Archive for January, 2012

Civil Eats: Farmers Talk About the Books that Inspire Them

Monday, January 16th, 2012

Many of our readers are small farmers, homesteaders, and gardeners — folks who have made books like The Four-Season Harvest and Wild Fermentation best-sellers for years!

We thought you’d enjoy this post from the excellent and informative team-blog Civil Eats, on other books that have inspired the farmers they spoke to.

By Cynthia Salaysay

Scores of books depict farms as little slices of heaven on earth, where venison is smoked and butter is churned, and things seem perfect. But today’s farmers are far from unrealistic dreamers, longing for a Little House on the Prairie-esque pastoral ideal. They’re socially conscious doers. And when asked about books that inspire them, they cite writings that are practical, at times poetic, and that beckon them to rescue the land.

Here are some of the books that farmers are reading and getting inspiration from today.

The Unsettling of America by Wendell Berry. “I had spent  seven or so years of my life as a ‘punk’ growing up in the the central NJ suburbs of NYC, disgruntled and disillusioned and looking for real meaning and ways to be in the world, and [Berry] was someone seemingly so disgruntled and disillusioned, yet incredibly intelligent and coherent, with a posited solution of sorts…. Challenges [were] laid forth to take full responsibility for our lives and to truly push against what our culture is feeding us, to move towards a society built around community, equality, a new free culture, and a cooperative economy in which we all work satisfying jobs in support of each other; ideals I cannot imagine any human being would deface. Farming could embrace these challenges and reconnect us with the land and each other like no other, I was convinced.” — Anthony Mecca, Great Song Farm

The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck. “I read The Good Earth when I was a child, I think I was ten or eleven. I read it again in my 20s, and again in my 30s…. It’s an inspiring novel about building a dream, perseverance. I think the best line is at the end of the novel when it says, ‘without land, you’re nothing.’ It’s a quote my father and mother used to repeat to us kids all the time. So that book always meant something for many reasons.” — Alexis Koefoed, Soul Food Farm

Silent Spring by Rachel Carson. “I read it as a freshman in college. This was kind of a critical treatise in the ecological movement. It was not only a cry of protest, but a teaching document about the basic principles of ecology. [Carson] was drawing connections between the different layers that make up the environment… how the chemical sprays in the ground migrated into the trees. The book had layers—one layer was science, one was critique, and one was art—the art of protest. It was also very poetic—what do we cherish more than the sound of birds in the spring?And I thought the fusion of those things really appealed to me as a young woman, and guided what kinds of actions I would take in my life. “ — Severine von Tscharner-Fleming, farmer and founder of The Greenhorns.

How to Grow More Vegetables Than You Ever Thought Possible on Less Land Than You Can Imagine by John Jeavons. “My copy of this one is missing its cover and several of the front pages and the binding has been chewed up by a dog. I like that John explains a complete farming system that minimizes the use of commercial and outside inputs that will work nearly worldwide.  He even looks at the calories produced, and includes fruit trees, and compost growing areas as part of the garden design and process… I wanted to farm because it is good honest work and it provides something that people truly need.  John Jeavons is telling people all over the world how they can farm and produce the food they need with very few tools, little money and fertilizer, and using open-pollinated seeds.” — Brenton Johnson, Johnson’s Backyard Garden

The Contrary Farmer by Gene Lodgson. “I read The Contrary Farmer about eight years ago.  I think this book really helped me formulate the idea about what it meant to be a farmer.  Lodgson painted a beautiful, yet realistic picture of the farming lifestyle and the sacrifices a farmer must make.  It brought me to the conclusion that I could achieve this lifestyle for myself and my family.” — Jacqueline Smith, Green Dirt Farm.

Read the rest of the article and see which other Chelsea Green book made the list!

Winter Farming Conference Season Begins This Weekend in Massachusetts!

Friday, January 13th, 2012

One of the great things about a northeastern winter is the strong sense of community the harsh weather can inspire. A great way to feel that collective joy is to check out your local organic farming organization, and visit their winter conference!

You’ll get to hang out with small-farmers — a fun and down-to-earth crowd, sample delicious local foods, attend workshops by renowned experts, learn a thing or two to improve your farm, garden, or homestead, and browse a selection of Chelsea Green favorites at the bookstore table!

