Archive for January, 2011


Watch: Creighton Lee Calhoun discusses Old Southern Apples

Wednesday, January 12th, 2011

We’re glad to announce the release of Old Southern Apples, Revised and Expanded Edition, by Creighton Lee Calhoun.

A book that became an instant classic when it first appeared in 1995, Old Southern Apples is an indispensable reference for fruit lovers everywhere, especially those who live in the southern United States. Out of print for several years, this newly revised and expanded edition now features descriptions of some 1,800 apple varieties that either originated in the South or were widely grown there before 1928.

In the videos below, Creighton discusses how he started reviving heritage varieties in his orchard in Pittsboro, North Carolina, and even conducts a mini-apple tasting for the lucky interviewer.

Old Southern Apples is available now.

Madeleine Kunin: Words Have Consequences

Tuesday, January 11th, 2011

It was a relaxed Saturday afternoon, until my neighbor told me the news: a shooting rampage in Tucson, Arizona had killed six people and critically injured a Congresswoman.

The bullets that went flying shattered more than innocent lives – they splintered the glass bubble that we live in. We assume in our daily lives that the world is both safe and sane. Otherwise, we could not carry on.

Several days later, I still can’t stop thinking about Representative Gabrielle Giffords as she is fighting for her life. The dead and wounded are not just numbers – 20 people shot – they are real people: Judge John Roll, a nine year old girl who was there to learn about politics, a dedicated staff member, and concerned constituents.

It’s easy to conclude that the shooter, Jared Lee Laughner, was just one highly disturbed guy, that this tragedy could have happened anywhere, any time.

I don’t think so. I agree with the Pima County Sheriff, Clarence Dupnik, who said that “vitriol” has infected political discourse. One example is Sarah Palin’s now infamous web site where she put the names of Congressmen and women into her gun sights. Giffords , who was one of the targeted, said in an interview that she was frightened. “Words have consequences,” she said prophetically.

The political environment we create matters because a disturbed person cannot always tell the difference between explosive rhetoric and explosive actions. Possibly, he thought he was doing the country a favor by acting out his fantasies. We don’t know. But we do know that we have to turn down the volume and return to something that sounds old fashioned but is fundamental to democracy–it’s called civil discourse.

In the aftermath of this tragedy, both parties and the media are responding with appropriate sounding concern. The question is, will they carry out their expressed good intentions by treating those with whom they disagree with greater respect? One example of the lack of decorum was evident in last year’s State of the Union speech when a Congressman shouted “Liar.” at President Obama. What kind of example did that set?

Our right to disagree is precious but fragile. The best way to protect and preserve it is to let the other side speak without demonizing them or destroying their right to be heard. Such civil exchanges are the heart beat of democracy–essential to keeping it alive.

This article appeared originally on The Huffington Post.

Madeleine Kunin’s book, Pearls, Politics, and Power, is available now.

Janisse Ray: Track Back – A Love Letter to Riding the Rails

Monday, January 10th, 2011

The following article written by Janisse Ray, whose book is Pinhook: Finding Wholeness in a Fragmented Land, appeared in the January/February issue of Orion Magazine.

I set my bags down and look south, beyond the main crossing of Jesup, Georgia. The tracks are empty, weeds growing up all around them.

Dusk has fallen, and in the golden remains of day the dilapidated station looks almost beautiful. It suffered a fire and now rots grudgingly away, boulder-sized holes in its roof, circled by orange police tape. Beyond it, the parking lot is rough, unpaved, without marked spaces, and no one will appear to say, “Not here,” or to charge. Across the street, a tattoo artist works late.

I think back to the first time I caught the train, some three years ago. My folks had driven me to this rail station, which, let’s face it, is not a station.

“Stand out here by the track,” my dad had said. “Wave hard. They have to see you or they’ll roll on.” Forty years had passed since he’d been on a train. “And get ready. The train won’t actually stop. You have to jump.”

“The computer knows I’m waiting,” I said. But I was out by the track anyway in the early evening light, pinks and oranges gilding the sky, the smell of a pulp mill in the air.

Obscured by a curve at the southern edge of town, the train enters Jesup unexpectedly. First came a loud and long whistle, and then, right on time, the train reared into view. Crossing bars came down and a bell began to jang. The train swept up with a terrific racket, clicking and clacking, rails creaking, brakes screeching. For a minute I thought, My dad is right, it isn’t going to stop, but it drew up short. A conductor let down a staircase between two cars. He wasn’t hurrying.

I struggled aboard with my big bag. Inside, the car was bright, clean, and spacious, a carpeted aisle dividing pairs of commodious blue seats. I lifted my luggage to an overhead rack, sat down next to a large window, and waved goodbye to my parents standing lonesome by the track. The Silver Meteor was pulling out, heading toward New York City, where I would be by eleven the following morning.

Continue reading this article at Orion.

Janisse Ray’s book, Pinhook, is available now. She is also at work on another book for Chelsea Green, to be published in 2012.

Authors On Tour in January

Sunday, January 9th, 2011

Chelsea Green authors are experts on everything from solar energy to fermented foods, from progressive politics to socially responsible investing, from adobe home building to edible gardening, and the list goes on.

If you’re a university, bookstore, nonprofit organization or other group who is seeking a speaker for an upcoming event, be sure to check out our “Available Speakers” page and learn more about requesting a Chelsea Green author for a speaking engagement.

