guest post from Laura V
The Biggest Little Farm documentary follows John and Molly Chester as they transition from L.A. apartment dwellers with cool jobs to organic and biodynamic agriculture farmers. He is a filmmaker and she was a personal chef and food blogger. Molly continues to blog and has written a traditional foods cookbook. This beautifully touching story unfolds in a captivating manner and has breathtaking camera shots that had me wondering how John achieved them.
The story’s main characters include John, Molly, a rescued dog named Todd, a regenerative agriculture guru named Alan York, Emma the pig, their son Beauden, and the living, breathing, 210 acre farm north of Los Angeles. The film opens with a wildfire quickly approaching the farm. We come to realize how utterly catastrophic this would be as we view footage of hundreds of animals and thousands of fruit trees. They close the film by bringing the story back to the fire as we find out what happened.
I’m guessing that much acreage near Los Angeles had to have cost more than they personally invested or garnered in contributions from their friends but financial details weren’t addressed. Alan guided them through the steps necessary to regenerate the overused, unhealthy soil to basically build a thriving ecosystem that could be somewhat self-sustaining. Somewhat is the operative word. It was heart wrenching to see one problem after another crop up after so much effort. It was equally heartwarming to see them find a solution to a problem right before them, like using existing organisms as natural control for a pest infestation with some modifications in their structure or practices.
I felt the young couple’s exhaustion and thrills along with them since I’m trying to use regenerative practices (no till, composting, rain garden, using predatory insects for pest control) in my gardens and yard with difficulties that now seem almost trivial. It was honestly difficult to understand how they tackled such a large project in such a short amount of time. I can’t imagine they slept much for a few years. Although they didn’t mention the name of the organization from which the volunteers were recruited, I believe they may have been from WWOOF, World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms.
This documentary is as honest as one can get within the short span of a film. The adorable opening animated sequence highlights Molly’s optimistic outlook on what she pictures the farm to be. The reality is much harsher but the rewards are literally life-changing for them, their employees and volunteers, vegetation, soil microbes, and carbon sequestration for the planet’s overall health. I know they’ll continue to experience problems with pests, predators, weather, and climate change but it looks like they’ll be able to handle whatever comes their way.
Barbara Damrosch and Eliot Coleman are America’s foremost organic gardeners and authorities. Barbara is the author of The Garden Primer, and Eliot wrote the bible for organic gardening, The New Organic Grower. Today they are the face of the locavore movement, working through their extraordinary Four Season Farm in Maine. And now they’ve written the book on how to grow what you eat, and cook what you grow.
The Four Season Farm Gardener’s Cookbook is two books in one. It’s a complete four-season cookbook with 120 recipes from Barbara, a master cook as well as master gardener, who shows how to maximize the fruits – and vegetables – of your labors, from Stuffed Squash Blossom Fritters to Red Thai Curry with Fall Vegetables to Hazelnut Torte with Summer Berries. And it’s a step-by-step garden guide that works no matter how big or small your plot, with easy-to-follow instructions and plans for different gardens. It covers size of the garden, nourishing the soil, planning ahead, and the importance of rotating crops. And, at the core, individual instructions on the crops, from the hardy and healthful cabbage family to fourteen essential culinary herbs.
Eating doesn’t get any more local than your own backyard. (description from publisher)
In April 2009, First Lady Michelle Obama planted a kitchen garden on the White House’s South Lawn. As fresh vegetables, fruit, and herbs sprouted from the ground, this White House Kitchen Garden inspired a new conversation all across the country about the food we feed our families and the impact it has on the health and well-being of our children.
Now, in American Grown, Mrs. Obama invites you inside the White House Kitchen Garden and shares its inspiring story, from the first planting to the latest harvest. Hear about her worries as a novice gardener – would the new plants even grow? Learn about her struggles and her joys as lettuce, corn, tomatoes, collards and kale, sweet potatoes and rhubarb flourished in the freshly tilled soil. Get an unprecedented behind-the-scenes look at every season of the garden’s growth, with striking original photographs that bring its story to life. Try the unique recipes created by White House chefs and made with ingredients just picked from the White House garden. And learn from the White House Garden team about how you can help plant your own backyard, school or community garden.
Mrs. Obama’s journey continues across the nation as she shares the stories of other gardens that have moved and inspired her: Houston office workers who make the sidewalk bloom; a New York City School that created a scented garden for the visually impaired; a North Carolina garden that devotes its entire harvest to those in need;Davenport Iowa as “Playful City USA” using a decommissioned firetruck to visit parks throughout the city to encourage outdoor play as well as other stories of communities that are transforming the lives and health of their citizens.
In American Grown, Mrs. Obama tells the story of the White House Kitchen Garden, celebrates the bounty of gardens across our nation, and reminds us all of what we can grow together. (description from publisher)
Most flowers on the market today are imported, mass-produced and chemical-laden. The 50 Mile Bouquet by Debra Prinzing introduces some of the innovative voices of the dynamic new Slow Flower movement: the organic flower farmers, the sustainably-motivated floral designers…and the flower enthusiasts who are increasingly asking, “where and how were my flowers grown, and who grew them?”
With documentary-feature reporting and full color photographs, this visually elegant book takes us into the farms and design studios of these slow-flower folks to follow the green journey of the 50 mile bouquet. This is the first book to spotlight this major transformation in how cut flowers are grown, designed and consumed, which closely mirrors the locavore/slow food revolution in the culinary world. The 50 Mile Bouquet is the slow flower guide to organic flower-growing, gathering and design. Foreword by Amy Stewart, author of Flower Confidential. (provided by publisher)
We’ve been hearing a lot of buzzwords these days regarding food – “organic”, “local”, “green”, “locavore”, “natural”, “ecological”, “environmentally friendly”, “free range”. Putting all of those concepts and philosophies into practice though – that’s another story, one that seems nearly impossible. However, Growing a Garden City by Jeremy Smith will show you that not only is eating healthy possible, you can also make a difference in your part of the world while you’re at it.
