Book Harvest: Bees

So many books on beekeeping exist, I can’t possibly put together a comprehensive list of the best. But here are few that have recently sparked my interest. I never tire of reading about these fascinating insects who play such a pivotal role in our food system.

The Beekeeper’s Bible by Richard Jones and Sharon Sweeney-Lynch

Honeybee Democracy by Thomas D. Seeley

Beekeeping: A Seasonal Guide by Ron Brown

The Beekeeper’s Lament by Hannah Nordhaus

Homemade Living: Keeping Bees with Ashley English

Also find these books at your local library.

Want more suggestions? Check out this great list on GoodReads.



08 2011

Hunt, Gather, Cook by Hank Shaw

Hunt, Gather, Cook by Hank Shaw

The Beginner’s Guide to Eating Like a Caveman. Or, perhaps, Eat Free in a Backyard Near You! Both would be suitable alternative titles for Hank Shaw’s part cookbook, part how-to  guide, Hunt, Gather, Cook: Finding the Forgotten Feast (2011). I’ll admit, I love the idea of foraging. It entails roaming around outside and eating the freshest, most natural foods available. What’s not to love? (Plus, my nutrition blog is, which is all about fresh, wild food.)

Once humans invented agriculture, foraging began its decline. Of course, it never died, and if we’re lucky, it never will. Many cultures today still forage as a part of their diet, but by and large we have forgotten much of this skill. Shaw keeps these skills alive  everyday through his blog, which blossomed into this book.

The book itself is interesting and useful, but focuses largely on the mental and logistical aspects of foraging and hunting. Doing any real foraging would certainly require a field guide for help with edible plants. Shaw covers a few wild plants that are commonly foraged and provides recipes for these items. A large portion of the book is an introduction to hunting, specifically covering the whys and the hows for a novice.

Overall readers will find a nice primer on foraging and hunting and then preparing your bounty. These means of eating have provided sustenance since the dawn of time and I encourage you to try them. Eating wild, fresh food is the key to health, and Hunt, Gather, Cook might just help you on your journey.

Find it on Amazon or at a library near you!


07 2011

City Farmer by Lorraine Johnson

Upon discovering City Farmer: Adventures in Urban Food Growing (2011) by Lorraine Johnson, I feared the book would be yet another personal tale of small-scale urban agriculture. But Johnson delivers a much more important story. She tells of various successes (and some failures) of urban food growing across Canada and the United States. I’ve yet to discover another book that details this movement on such a large scale.

Johnson weaves in stories of her personal initiatives and experiences but more of the focus is on others. She discusses the resurgence of victory gardens, planting edibles on public land, protecting spaces used for growing food, strengthening community through gardening, and many other related topics.

City Farmer will inspire and motivate readers, especially those who are actively involved in community initiatives to shape cities that embrace growing food within city limits.

Find it on Amazon or at your local library!


07 2011

Red Summer by Bill Carter

It is altogether too easy to forget how perilous commercial fishing is. For most consumers, salmon seems to simply appear at the local grocery. Bill Carter’s Red Summer: The Danger, Madness, and Exaltation of Salmon Fishing in a Remote Alaskan Village (2008) instead reveals to readers the agony wild salmon fishermen (himself included) endure on and off the deck when they depend on this uncertain resource for their income and lifestyle. Set in the remote Native Alaskan town of Egegik, Carter’s fishing tales paint a grimmer portrait of the state and the people that live there than most Alaskan memoirs do. Overall it is a valuable read to refresh ourselves on the notion that people must work hard for the culinary delights we so casually consume.

Find it on Amazon or at your local library!

Guest review kindly contributed by librarian Cressida Hanson. If you’re interested in submitted book suggestions or reviews, contact us!


06 2011

The Wisdom of the Radish by Lynda Hopkins

Click here to find at a library near you!

It is hard to deny that a new generation is taking an interest in farming. Considering the graying of farmers today, we should be thankful for these young folks. Each of them has a story, and The Wisdom of the Radish and Other Lessons Learned on a Small Farm is that of Lynda Hopkins.