This month, you can hear our authors speak at venues like the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco, the 92nd Street Y in New York City, and Denver’s Tattered Cover bookstore. See below for a sampling of upcoming author events, and don’t miss these exciting opportunities to meet our experts, ask your questions in person, and get your books signed!

A full list of author events can be found on each author’s page and on individual book pages under “Events”, as well as here.

Joan Gussow, promoting Growing, Older

Stone Barns Center for Food & Agriculture
630 Bedford Road, Pocantico Hills, NY
January 13, 6:00 PM

Book Passage
51 Tamal Vista Blvd., Corte Madera, CA
January 23, 2:00 PM

Edible Schoolyard
1781 Rose Street, Berkeley, CA
January 24, 6:00 PM
RSVP here.

Commonwealth Club
595 Market St, San Francisco, CA
January 25, 5:30-7:00 PM

Bookshop Santa Cruz
1520 Pacific Avenue, Santa Cruz, CA
January 26, 7:00 PM

Edible Institute- Keynote speaker
1111 East Cabrillo Blvd., Santa Barbara, CA
January 29- time TBD

92nd St Y—Dialogue with Annie Novak
1395 Lexington Avenue, NYC
February 1, 8:00 PM

Bob Cavnar, promoting Disaster on the Horizon

Tattered Cover: Rocky Mountain Land Series
1628 16th St, Denver, CO
January 22, 2011- 2:00 PM

Carol Deppe, promoting The Resilient Gardener

Good Earth Home and Garden Show
Lane County Events Center, 796 W. 13th Avenue, Eugene, OR
January 22, 2011, 12:00 PM

Gianaclis Caldwell , promoting The Farmstead Creamery Advisor

Oregon Cheese Guild
Oregon State University, Dairy Sciences Building, Corvallis, OR
January 22, 2011 9:00 AM

January Sale: Save 25% on Selected New Books!

Saturday, January 8th, 2011

Welcome to a new year – full of opportunities to live more sustainably. Here at Chelsea Green, we are putting the final touches on our Spring 2011 book list, and are eager to share some of this month’s new titles with you.

Our newest releases include Cooking Close to Home by Diane Imrie and Richard Jarmusz – a collection of over 150 original recipes designed to follow the seasons; The Color of Atmosphere – Maggie Kozel’s engaging memoir of her departure from pediatric practice after 17 years; and Old Southern Apples by Creighton Lee Calhoun – a revised and updated classic featuring over 1,800 heritage apple varieties. Now through January 31st, save 25% when you purchase any of these titles in our bookstore!

Chelsea Green continues, as we enter our 27th year, to publish groundbreaking books to help you examine your food choices, fuel political change, dig in to the joys of gardening, and organize for resilience within your community. We look forward to bringing you more inspiring tools and resources this year.

Cooking Close to Home
By Diane Imrie and Richard Jarmusz
Cooking Close to Home: A Year of Seasonal Recipes is a collection of over 150 original recipes designed to follow the seasons. Whether you are a home gardener, a farmers’ market regular, or a member of a community-supported agriculture program, this cookbook will serve as a seasonal guide to using the foods available in your region. Each recipe includes useful “Harvest Hints” that explain how to find, purchase, prepare, and preserve fresh and seasonal ingredients.
Old Southern Apples
By Creighton Lee Calhoun
A book that became an instant classic when it first appeared in 1995, Old Southern Apples is an indispensable reference for fruit lovers everywhere, especially those who live in the southern United States. Out of print for several years, this newly revised and expanded edition now features descriptions of some 1,800 apple varieties that either originated in the South or were widely grown there before 1928.
The Color of Atmosphere
By Maggie Kozel, M.D.
If the medical profession you’d devoted your life to was completely taken over by liability concerns and insurance regulations, would you stay a physician? The Color of Atmosphere tells one doctor’s story and the route of her medical career with warmth, humor, and above all, honesty. As we follow Maggie Kozel from her idealistic days as a devoted young pediatrician, through her Navy experience with universal health coverage, and on into the world of private practice, we see not only her reverence for medical science, and her compassion for her patients, but also the widening gap between what she was trained to do and what is eventually expected of her.
Do We Need Pandas?
By Ken Thompson
How much do we really know about the species that make up the natural world? In this fascinating book Ken Thompson explains what we do and don’t understand about biodiversity. We know that most species remain undiscovered, and that biodiversity is gravely threatened – by overfishing, habitat loss, pollution and climate change. Life on Earth has previously experienced five episodes of mass extinction, and we are now in the middle of a sixth.
The Farmer and The Horse DVD
By Jared Flesher
A story about a landless farmer, a non-conformist, and an escaped office worker…From award-winning journalist Jared Flesher comes The Farmer and the Horse, a new film that digs into difficult questions about sustainability, self-sufficiency, and why we do the work we do. This documentary about sustainable agriculture goes beyond the usual platitudes of smiling organic farmers talking about the good life. Farming is hard work—especially if you don’t use a tractor.
Roundwood Timber Framing
By Ben Law
This definitive manual marks the birth of a new vernacular for the 21st century. Over 400 colour photographs and step-by-step instructions guide you through the building of anything from a garden shed to your own woodland house. This practical ‘how to’ book will unquestionably be a benchmark for sustainable building using renewable local resources and evolving traditional skills to create durable, ecological and beautiful buildings.

Sy Montgomery: News of a Long-Lost Brother

Saturday, January 8th, 2011

His letters were a lifeline, connecting me to a family and a culture I loved deeply in a faraway land that I might never see again.