Growing a Garden City follows the community based garden project called Garden City Harvest located in Missoula, Montana, from its modest beginnings to a growing program that not only touches many aspects of the community, it serves as a source of pride. The range of projects and people they’ve assisted is astonishing. They include schoolchildren who visit the farm, troubled teens given a sense of purpose by working on the farm, local university students getting hands-on experience and the homeless and hungry who now have a wide variety of fresh, healthy produce (a rarity in many food banks). The community as a whole is encouraged to participate in the many classes, field trips, summer camps and other education programs as well as the garden plots available for individuals to rent. There are public events throughout the year which include concerts, picnics, lectures and readings making this a truly community-wide program.
Beautifully illustrated, full of practical ideas and inspiring stories, Growing a Garden City will not only show you how it can be done, it gives you hope for the future.
Much more than a collection of recipes (although a fine selection is included), Edible: a Celebration of Local Foods is just as much a love letter to the farmers, ranchers, fishers and cooks that produce and create with the bounty found in this country (and southern Canada). If this book doesn’t send you straight to the Farmer’s Market (or your own backyard garden), nothing will.
Divided into six regions (Northeast, Southeast, Southwest, California and the West, Pacific Northwest and Midwest) Edible starts with a series of thoughtful, often humorous, always enlightening articles and essays about the difficulties and rewards of producing local, organic sustainable food. Farmers, chefs and organizations are highlighted for each region including a listing at the end of each chapter of things that are unique to that area (Muscatine melons for Iowa for instance, or razor clams in Seattle) that make this worth checking out before your next road trip.
Admittedly, we’re probably a several weeks away from harvesting from our gardens, but it doesn’t hurt to start planning early. And what better (or more fun) way than to look through cookbooks? After all, you might never have even considered planting brussels sprouts until you see Keith Snow’s “Brussels Sprouts with Mornay Sauce” in his Harvest Eating Cookbook. OK, maybe you’re still not considering growing brussels sprouts, but you get the idea – grow what you like to eat.
Taken in part from Snow’s PBS series, this book features delicious, simple recipes – none takes longer than a page to describe – using seasonal local ingredients. Some of those ingredients – avocados, mangos – aren’t exactly locally grown here in Iowa, but there are plenty of fresh ideas for local favorites – asparagus, butternut squash, tomatoes, corn, etc.
Don’t have a garden? There’s a huge variety of beautiful, locally grown produce at the Freight House Farmers Market here in Davenport, held every Saturday from 8am to 1pm and every Tuesday 3pm to 6pm, year round.
It may not always feel like it yet, but spring officially arrives at 12:32pm on March 20th. Time to start planning your garden!
With all the emphasis on organic, local foods, back-yard gardens have become all the rage – even the White House has a vegetable garden! There’s a big crop of new titles, whether you’re new to gardening or would just like to pick up a few tips.
One Magic Square: the Easy, Organic Way to Grow Your Own Food on a 3-Foot Square by Lolo Houbein. This book specializes in getting the most out of the smallest plots – best varieties, space-saving tips and sustainable practices. Multiple examples of Magic Square plots are shown including the Antioxidants Plot, the Curry Plots, and the Summer Stir-Fry Plot. Completely organic.
Grow Great Grub: Organic Food from Small Spaces by Gayla Trail. This beautifully illustrated book gives you lots of basic information, presented in a friendly, no-nonsense style. In addition to the expected vegetables, herbs and edible flowers are also included. A chapter on preserving the harvest ranges from making a ristra and drying tomatoes in the oven to canning and freezing. Completely organic.
Grocery Gardening: Planting, Preparing and Preserving Fresh Food by Jean Ann Van Krevelen. Three things make this garden guide stand out – the inclusion of fruit, the varied and interesting recipes and the nutritional information. While there is some brief information on planting your own garden, just having access to a Farmer’s Market is all you need. There are also tips on selecting quality produce.
The Small Budget Gardener by Maureen Gilmer. This book has one goal – saving you money – and they mean business. All aspects of gardening are covered, from how to plant trees to aid in energy savings, to recycling found objects into garden treasures. They also discuss the impact of technology on gardening, listing useful (free) websites, blogs and online newsletters. Sometimes it’s important to spend money – quality tools for instance – and Gilmer shows you what and how to buy. Tightwad tips throughout. Completely organic.
Spring is coming. Really, it is. And despite evidence to the contrary, it’s coming soon. Now is the perfect time to get serious about planning your garden – those juicy tomatoes and glorious flowers don’t plant themselves you know!
The Garden Primer by Barbara Damrosch has long been one of my favorites – there is something about her writing style that makes you think “Sure, I can grow that. No problem.” Encouraging and practical, she covers everything – from digging the garden bed to how to grow a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, flowers and bulbs – without being overwhelming. Topics include composting, growing native plants, dealing with critters and essential garden tools. A new, revised edition has just been released with updated plant varieties and additional topics; recommended garden practices are now 100% organic.
And if you’re landless or just don’t have the time to garden but still love to eat well, the Davenport Farmer’s Markets open for the regular season on May 3! (Until then, winter markets will be held at the Freight House on March 1 and April 5)