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Check It Out

Courier Article by David Locker
Sunday, January 28, 2007

Organic Farming Can Be Idea That Will Grow On You

When I was young, the cool thing to be was a rock 'n' roll star. But the idol of the next couple of decades may well be the hip organic farmer.

In the '60s, rock stars offered answers to the world's problems through music, free love and mind expansion. Contemporary organic farmers stress harmony with nature, the use of scientific knowledge to help the earth heal its depleted soil and polluted waters, and reduction of the individual carbon footprint.

Fields of Plenty by Michael Ableman (Chronicle Books, 2005).

What a beautiful book! The author is a pioneering organic farmer, author and photographer who decided to take a summer off from his farm in British Columbia to visit, with his 23-year-old son, organic farms across the country.

Their journey takes them from Washington to Vermont. There are even stops in Chicago and New York, where people are growing vegetables on lots and roofs. Ironically, when they stop in Gibson County in Indiana to take pictures, a local framer suspects them of stealing equipment for a meth lab.

Read this book to learn how organic farmers use crop and grazing rotations and composting to nourish the soil without fertilizer and eliminate pesticides by making use of the pests' natural predators. On these farms, the cattle don't spend the day swatting away flies.

Some of these farmers participate in the Community Supported Agriculture program (CSA). This is a program where, for an annual fee, community members pick up or have delivered to them a local farmer's harvest of fruits and vegetables. Evansville has a CSA called Seton Harvest that is sponsored by the Daughters of Charity.

Ableman's dream is for every neighborhood in America to have its own garden to raise food organically. Not only would this mean healthier food, but it would eliminate the waste of fossil fuels from transporting our food long distances.

The photographs in this book make the food look incredibly delicious. His descriptions of eating are mouth-watering, as well. His depiction of cutting into a pear the consistency of butter turned me onto pears, and they are now one of my favorite fruits.

It's a Long Road to a Tomato: Tales of an Organic Farmer Who Quit the Big City for the (Not So) Simple Life by Keith Stewart (Marlowe, 2006).

Twenty years ago, Stewart was living in a small apartment in New York City and working for a consulting firm.

He decided to trade in his apartment for a farm in upper New York state and his suit and tie for blue jeans. He sounds now like a man who has found about as much satisfaction as one can expect to find in this life.

Stewart is an engaging writer in this collection of brief essays on subjects ranging from chickens, dogs, barn swallows, to garlic. He explains how he grows his famous garlic and describes the farmer's market in New York that he supplies.

Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals by Michael Pollan (Penguin, 2006).

Pollan's book made several lists, including that of The New York Times, as one of the best books of the year. I can see why.

This is a book that everyone should read. If you are still unaware of the inhumane way we treat the animals we eat, these pages will enlighten you. You will also discover how industrial agriculture is expending fossil fuels and destroying our land and our health.

My favorite part of the book, however, is the author's extended visit to Polyface Farm in Virginia. The farmer, Joel Salatin (in Ableman's book also), is an endlessly fascinating character, whose opinions on what is wrong with our food system are definitely worth hearing.

Harvest for Hope: A Guide to Mindful Eating by Jane Goodall (Warner, 2005).

You all know Jane Goodall, the pioneer researcher on chimpanzee behavior. Her sympathy for the plight of animals has led her to become a vegetarian and an outspoken advocate of organic farming and eating.

This is a good summary of the issues surrounding our food and a call for political involvement. The scariest thing is finding out about the connection between the industrial methods of animal cultivation and diseases such as mad cow disease and avian flu.

Read these books and your grocery shopping experience will never be the same.

David Locker is a librarian with the Evansville-Vanderburgh Public Library. The opinions expressed in this column are personal and do not reflect policies or official recommendations of EVPL.