“Amar Chotto bon Sy,” the letters would begin: “My Little Sister Sy.”

Ever since my first trip to India in 1992, the boatman who showed me the magical tiger swamp where I worked, Girindra Nath Mridha, had written me faithfully. He spoke little English and I, even less Bengali, but our letters to each other were kindly and lyrically translated by Mr. Mondol, the schoolteacher in Girindra’s village of Jamespur.

“Rain has fled along with its wetty clumsyness,” he wrote to me in one letter after the monsoon had ended. He proceeded to share the temperature (hot) and health of the family (fine) and express horror at the cool summer temperatures I had reported from New Hampshire: “Such cold can never be seen here!” At Christmas, he was thrilled when I sent a package: “Take our congratulation to send us the holy gift on the occasion of Christmas Day. I open your package with deep love and curiosity…” To comfort me after losing one of our chickens to a predator attack, he wrote, “Very sad to hear your hen is killed by the fox and mongooses. You do your best to help the animal, we got very pleasure to hear protect in this life and the next.” He always answered every letter. He waited for mine as I did for his. “Thank you very much,” he began one letter, “to write long, treasurous letter. I used to wait for the same as a thirsty bird….”

That’s what our letters meant to each other. Each of us longed for word of the other on the opposite side of the world. Our friendship was indeed a treasure. Each of us had opened to the other great wonders, blessings beyond what either of us might have expected from our unlikely meeting.

I had hired Girindra as an act of desperation. My first trip to Sundarbans, the mangrove swamp that was the subject of my book, Spell of the Tiger, was a disaster. Intrigued by the swimming, extraordinarily aggressive tigers there—the only population of known man-eating tiers on Earth—I had hoped in my research to solve the dual mysteries of why the tigers were so aggressive, and why, at a time when tigers were persecuted throughout the world, the people of Sundarbans worshipped theirs.

To do this, I had arranged to work with a charming and highly educated Bengali scientist, Dr. Kalyan Chakrabarti, who had also agreed to act as my translator and to provide a speed boat for our travels. But when I showed up in Calcutta, I found to my dismay that he now had a new job and could not come. He tried to set me up with another English-speaking tiger expert, the assistant director of the tiger reserve. But he was too busy and couldn’t get free on such short notice. So I found myself stuck, with my long-suffering photographer friend Dianne Taylor-Snow, in the remote mangrove swamp along the Bay of Bengal known as Sundarbans, where tigers killed about 300 people a year and nobody spoke English, without a speed boat, translator or guide.

Girindra showed up at the tiny lodge where we were staying (the only lodge in the area then) and offered his services as boatman. Day after day, Dianne and I would board his handmade wooden boat. From shortly after dawn till dusk, every day for two weeks, Girindra would power its 10 horsepower motor down the twisting, changing channels of the mangrove swamp into tiger territory.

Between his English and my Bengali, Girinda clearly understood my objective. Bengalis deeply respect writers (“Ami lekika”—“I am an author”—always brought an approving nod, because even in the poorest and most remote villages, everyone knows the works of the great Bengali poets Jassimudin and Rabindranath Tagore). Though my Bengali was atrocious, I was able to explain what I wanted to learn about the tigers and the people here. Girindra clearly understood.

Photo credit Eleanor Briggs

It was clear, too, that Girindra knew the answers to my questions. He wanted desperately to help. He had many stories he wanted to share with me. He had even seen one of his uncles attacked and killed by a tiger. But though we tried to use every word we shared in common like a Swiss Army knife—for instance, “yesterday” meant “any time in the past” and “black” meant the color as well as “deep sadness” as well as “illegal”—it wasn’t enough. “I very sorry not full English have,” he said to me. “I very sorry not full Bangla have,” I replied.

If anything, that frustration only deepened our friendship. We both wanted so badly to communicate. My need was obvious—I had to write my book. Why Girindra so wanted to help was more generous. He was a gentleman. Well-respected in his village, but not a rich or highly educated man, he was not born to high status according to the Hindu caste system. And yet, an American author was looking to him for answers, and respected his knowledge.

Though he couldn’t communicate all he wanted to tell me, his help those first two weeks was invaluable. I depended on him to guide me and Dianne through a world that was constantly changing, sculpted hourly by the tides, a place full of mystery and danger unlike any I had ever visited before.

Girindra showed us new wonders daily. There are fish who climb trees here. Tree roots grow up to the sky instead of down through the earth. Gangetic dolphins swim in the brown rivers, occasionally showing you an unlikely pink fin above the surface. Once a swimming tiger crossed in front of our boat. I couldn’t even recognize it as a tiger—I thought its head was a rock. But no. It swam across the river in front of us, never giving us a glance. And then, its coat streaming with water, it melted into the mangroves without even giving a shake.

Dianne and I met Girindra’s family, and visited his village. It was there, in his beautiful home, made of mud, that he told me why we had met, and why we felt so important to each other:

We must have been, he insisted, brother and sister in a former life.

For me, an only child, that was a deeply moving honor. And it meant a commitment. Later, when we could speak freely, he told me this meant that when I died, he told me, his family would perform the Hindu funeral rights for me. And he if died….

Oh no, I couldn’t bear the thought. And he couldn’t bear to see me upset. He assured me that a fortune teller had promised him a very long life.

I came back to Sundarbans a second time. And back again a third. Finally I had the great joy of working with two excellent young translators who could finally share with me, verbatim, the many stories Girindra and his friends and family had to tell. They told me of the tiger god and the forest goddess. They told me about tigers who fly through the air, tigers who become invisible. They were not only sharing their sacred myths. They were giving me excellent natural history observations.