At it’s essence, the book is quite simple and not particularly unique – city girl struggles to become a self-respecting farmer. But throw in the romantic tale of her boyfriend (now husband) and you get an entertaining look at the mentality and life of an educated, young, passionate girl who seeks to make her home on the land instead of in a city loft.

Hopkins is a first-time author, but she is gifted nonetheless. Her writing skills stand out as among the best of farming memoirs I’ve read, and in many ways help to make up for the slightly redundant premise.

If it is a farming memoir you seek, look no further. If you’ve already read two such books this month, I suggest you keep looking.

You might also like: Growing a Farmer by Kurt Timmermeister.


06 2011

Book Harvest: Meat

Those of us who honor sustainable practices and eat meat know that sourcing cuts of local, humanely raised meats can be very challenging. The butchering process is another key part of the process that many are concerned with. Luckily, there has been a steady growth of producers working to meet this demand–so much so that butchering classes are easier to find than ever and nose-to-tail cooking is all the rage is restaurants around the country. Great cookbooks have also been published on the subject of sustainable meats. Here are four, fabulous cookbooks that will pique any carnivore’s interest!

Basic Butchering of Livestock and Game by John J. Mettler

The River Cottage Meat Book by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall

Primal Cuts: Cooking with America’s Best Butchers by Marissa Guggiana

Good Meat: The Complete Guide to Souring and Cooking Sustainable Meat by Deborah Krasner




05 2011

Stuffed and Starved by Raj Patel

Click here to find at a library near you!

How did the implementation of NAFTA (the North American Free Trade Agreement) displace 1.3 million Mexicans from their land and simultaneously decrease industrial wages in Mexico by 10%? Why is “food aid” of commodity surplus foods given by the US and other wealthy nations to poorer nations ultimately detrimental to those it is purported to help? How have genetically modified Roundup Ready crops from Monsanto lead to a dramatic increase in suicides among India’s poor farmers? Raj Patel investigates these questions, and many more, in his 2008 book Stuffed and Starved: The Hidden Battle for the World Food System.

Anyone who keeps up with Farmbrarian book reviews is probably plenty cynical about the food system. Many of us, however, probably have trouble articulating exactly what is wrong, either locally or globally, and we can’t exactly articulate how to improve the situation. We can point out that most people don’t know where their food comes from and that we eat too much processed food. These accusations are certainly true, and as a result, many of us are choosing to shake the hand of a farmer, or to eat less processed food. Both of these changes are helpful, but it takes authors like Patel, Michael Pollan or Vandana Shiva to think bigger. Patel points out, for example, that “organic” food is perfectly aligned with large-scale, monoculture farming that can still line the pockets of Cargill and Archer Daniels Midland (although it may cut Monsanto out of the loop). The point is that changes like this will have very little impact on obesity and global food security. It is quite clear that we are producing plenty of food to feed the world, yet the distribution system is such that as many as a billion people don’t have enough. Furthermore many people have diet-related chronic diseases like diabetes and heart disease. At its core, this book seeks to understand how such a huge proportion of the world can have problems related to nourishment when we have developed the ability to grow anything and ship it anywhere.

Ironically, the capitalist system that provided the ingenuity necessary to create such a powerful and diverse food system is also largely responsible for the considerable flaws in the system. It is likely that families in Rwanda would rather grow food for their communities instead of growing just coffee, which must be traded for nourishment. We might feel proud to buy such coffee with a “Fair Trade” label on it, thinking we have helped provide a good life to these Rwandan farmers, but don’t believe for one moment that this is a system put in place or preferred by the people working on a farm or in a processing plant. Having the ability to choose between farming coffee and farming vegetables and meat requires that you own the land. Corporate farm ownership and contract farming are disruptive to food sovereignty, an idea presented by Via Campesina, an “International Peasant Movement,” which essentially states that people, communities and countries should be able to decide for themselves what food to produce and eat. That this idea even has to exist is a sad reminder of how corporations, countries and “free trade” have truly dominated and enslaved many of the world’s poor.