Many of our authors are attending winter conferences, from Vermont to Pennsylvania and as far west as Ohio. Here’s the current list of who will be where and when.

NOFA Massachusetts – January 14

Didi Emmons

Greg Marley

NOFA New York – January 20-22

Michael Phillips

Didi Emmons

NOFA New Jersey -  January 28-29

Shannon Hayes

Harvey Ussery

PASA Farming for the Future Conference  – February 1-4

Dave Jacke

Michael Phillips

NOFA Vermont -  February 10-12

Ross Conrad

Greg Marley

Didi Emmons

Grace Gershuny

Richard Wiswall

Sarah Flack

Ohio Ecological Food & Farm Association 33rd Annual Conference – February 18-19

Gene Logsdon

Woody Tasch

Connecticut NOFA – March 3

Jeffrey Smith

NOFA New Hampshire -  March 3

Didi Emmons

Grace Gershuny

Greg Marley

Michael Phillips

Photo: Billy Webb

Is GMO Labeling A He-Said, She-Said Debate?

Thursday, January 12th, 2012

There’s no question where Chelsea Green stands in this debate. We believe eaters have a right to know what they’re eating, and the right to choose what they believe is healthy — which includes avoiding GMOs if they agree with most of the organic foods community that these franken-foods are questionable at best. Foods containing GMOs should say so clearly on their labels because this isn’t trivial information. It’s important, and speaks volumes about where a food, or a “foodlike product” as Michael Pollan might call most of what’s in the grocery store, came from.

Recently, Forbes published this article by Michelle Maisto, a response to an earlier one by Henry Miller. Organic Consumers Association shared Miller’s article widely, and we wanted to share Maisto’s response.

Enjoy, and visit the original article to comment.

I was recently surprised to discover, along with other Forbes readers, that my fellow contributor Henry Miller had written an op-ed strongly disagreeing with an opinion I’d blogged about.

I’d written that I believe genetically modified (GM) foods should be labeled, so that consumers have a choice about whether or not, or how often, we’d like to eat them — just as we have a choice between organic or not. I didn’t delve into the matter of whether GM foods are safe, wanting to keep to the topic of labeling, and for this reason I used surely some of the gentlest language ever employed when discussing Monsanto, the world’s largest provider of GM seeds and by far the biggest muscle behind the movement preventing the labeling of GM foods. (In its fiscal year 2011, it muscled in nearly $12 billion in net sales.)

While I blog from the point of view of being a mom making choices for my family, Miller writes under his credentials as an academic and former scientist. So I was surprised he’d bothered to respond to my post, and surprised, too, that even with the help of cowriter Gregory Conko his logic was muddied to the point of making Monsanto seem a modern-day Gregor Mendel and me a “radical food activist.” (A label, to be honest, I rather enjoyed — it’s a nice balance to being called “Doris Day” by The New York Times.)

I was less surprised, however, once I realized that at least one Monsanto executive sits on the board of the Hoover Institution, where Miller is a Fellow. Though since Miller was the founding director of the FDA office dedicated to GM issues, where he was known for his speedy approvals, surely he’s acquainted with a number of Monsanto folks.

My surprise abated, too, as I discovered the long list of topics on which Miller and I disagree. He, for example, believes restrictions on the use of the chemical BPA in things like baby bottles and plastic containers are nonsense, that DDT should make a comeback, and that people who suggest caution regarding the pesticide Alar, synthetic chemicals and even leaky breast implants are “fear profiteers,” while I feel quite the opposite. He’s also been linked to a big-tobacco-funded assault on what he likes to call “junk science.” (Maybe Miller’s editorializing should come with a warning label.)

These differences aren’t reducible to mom vs. scientist, or even Left- vs. Right-leaning politics. GMOs are the cover story topic of this month’s issue of “The American Conservative,” in which Joel Salatin writes, “In 2010, some 67 scientific studies, from different parts of the world, impugned transgenic modification.”

One of Salatin’s central arguments is that, “A culture that views animals and plants as inanimate piles of protoplasmic structure to be manipulated … will view its citizens the same way. And other cultures the same way.”