Nantu, Girindra’s youngest son, sits on the fishing net while one of his sisters, Sharoma (right) and mother, Namita (left) look on.
Photo credit Eleanor Briggs.

A year after my third visit, I had a gift for them in return. Spell of the Tiger is a book largely about them—a book that honors their knowledge, knowledge that most of the world had, until then, largely dismissed as silly superstition. (That book has now been updated and was re-published by Chelsea Green last year.)

On the first day of 1996, brought another gift. I returned with a National Geographic film crew, who would help tell the Mridhas’ story to millions around the world. When the Explorer TV program aired September 22, 1996, the people of Jamespur somehow procured a television (I had never seen one in the village before) and hooked it up to a generator to watch themselves on screen. An estimated audience of 50 million worldwide saw a rare program: one that did not show rural, third world people as poor little brown victims, but as well-spoken, eloquent keepers of deep wisdom.

In 2001, Houghton Mifflin published my children’s book, The Man-Eating Tigers of Sundarbans. But this time I couldn’t bring it in person. I sent it in the mail. Girindra wrote back, with the help of Mr. Mondol. He and his family were elated, especially with the large color photos of themselves and their village.

Still, our precious letters crossed the ocean to each other every few weeks. Girindra wrote me of the rice harvest, of crocodile attacks on women as they fished for prawns, about his daughter’s engagement. I wrote about our 750-pound pet pig, sent photos of our snowstorms, told him about my new travels for new books. “I hope you have reached home peacefully by the blessings of Goddess,” he would write me. “I pray for you to return to us soon.”

But alas, I could not. Via his letters, I was invited to the weddings of both the eldest daughters, Shumitra and Shubadra. I was invited to attend the marriage of Mr. Mondol’s daughter, too. I could not afford the expense or the time. I learned that a second tourist lodge was built in Sundarbans. I was invited to attend the opening. In 2004, Girindra asked me to come celebrate the birth of his first two grandchildren. “I pray to both my Deb-Debi as well as to your Christ to accept you good health and long life, and to accept you a further trip to us,” Girindra wrote in one letter. “I shall urge you that our days are numbered and these are going to be shortened; so for the last chance should we family not be united in this global existence.” Still, I could not come.

We wrote each other regularly for more than a decade. And then, in 2007, his letters abruptly stopped.

At first I was not alarmed. Every so often our letters–and sometimes my packages to him and the family–got lost in the mail.Once, in 1993, Girindra said he had written six letters to me that never arrived. (“I very very sad my letters not come. I cannot think of this position! Sy, I am not forget you!” he had promised.) So I wrote again, and again. I wrote directly to Mr. Mondol also.

Still my letters went unanswered.

I reminded myself of Girindra’s long lifeline, the one the fortune teller saw. But then there were also the nagging facts: Girindra and his family, after all, lived in an area with no doctors, no medicines, no electricity, no running water. A simple infection we could fend off with a pill could kill any one of them. So could a boating mishap, a cyclone (to which the area was prone—I was in one) or an accident with the ubiquitous machete. And so could any of the area’s many venomous snakes, estuarine crocodiles or man-eating tigers.

At my request, Girindra always had shared with me the latest tiger sightings in the neighborhood: “At 12 night on 19th September, I was to be attracted by the tiger,” he wrote in one letter. “I light torch and saw the tiger coming. I cried out, then and there, it is stopped by standing on the surface of the river. But my companion fled away and finally I also had escaped running….On the morrow morning we saw its foot print moving around the boat on river bank.”

But kindly, knowing the fear this tale would strike into my heart, he continued, “Don’t worry about it. I have been brought up in the terrors of tiger and snake of Sundarbans, so it’s very common to us.”

But I did worry.

Hearing nothing from him, I found an email address for the new tourist lodge. I got no response (apparently the emails actually go to an office in Calcutta.) I shared my fears with my translators, Shankar and his wife Soma. They have not been back to Sundarbans, busy as they are with their careers and now a young daughter. I considered into hiring a private detective. Shankar advised me this would be difficult and likely, I would be taken advantage of, since I was so far away. Then, in 2008, Shankar and Soma wrote me they had seen Girindra on TV in an Indian documentary. He was filmed collecting honey. At least when that was filmed—and how long ago had that been?–he was alive and well.

Later that winter, a filmmaker on a project in Sundarbans offered to hand-carry a letter to Girindra from me, and I was thrilled; but as it happened, he never got to Jamespur. The filmmaker said gave my letter to an Indian forestry official. Whether it was ever delivered I do not know.

And then came another huge cyclone. Sundarbans has always been prone to terrible winds and floods, but global climate change has made them both more frequent and more violent. Jamespur, Shankar and Soma wrote me, was heavily hit. The village may even have been destroyed.

My heart sank. Perhaps I would never know what happened to Girindra and his family. But still, not a day passed that I didn’t wonder: Were they alive? Had they moved away? Had my letters and address been destroyed in a flood or a cyclone?

I had nearly given up on ever finding them. And then, in the last moments of 2010, with a National Geographic filmmaker’s prompting I got in touch via email with an old friend, the filmmaker and founder of the Wildlife Protection Society of India, Belinda Wright.

It took Belinda one day to get back to me with the news:

They found Girindra. He is alive and well and living in Jamespur.

