Turn whatever urban space you have into a farm

FOR THE BELLINGHAM HERALDMay 23, 2013 

With the lengthening days, I'm out in my garden as much as possible now - which explains my choice of book for this week's column.

"Backyard Roots: Lessons on Living Local from 35 Urban Farmers" is an inspiring, information-rich guide to producing food on whatever allotment of land you might have.

Photographer Lori Eanes traveled up and down the West Coast to glean lessons passed along by bee geeks, greywater guerrillas and dreadlocked CSA entrepreneurs. Gloriously illustrated with over 200 color photos, "Backyard Roots" opens the garden gate and lets you peep into chicken coops, greenhouses, compost piles and cob ovens to see what these motivated gardeners are up to.

One of the things I love about this book is the rainbow of gardeners who are featured - you'll find people of all ages, ethnicities, sexual preferences and hairstyles in these pages - people who have found common ground in growing food.

But there are sharp differences, too. There are those who don't mind putting chickens and goats to work for their eggs and milk, but refuse to slaughter them. Others adamantly maintain that they have the right to raise animals for meat.

Indeed, many of these urban farmers have had to fight for the right to grow their own food. Zoning is sometimes an issue. Skeptical neighbors can be, too. Eanes shares the strategies different individuals have used for communicating their ambitions clearly and convincing others to accept their vision.

A Bay area pair discovered too much red tape as they tried to turn their backyard gardening project into a business - so they successfully advocated for an ordinance that was friendlier to local food production.

In Salem, Ore., a proponent for the legalization of backyard chickens made a documentary film to win hearts and minds.

Another fun story comes from Seattle goat farmer Jennie Grant, who formed the Goat Justice League, printed up cards that said "I'm pro-goat and I vote," and used her goat Snowflake as an ambassador. Her campaign to allow urban goatkeeping thoroughly charmed the Seattle City Council, which voted unanimously to allow up to three small goats per household within city limits. Grant now teaches a class called City Goats 101.

There are many other entrepreneurs in this crowd: A city art farm in Seattle, an urban farm/guesthouse and a medicinal herbalist in Portland, and a Bellingham mushroom farmer.

This book features cooperative ventures, too - neighbors working together to tend chickens (coop co-ops) and goats, community-supported agriculture (CSA) that takes place in neighbors' backyards, and - in downtown Vancouver, B.C. - a volunteer-run organic rooftop garden that supplies the YWCA community kitchen.

The urban farmers profiled in this book share all kinds of gardening techniques - composting, grafting, growing from seed, building native bee houses and using repurposed materials for planters. They also "spill the beans" when it comes to their favorite seed companies, nurseries and web resources.

"Backyard Roots" is the latest book from Skipstone, the sustainable living imprint of Seattle's Mountaineers Books. I give it a green thumbs-up!

The Bookmonger is Barbara Lloyd McMichael, who writes this weekly column focusing on the books, authors and publishers of the Pacific Northwest. Contact her at bkmonger@nwlink.com.

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