whom grows huge tomatoes nearly year round in the ground, in a heated greenhouse. She grows her food on about 1/4 acre total, with a surrounding of fruit trees and what mother nature provides (mushrooms, wild raspberries). They tell the story of food for an entire year. She harvest 300 lbs of tomatoes, cans 40 quarts of anything tomatoey, 40 quarts of vegetables/fruit, and stuffs the chest freezer full with prepared pesto and shredded zuchinni ready to pop in a winter recipe. They preserve many root crops in a cold cellar - butternut squash, several varieties of potatoes, sweet potatoes and even peanuts. The 9 year old daughter learns a less on of entrepreneurship and economics with "her" chicken business. She discovered chickens can be pets AND profit...the "nice chickens" stay as breeders and layers, the "bad" roosters end up on the dinner plate. She realizes the profit margin of organic chicken meat vs organic this smart 9 year old figures out how to run a business. The chapter I didn't care much for was the "harvesting" of chickens and turkeys which is all the gorey details. A necessary must in her scheme of the experiment.

This is a must read for anyone caring about where your food comes from and how was it grown and even more so if you have the land to grow your own food. Was what you just bought at the grocery store laced with pesticides? How much gas did it take to get it here? What poor South American farmer suffered from chemical poisoning while picking this crop? And what northern bird species died out as a result of habitat loss because of the coffee I'm drinking. We're killing our earth and its people and most folks haven't a clue they are doing so. Thought provoking, and interesting. Spread the word, buy local.

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