I doubt I can write anything that might shift Mr. Miller’s opinions, which he’s certainly entitled to and has his reasons for. But since the premise of this blog is to share information with readers as I encounter it, following some recent reading, three of Miller’s assertions seem particularly worth addressing.

To start with a small one: Miller writes that the FDA “requires labeling only to indicate that a new food raises questions of safety, nutrition or proper usage.” But this doesn’t really hold up, since products throughout supermarkets are labeled as “organic,” “irradiated” or even “made from concentrate.”

Miller also calls the safety record of GMO foods “extraordinary,” writing that there hasn’t “been a single ecosystem disrupted or a single confirmed adverse reaction.” Which, of course, is ridiculous to say — short of being omnipresent, he can hardly be aware of all changes occurring in all ecosystems. Additionally, it’s just not true, as the beginnings of such changes are occurring.

In addition to GM crops being found growing in the wild, calling into question their potential long-term effects on wildlife in those ecosystems, genes from GM crops, as The Guardian reported in 2005, have “transferred into local wild plants, creating a form of herbicide-resistant ‘superweed’.” These superweeds — at least one of which, pigweed, can grow three inches in a day — are causing farmers to use even more herbicide (though Miller asserts that farmers planting GM seeds “spray millions fewer gallons of chemical pesticides”).

Fast Company reported that herbicide resistance has grown beyond what weed scientists have ever seen before and is leading to the development of alternative chemical solutions — one of which, an expert told The New York Times, is expected to be responsible for a “large-scale problem, affecting hundreds of thousands of trees, if not more.”

If you’re more interested in learning about what we here at Chelsea Green think about the issue, peruse our selection of books by Jeffrey Smith, including Seeds of Deception: Exposing Industry and Government Lies About the Safety of the Genetically Engineered Foods You’re Eating. You might also enjoy the documentary, The World According to Monsanto. And if you’re keen on getting into the green counter revolution yourself, check out our perennial best seller, Seed to Seed: Seed Saving and Growing Techniques for Vegetable Gardeners!

Chelsea Green Announces New Hires, New Plans for 2012

Wednesday, January 11th, 2012

Coming off a strong financial finish for the year, Vermont-based independent book publisher Chelsea Green today announced a series of new hires and strategic reorganization for 2012.

“We had a very strong finish to the year, with significant growth overall for both print and digital. We remain focused on the content, acquiring the very best books in our niche, but we’re also strategically experimenting with digital content and enhanced ebooks,” said Margo Baldwin, President and Publisher of Chelsea Green.

In 2011, Chelsea Green reorganized its in-house sales staff to focus its efforts on key markets — such as book trade, library, academic, corporate and special sales, and digital — rather than geographic territories. In 2012, Chelsea Green is returning to using independent commission groups to represent its books to the independent bookstores, where it has spearheaded an innovative branded area program with select stores.

In 2012, Chelsea Green expects to expand its digital book offerings and further enhance its online presence as an effort to further meet the needs of its readers and to help build a stronger sense of community around the company mission, its books, and authors.

To further its digital book development across multiple ebook platforms and to introduce enhanced ebooks for key titles, Chelsea Green hired Justin Nisbet, formerly of Workman Publishing, as its director of digital development.

To augment its communications and outreach strategy with its readers and its community, Shay Totten, a longtime journalist and former editorial director at Chelsea Green, has been named communications director.

Chelsea Green also hired Melissa Jacobson, formerly of Quirk Books, as its in-house book designer in order to better handle the demands — and costs — of ebook production.

In addition, Chelsea Green opened up an office in Burlington, VT, in late 2011. This office houses key communications, website, and author-events staff. Moving these functions to a new office was an effort by Chelsea Green to attract high-quality talent in a more urban setting, said Baldwin.

SALE: Bestsellers of 2011

Tuesday, January 10th, 2012

Welcome to a new year — full of opportunities to live more sustainably. In celebration of the new year we have put together a selection from some of our our bestsellers from 2011.