WPS fieldworkers had few details to relay. I still don’t know what happened to our letters. But I have another one going out to him today, and have sent another message through Belinda’s colleagues. I want to assure Girindra and his family that I, too, am alive and well….and awaiting his next letter, like a thirsty bird.

Photo courtesy of Sy Montgomery

Sy Montgomery’s book, Spell of the Tiger: The Man-Eaters of Sundarbans, is available now.

Chicken Manure in the Garden: Mother Earth News excerpts Gene Logsdon’s Holy Shit

Friday, January 7th, 2011

The following excerpt from Holy Shit: Managing Manure to Save Mankind by Gene Logsdon appeared originally on the web at Mother Earth News.

The chicken is the easiest and most productive animal for the small garden farm, especially in terms of handling manure. Humans have known this forever, which is why in almost all so-called Third World countries — and now even in First World countries (indicating that we First-Worlders are advancing, too) — chickens are usually a part of the local scene. New regulations are now allowing hens (but not roosters) in American suburbs. I love it when I am listening to a radio news report from someplace like Afghanistan, Liberia or Somalia, and suddenly I hear a hen clucking in the background, or a rooster crowing. I know that this is the real news. If only a reporter could interview the chickens, I bet we’d get a much truer picture of what’s going on in the world.

Reporter: “How do you feel about being occupied by U.N. peacekeepers, Mrs. Hen?”

Mrs. Hen, ruffling her feathers: “We are occupied enough just staying alive. I wish the foreigners would get the cluck out of here.”

Reporter: “Do you agree with that, Mr. Rooster?”

Mr. Rooster, nervously wagging his head from side to side: “Well, cock-a-doodle-doo, I hardly think so. Those of us who cooper­ated with the foreigners would get our bloody heads chopped off.”

The best indication that we are entering a new era (or returning to an old one) is that I am hearing about websites where garden­ers offer to clean out chicken coops for free — in exchange for the manure. I am not surprised that chickens are first in this undertak­ing. Chicken manure is the easiest of all barn manures to handle, mostly because chickens do not urinate in the same way that, say, a horse does, flushing out enough in one session to drown a chicken or two. Nevertheless, I am often shocked at the mess I sometimes see in the coops of even very small flocks. There is not enough bedding. Little stalagmites of pure crap rise up under the roost. Or there’s a roost with an old-fashioned, screened-off catch board under it covered with gooey manure 6 inches deep and swarming with flies because the chickens can’t get to them. Invariably, the coop itself is so small a rooster would have to go outside to find enough room to crow.

None of this is necessary or practical or economical. It all comes from a mistaken notion that if something is right for a big hen factory, then it must be right for six hens in the backyard. First of all, if you have a manure catch board under the chicken roost, take it out and burn it. Then, if the manure is a problem building up on the floor, use more bedding or, better, knock out one or two walls and double, triple or quadruple the size of your coop. A coop for 10 hens year-round with the addition of 20 broil­ers fattening for three months should have at least 200 square feet of space in it. That is roughly 7 square feet per chicken for the three months when the coop is occupied by broilers and layers. The rest of the year, your 10 layers have 20 square feet of living space each — about 20 times that of poor factory hens shut up in cages.

You may think that a coop of that size for so few chickens costs more money than it’s worth, but it depends on how you view the numbers. As long as you are building a coop, how much more time and money does it really cost to build a 10-foot-by-20-foot coop rather than a 5-foot-by-10-foot one? The cost of the wood may be double (unless you tear down an old building or other­wise find waste wood that you can use). But your time is about the same, whether you use your own labor or hire someone else. Furthermore, the coop should last a lifetime — or at least 80 years. Prorate the yearly cost of a 50-square-foot coop versus a 200-square-foot coop over 80 years and the difference is small — and certainly worth every cent when you’re stepping into a cleaner, pleasant coop versus a crappy one. Then add on the value of the litter in your generously bedded coop, which preserves the fertil­izer value of the manure in the best possible way. Then add in the savings achieved by your hens turning table scraps into valuable fertilizer. Add on the savings from not having to build and main­tain a composting bin because the hens will do it right there in the coop — present you with a nice loamy fertilizer, and not charge you a cent. You are going to be saving money and you’ll also have the best tomatoes in the neighborhood, unless the neighbors are all raising chickens, too.

But keeping a coop generously bedded costs money, say the experts in agricultural economics. Not necessarily. You can bed with dry lawn clippings all summer and with dry tree leaves all winter if you have a place to store them. You can pile leaves against the coop’s walls to use as needed, and, in the meantime, the leaf piles will keep the building warmer and cozier in winter. When we lived in the suburbs, we built a small loft under the roof of our coop to store the wheat that we grew and didn’t need for bread-making. The roof joists were already there. All I had to do was put a few boards over them to make a floor. Every day I fed a couple of bundles of wheat to the chickens. They ate out the grain and the straw added bedding to the floor.

A good way to utilize almost all of the plant nutrients in chicken manure is to keep hens in a so-called chicken tractor. Such a coop is movable and can be pulled to a new spot at will. Inside it, the chickens scratch and eat weed seeds and bugs while depositing their droppings directly on the soil. This fresh manure enriches the soil with hardly any loss of fertilizing nutrients. The wake of a chicken tractor leaves a rich, ready-to-till garden plot. Lately, the chicken tractor idea has been transformed into the chicken bus. Innovative chicken farmers are turning old buses into coops parked out in pastures. Want to move the coop to another section of pasture? Drive on. Or if it is a bus with a dead motor, hitch the tractor to it and pull it — much easier than moving a coop on skids.