Readers gain from the book, above all, a global perspective on the broken food system. Though it is rather long and verbose, it never felt like a chore to read. In the end Patel offers readers a broad outline for changes that includes ten items like supporting local business, living wages for all and “eating agroecologically,” which sum up the book nicely and provide important actionable items for anyone involved in the food system (hint: that definitely includes you).

You might also like: Stolen Harvest by Vandana Shiva


05 2011

Book Harvest: Vintage Cookbooks

Vintage cookbooks are precious resources. They allow us a glimpse back in history when food, cooking and  culture were very different than today.

The White House Cookbook was originally published in 1887. The contents of the book will surely take you back in time with discussions on etiquette and dinner parties. So many classic cooking tips fill this book. (Want an ebook version? Access the text for free through Project Gutenberg.)

The Curiosities of Food is another vintage title, originally published in 1859, but the scope of the book is very different than that of The White House Cookbook. Rodents, fowl, insects and other odd edibles are covered. The full title reads, The Curiosities of Food: Or the Dainties and Delicacies of Different Nations Obtained from the Animal Kingdom. Those interested in anthropology or the Travel Channel’s show Bizarre Foods will likely enjoy this book.

The American Heritage Cookbook is worth a look simply for the 40 historical menus included. A wealth of recipes are also included in this text originally published in the 1960′s.

Yearning for more vintage reads? Check out Omnivore Books on Food’s antiquarian inventory here.




04 2011

The Backyard Goat by Sue Weaver

Click to find at a library near you!

With the wealth of new books on homesteading, creating a backyard farm has never been easier. Sue Weaver’s guide The Backyard Goat (2011) is a great addition to the mix. The book is a comprehensive yet approachable reference for anyone considering goats.

Goats are a great source of milk, fiber, labor and companionship, not to mention that they’ll mow the lawn for you. But they require more knowledge, preparation and care than the most common backyard livestock, the chicken. Weaver educated readers on every aspect of keeping goats. She discusses anatomy, breeds, training, milking and many, many more skills and considerations.

The Backyard Goat is definitely meant to be an introduction for hobby farmers. Anyone exploring the idea of keeping these fascinating creatures will benefit from this book.

Thanks to Storey Publishing for sharing this new resource with us!


04 2011

Food Heroes by Georgia Pellegrini

Click here to find at a library near you!

Allan Benton, “Hog Smoker” in Madisonville, TN, says he “committed himself to making a good product, to doing it the old way.” Jake Norris, “Whiskey Craftsman” of Denver, CO, says his idea of a life well spent is when you “do one thing and do it well…no compromise.” The world is full of food artisans, each with a story more charming than the last. In her book Food Heroes: 16 Culinary Artisans Preserving Tradition (2010), Georgia Pellegrini highlights some tremendous examples.

Aside from the “Hog Smoker” and the “Whiskey Craftsman,” Pellegrini takes readers to meet a “Chocolate Pioneer,” a tamale maker in Arkansas, a brewmeister in Germany, and many more. Each story is brief, but enchanting. The descriptions of her encounters with these foods are incredibly vivid. I could almost taste the whiskey when reading how her sip “turns into lemon zest and white pepper, then blueberries and cream, then porridge. It keeps changing, flipping, like a fish on a deck.” Each tale left me wanting to Google the artisan to see if I could order online.

Beyond the gustatory excitement, the book is inspiring. These craftsmen (and women) are sticking to their guns and following their dreams. They are making a healthy living, possibly only because people today are slowly beginning to seek out better food. Reading Pellegrini’s work makes it seem as though there is no choice other than finding these delicious, culturally rich foods created with supreme care. Furthermore, the stories of the artisans might make you wonder why you’re wasting your time doing something you don’t love!

Contest update: Thanks to everyone who participated and congratulations to our randomly selected winner Beth. Lookout for more giveaways in the future!

You might also like: American Terroir: Savoring the Flavors of our Woods, Waters, and Fields


03 2011