As we enter our 28th year, Chelsea Green continues 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. We’re putting the finishing touches on our 2012 books, including Local Dollars, Local Sense by Michael Shuman (due in March). Fermentation guru Sandor Katz has also completed a groundbreaking new book on the Art of Fermentation.
We’ll have more details about all of our exciting 2012 titles in our next e-newsletter.
Wishing you a wonderful 2012 from the folks at Chelsea Green Publishing.
P.S. Don’t forget, we offer free shipping on orders over $100.

The Small-Scale Poultry Flock: An All-Natural Approach to Raising Chickens and Other Fowl for Home and Market Growers

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The most comprehensive and definitive guide to date on raising all-natural poultry. For homesteaders or farmers seeking to close their loop, The Small-Scale Poultry Flock offers a practical and integrative model for working with chickens and other domestic fowl, based entirely on natural systems.

No other book on raising poultry takes an entirely whole-systems approach, or discusses producing homegrown feed and breeding in such detail—it is truly an invaluable and groundbreaking guide that will lead farmers and homesteaders into a new world of self-reliance and enjoyment.


The Winter Harvest Handbook: Year-Round Vegetable Production Using Deep-Organic Techniques and Unheated Greenhouses



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Choosing locally grown organic food is a sustainable living trend that’s taken hold throughout North America. Celebrated farming expert Eliot Coleman continues to lead the way, pushing the limits of the harvest season while working his world-renowned organic farm in Harborside, Maine.

Gardeners and farmers can use the innovative, highly successful methods Coleman describes in this comprehensive handbook to raise crops throughout the coldest of winters.


Wild Fermentation: The Flavor, Nutrition, and Craft of Live-Culture Foods

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Bread. Cheese. Wine. Beer. Coffee. Chocolate. Most people consume fermented foods and drinks every day. For thousands of years, humans have enjoyed the distinctive flavors and nutrition resulting from the transformative power of microscopic bacteria and fungi. Wild Fermentation: The Flavor, Nutrition, and Craft of Live-Culture Foods is the first cookbook to widely explore the culinary magic of fermentation.

 The flavors of fermentation are compelling and complex, and quite literally alive. This book takes readers on a whirlwind trip through the wide world of fermentation, providing readers with basic and delicious recipes—some familiar, others exotic—that are easy to make at home.


Reinventing Fire: Bold Business Solutions for the New Energy Era

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A global clean energy race has emerged with astounding speed. The ability to operate without fossil fuels will define winners and losers in business—and among nations.

Whether you care most about profits and jobs, national security, health, or environmental stewardship, Reinventing Fire charts a pragmatic course that makes sense and makes money. With clarity and mastery, Amory Lovins and Rocky Mountain Institute reveal astounding opportunities for enterprises to create the new energy era.


Seed to Seed: Seed Saving and Growing Techniques for Vegetable Gardeners

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Seed to Seed is a complete seed-saving guide that describes specific techniques for saving the seeds of 160 different vegetables, and is widely acknowledged as the best guide available for home gardeners to learn effective ways to produce and store seeds on a small scale.

This newly updated and greatly expanded second edition includes additional information about how to start each vegetable from seed, which has turned the book into a complete growing guide.



The Transition Companion: Making Your Community More Resilient in Uncertain Times

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In 2008, the best-selling The Transition Handbook suggested a model for a community-led response to peak oil and climate change. Since then, the Transition idea has gone viral across the globe, from Italian villages and Brazilian favelas to universities and London neighborhoods.

The Transition Companion picks up the story today, and tells inspiring tales of communitites working for a future where enterprise, creativity, and the building of resilience have become cornerstones of a new, localized economy.


Preserving Food Without Freezing or Canning: Traditional Techniques Using Salt, Oil, Sugar, Alcohol, Vinegar, Drying, Cold Storage, and Lactic Fermentation

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Typical books about preserving garden produce nearly always assume that modern kitchen gardeners will boil or freeze their vegetables and fruits. Yet here is a book that goes back to the future—celebrating traditional but little—known French techniques for storing and preserving edibles in ways that maximize flavor and nutrition.

Preserving Food Without Freezing or Canning offers more than 250 easy and enjoyable recipes featuring locally grown and minimally refined ingredients. It is an essential guide for those who seek healthy food for a healthy world


Sepp Holzer’s Permaculture: A Practical Guide to Small-Scale, Integrative Farming and Gardening

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In this book, Holzer shares the skill and knowledge acquired over his lifetime, covering every aspect of his farming methods—not just how to create a holistic system on the farm itself, but how to make a living from it. Holzer writes about everything from the overall concepts, down to the practical details.