Where a garden farmer has the room, manure handling is made easy by allowing the chickens to roam over pasture, woodlot or lawn in spring, summer and fall. In some instances, even commer­cial growers intent on raising organic or all-natural meat or eggs can divide their pastureland around a stationary coop into several lots projecting out like wagon wheel spokes from the coop. The chickens are moved from one plot to another as necessary, like rotational grazing of livestock. One or two of these plots can even be planted to grain for the chickens to eat right off of the stalks, while clover grows up under the stalks to provide more good food. In such a system, the manure, except for what collects in the coop, is fully utilized without any work on the part of the poultry farmer.

The deep litter system — putting down generous bedding regularly and cleaning out the coop only once or twice a year — was welcomed by all of us farm boys of yesteryear. Before that, we had the weekly or bimonthly job of cleaning out the chicken coop. The experts, who did not have to clean out chicken coops, harped constantly on the myth that leaving the manure in the coop was unsanitary. Actually, there are vitamins and minerals in the deep litter that are vital to the health of the chickens. Because of the notion that they were saving money by using only mini­mal amounts of bedding, farmers were slow to realize the fact that there was the deep litter alternative — until they ran out of sons and daughters to do the weekly job.

I didn’t much mind forking out the floor manure, which was relatively dry and loose. I pretended that the floor was the map of Europe and I was the advancing American army cleaning up the Nazis (obviously this was World War II times). The line between cleaned and uncleaned floor was the battlefront. And so, every Saturday, I liberated Europe in the chicken coop.

But cleaning off the catch boards under the roost was pure misery. I likened it to the battle of Iwo Jima rather than the libera­tion of Europe. My father, thankfully, had found a faster way to handle this stinking slime. The roosts were built along the back wall of the coop. The wall at that point was hinged and could be opened outward and raised high enough to get the manure spreader right up next to and under the catch boards. Then it was “simply” a matter of raking the gooey mess out into the spreader with a long-handled rake. The stuff didn’t rake very well, but you get the idea.

That coop measured 15 by 30 feet, or thereabouts, and housed 120 hens year-round — that’s about 3 square feet per hen. Had the coop been lengthened a mere 10 feet more, it would have meant 5 square feet per bird, which would have made the catch boards unnecessary, if they weren’t anyway.

Then, instead of the weekly cleaning of the floor, not to mention the twice-yearly cleaning of the catch boards, I would have just had to spread a bale of clean straw on the floor every Saturday and let the manure and bedding build up. The deep litter that the chick­ens would busily scratch in and turn into compost would have to be cleaned out only once a year, and it would be dry and without offensive odor.

Presently, in a 10-foot by 20-foot coop, I keep an average of a dozen hens year-round and 20 fattening broilers for three months. The coop is divided into two rooms so the broilers have their own space. Otherwise the old hens would harass the broilers — even peck them to death. (It’s a good idea to have a coop with two rooms, anyway, and a door between them, to separate new hen chicks from the old hens, who may otherwise bother them. They have to get used to each other on different sides of a screen partition, and then they can be slowly introduced by letting both generations meet outside, where the young ones can beat a hasty retreat if necessary.) For roosts, all I have is a 2-by-4 that stretches across one corner of each room, about 2 feet off the ground. In the morning there’s a line of fresh manure under the roosts. By nightfall it has disappeared under the scratching feet of the hens into the composting litter.

I just looked into my nephew’s new chicken coop. For a roost, he split lengths of tree limbs about 3 inches in diameter, nailing two of them about 6 feet long as verticals to three others about 5 feet long as horizontals. He leaned the assemblage against the wall and nailed the slanting verticals at the top to the wall. Voilà! A three-perch roost for a dozen chickens.

I sprinkle wheat or corn over the floor occasionally to encour­age the hens to scratch in the deep litter, but they would do so anyway. Table scraps I just scatter on top of the litter. What little the chickens don’t eat soon disappears and eventually decom­poses into the litter.

When cleaning, I always leave a small amount of the composted manure on the floor for the chickens to drop fresh manure into, because that compost has a high, developed population of all kinds of microbial life that hasten the break­down of fresh manure. I use a silage fork to handle the compos­ted manure because it would fall right through a regular manure fork. Sometimes the compost is dry and loose enough to scoop up with an aluminum grain shovel. I haul it to the garden in a wheelbarrow, or more often with the pickup truck.

Read more at Mother Earth News.

Gene Logsdon’s Holy Shit: Managing Manure to Save Mankind, is available now.

Finding Farming: A Possibility for Deep Happiness

Thursday, January 6th, 2011

The good folks at Civil Eats ran the following essay, written by Chelsea Green’s Associate Editor Makenna Goodman and published in Katherine Leiner’s book, Growing Roots: The New Generation of Sustainable Farmers, Cooks, and Food Activists, on their website yesterday. Enjoy!

Growing up I had these artsy parents who served “thoughtful” food. At lunchtime I got my avocado and cheese whole-wheat sandwiches out of wax bags, while my friends were getting fun foods like Lunchables.  That’s what I wanted—plastic food. I wanted to be like the rest of the kids–who wouldn’t? I grew up in the woods in Colorado, and while we had a vegetable garden, it was at high altitude and the soil was parched. Then, we moved to New York City. That change was a real shock to my system. For the next seven years, I barely survived science, played on soccer fields covered with syringes and trash, and dreamed about summer when I could go back to Colorado and raft down the Animas River.

In my junior year of high school, I went to the Mountain School where I found my Northeastern wilderness. Environmental science was taught within the context of the outdoors. We each had a little plot of land where we studied the history of the trees and the lay of the land. Within this context, science made a lot more sense to me, as did tending animals. I took care of Murray the ram; I fed him, watered him. I loved the way he smelled. I also took care of the chickens–boy, were they weird. I connected to the land in a deep and personal way.

By the end of college, I decided to go back to New York City. I got a job in the publishing world because I felt obligated to make something of my degree. But I hated working in a cubicle, and I hated midtown Manhattan and those horrible soggy salads. It was a confusing time for me; I felt alienated from everything. Work seemed to be about earning enough money to afford a life which I didn’t want.

So one day, 26 floors above midtown, I walked into my boss’ office—the corner office—and looked at the view of Hoboken. This is what I’m supposed to be working towards? I decided to move to Vermont.

Eventually I moved in with my boyfriend Sam and helped him develop the small piece of land he had bought. I took over the garden, starting the seeds in our sunroom. When those little sprouts started to show, it was like a miracle. Life began to make a lot more sense to me. We increased the amount of animals (sheep, pigs, cows, chickens, hens), and started a maple sugaring operation.

One morning, not so long ago, I heard serious squawking coming from the henhouse. When I climbed out the bedroom window onto our roof, I saw a coyote trotting off with a hen in its jaws. I yelled, “HEY!” The coyote turned back to look at me, and then kept on going. I felt sorry for the hen, but I respected the coyote. I cheered it on. That week, we built the henhouse and started fencing the girls in.

I feel really lucky to have moved onto Sam’s farm. I’ve found mentors, too—many of whom are older than my parents. Without them I’d be lost. I would suggest to anyone who thinks they want to farm, to find someone to apprentice with, team up with an old-timer in your area, help them hay, help them lug lumber, help them shovel some manure. I think it’s really important to be around other people who’ve been farming longer than you have: we all need to start somewhere.

There’s a big difference between growing tomatoes on your balcony and farming acreage. Rural living isn’t easy. It’s no wonder that some farmers’ children move to cities. But for those of us who do choose to move into the rural regions, we have a responsibility to keep it as close to its natural state as possible, to farm with humility (even towards those farmers whose practices we may not agree with), and to keep the tradition of farming alive. In doing so, we support a food system that allows our kids an opportunity to opt out of eating plastic food.

The one thing I know for sure is this: if you’re going to be a farmer, you can’t be afraid to fail. The best advice I ever got was from Joel Salatin, who said exactly that. He told me, do what you like.  If you don’t like to weed, then mulch. Practice permaculture. Start an edible forest garden instead of a traditional French bed garden. If you don’t like chickens, don’t raise chickens. Most important to me, is uniting my life with my work. When the two connect, there’s a possibility for deep happiness.

Food is life, after all.

This excerpt appeared originally on the web at Civil Eats.

Makenna Goodman is Associate Editor at Chelsea Green Publishing.

Bob Cavnar: Obama Blinks. Deepwater to Resume.

Wednesday, January 5th, 2011

On Monday, as we predicted, the Obama administration blinked on deepwater oil and gas development, clearing the way for 16 deepwater projects to resume without environmental review.  Though the administration says that the projects must be managed under new safety regulations, those regulations include no material redesign of well control or safety systems.  While the improved rules and third party certification of safety devices are good things, these certifications will be performed on equipment that is documented to have high failure rates.

As many development permits have been languishing in the BOEMRE while the agency scrambles to implement new rules and review, the industry, as well as Gulf Coast politicians, have been relentlessly lobbying to get back to work in the deepwater to preserve jobs.  I clearly understand that desire to get back to work, but we are once again risking workers’ lives and the Gulf eco-system without a full rethinking/redesign of how we drill in deepwater.

As I’ve talked about before, this is just one more step in a creeping return to deepwater without substantial reform.  The new Republican house will be no help, so the Obama administration is on its own defending itself against withering criticism.

And he will continue to blink.

Read the original article on The Huffington Post.

Bob Cavnar’s book, Disaster on the Horizon, is available now.

Ron and Arnie Koss: Revolutionizing Business Education

Tuesday, January 4th, 2011

The following article was written by Ron and Arnie Koss, authors of The Earth’s Best Story: A Bittersweet Tale of Twin Brothers Who Sparked an Organic Revolution.

Revolutionizing Business Education – Part I: The “Golden” Standard

If there were ever a case to overhaul business and entrepreneurship education, it would be made by the world as we know it today.

Do you think that the calamitous Gulf oil spill or the epidemic of childhood diabetes and obesity or the proliferation of antibiotic resistant bacteria are unrelated?

What links them in a unified assault on the quality of our collective lives are (most likely) “professionally” educated people who often define success and wealth by one measure―money.

But money alone, regardless of the economic system that it is attached to, cannot incite this aberrant lemming-like behavior that causes some to drive others off a cliff, even if those “others” are our children, whole ecosystems, or ways of life.

Colluding with the love of money (and its many related distortions) is the separation from the “golden rule” that we theoretically learned as children and were supposed to carry forward into adulthood. Without empathy for all “others” and the implicit responsibility accompanying it, we have what we have― a breakdown of our human community and all of life. And the results arguably are taking on biblical proportion, at least by plague standards.

What to do? On one hand we have a collective heritage of culture and human wisdom that knows exactly what to do. Aligned with that, there is no Gulf oil spill because safety precautions are not compromised to save a buck (or a pound) or make one. Childhood diabetes is diminished because cereal manufacturers “cut the crap.” Consensus on an action plan for every global ill would not take long once the “golden rule” rules.

But this notion is likely viewed by many as preposterously naïve and simplistic. If so, Arnie and I propose that we find a short cut to greater naivete because the mutant “He who has the gold rules” paradigm is not working. It’s a disaster.

Until we find that “worm hole” that leads us closer to the fount of our human potential and the wisdom that lives deep and naturally within the mature consciousness of each of us, it is innovation in education that we must immediately rally around and leverage to universal benefit.

Our initial focus will be on business and entrepreneurship because tomorrow’s leaders are sitting there in class right now, year after year. What future will they choose for us all? Our vision is a hopeful one.

Revolutionizing Business Education – Part II: Goliath 101

Along the way of realizing our big dream and starting Earth’s Best Baby Foods, my twin brother Arnie and I unwittingly collided with a business paradigm and a world view―venture capital is one expression― that tends to objectify and reduce everything, and we mean everything, down to dollars and cents. This “Goliath,” at his worst, values money above more than life itself and abandons morality and ethical values with alarming ease.

Goliath is a sly and not so little fellow capable of staggering manipulation and sinister action. But he’s also disarming, evasive, and so self-referential that when he looks in the mirror, he does not see the real consequences of his actions, but rather some distortion featuring his upright self, his own guilt-free hands, and of course, others to blame for whatever went wrong.

We must study him, explore his psychology, recognize the symptoms of his presence and learn how to respond. This sounds almost straight forward, except for one catch. Goliath lives in each of us at one time or another as we unfold in our lives. He’s not apart from us. He’s a part of us.

Business and entrepreneurship education must encompass the exploration of “self” and not as an academic or intellectual exercise. Self awareness matters. Each person has a biography and a family story that often lives and is somehow expressed in decisions of varying degrees of magnitude. Before someone gets to be a key executive at British Petroleum making decisions to cut catastrophic corners or the CEO of Enron enmeshed in its calamitous collapse, the Goliath-self should be a distant presence in a rear view mirror, as in historical.

What’s the value of learning the finest points of sales, marketing, finance, economics, and management if a student is unwittingly mired in a paradigm or degree of adult immaturity that is likely to eventually wreak havoc and cause unnecessary misfortune?
And of course I would ask the same rhetorical question regarding any field of study and any subsequent expression or endeavor in this world.

Today, we are surrounded by and led by too many petulant, disingenuous, and self serving individuals who use religion, labels, metaphors, and profit to scare, polarize, and distract us so we abide by their aims; the aims of an immature Goliath who mistakes his size for righteousness and a qualification for privilege. This must stop.

Leadership must be cultivated. Maturity must be championed. And to do so “Goliath” must be met in study, observation, conversation, and ultimately in an “inner” journey to meet some version of his counterpart― “David.” It is in our schools of higher education that this encounter must happen, not after it’s too late.

Revolutionizing Business Education – Part III: David 101

The point of using the David & Goliath metaphor is not to cast Arnie and myself as “David.” There is a much bigger story and opportunity here than that.

Many years ago Arnie and I were campers at a summer day camp. We were excited to take a field trip to a “real” western town amusement park with cowboys and gun fights.
We roamed the streets passing in and out of souvenir shops, side-stepping horse shit, watching for swinging saloon doors, and looking for the bad guys.

Word got to us via the grapevine that everyone in the camp was stealing souvenirs. Apparently there was this feeding frenzy, free for all. Arnie and I knew stealing was wrong. It was unthinkable. Our parents and upbringing had imprinted this upon us with absolutely no wiggle room. Soon we saw friends walking by the Cimarron City blacksmith shop wearing Indian headdresses, necklaces, and toting 6-shooters with holsters. It was strangely exhilarating. Everyone was doing it.

And then the unthinkable happened. Arnie and I walked into a shop. I was the lookout. He picked out and picked up a pair of earrings. Soon we were on the camp bus, everyone seemingly decked out in Wild West attire. We didn’t put on the earrings. We gave them to our mom later that day and ashamedly admitted our guilt several years later.

Arnie and I were children at Cimarron City. We knew better, but did not act accordingly.

Most students leave college to find some version of this “free for all” happening in the world, if not their workplace. Money is the measure of success. Everyone is doing it. It’s easier to join than to be left behind alone and without. The once “real” world of knowing what it means to be “good” is supplanted by the “real” real world of practical adulthood.

We stole from a store as children. It was wrong. But when young adults who become middle aged adults, who become older people collectively participate for generations in a free for all, it is not just a shop that is being pillaged and ruined, but cultures, species, ecosystems and lives.

David 101 brings into focus the responsibility of personal freedom. It does not reduce the complexity of human behavior and values to good and bad or black and white. It explores the limitless rainbow of grays within the context of community and inter-connectedness.

When David looks in the mirror, he sees his place in a world full of other people situated within a miraculous web of planetary life. And he cares deeply for what he sees. “David 101” does not aim to rid the world of Goliath, but offers to expose and challenge his entrenchment within the psychology of each person.

Arnie and I can vouch for Goliath’s sharp shark-like teeth and penchant for feeding frenzies. The Earth’s Best Story is “bittersweet” for this reason. We wonder now in retrospect if a David & Goliath curriculum would have dulled those teeth a little and curbed that appetite. I guess we believe so.

The Earth’s Best Story is available now.


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