Holzer offers a wealth of information for the gardener or alternative farmer, yet the book’s greatest value is the attitudes it teaches. He reveals the thinking processes based on principles found in nature that create his productive systems.

Thinking in Systems: A Primer

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Some of the biggest problems facing the world—war, hunger, poverty, and environmental degradation—are essentially system failures. They cannot be solved by fixing one piece in isolation from the others, because even seemingly minor details have enormous power to undermine the best efforts of too-narrow thinking.

In a world growing ever more complicated, crowded, and interdependent, Thinking in Systems helps readers avoid confusion and helplessness, the first step toward finding proactive and effective solutions.


 Some more 2011 Bestsellers on Sale:

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Slow Money Success Story: Slow Seafood in Maine

Tuesday, January 10th, 2012

Yet another exciting Slow Money Success Story, this time from a delicious, if chilly, source: the coast of Maine! This article originally appeared on

Slow Money can put seafood enterprises on the fast track, by Joanne Friedrick
With the goal of “bringing money back down to earth,” the Slow Money movement started in 2008 as a way to promote investments in local, sustainable food and farming enterprises.

Through a national organization and local chapters, investors are sought to support various projects, all of which are considered small food enterprises. Founder Woody Tasch, who has a background in philanthropic asset management, proposes that by slowing just a little money down, it creates a nurture capital industry that can sustain these small businesses.

Bonnie Rukin, coordinator for Slow Money Maine (SMM), says her group’s mission is focused on investing in Maine farms and fisheries. SMM has a network of 300 people, many of whom meet every other month in Augusta as well as annually in Belfast. The group includes those looking for financial backing for a project, as well as those who may want to finance a venture or support it in other ways, such as through food distribution or retail sales.

At each meeting, as well as at the national gathering for Slow Money, which occurred Oct. 12 to 14 in San Francisco, individuals or groups make presentations about their potential or ongoing project with the hope that they can attract investors or do some beneficial networking.

Nationally, there are 20 state or regional Slow Money groups, all seeking ways to support food and farming-related projects. Overall, Rukin notes, SMM has been growing, with a waiting list of presenters and a sold-out annual conference.

“We bring together the unusual suspects,” says Rukin, to give entrepreneurs as much opportunity as possible. Typically, she says, each presenter has eight minutes to talk about an enterprise, followed by several minutes of question-and-answer time.

While money is key to the success for most of these fledgling businesspeople, Rukin says they aren’t allowed to solicit funds. Rather, they make a presentation on their goals and hope it sparks an interest with someone in the audience.

Will Hopkins, executive director of the nonprofit Cobscook Bay Resource Center (CBRC) in Eastport, Maine, made his presentation to the SMM gathering in July, outlining plans for a shared-use commercial kitchen and marketing co-op where fishermen and farmers would create value-added products and sell scallops and produce.

“SMM isn’t a grant maker or a loan maker,” says Hopkins, “and we can’t ask them for money.” But shortly after Hopkins made his pitch, he received an email from RSF Social Finance, a San Francisco-based foundation, notifying him that an anonymous donor wanted to give the CBRC $15,000. A week after he signed a faxed form, Hopkins had the check in hand.

The money is being used toward the $465,000 total cost of a multi-phase project. So far, the exterior of the kitchen/co-op building has been completed and a contractor is working on the interior plumbing, electrical and heating systems.

By the end of 2012, Hopkins says his group plans to begin buying and selling scallops from Cobscook Bay fishermen. The bay, he notes, “is one of the last good scallop grounds here in Maine.” Maine fishermen have put catch limits on themselves, he says, to ensure the scallop fishery survives. And both Hopkins and the fishermen feel they have a unique product that warrants special attention.

“Until now, these scallops have been sold the same as those harvested by the big boats,” explains Hopkins. “But we feel we have been giving away our value, and we want to sell more directly to the consumer or high-end restaurants.”

Both fishermen and farmers will own the marketing co-op, says Hopkins. Initial plans call for working with six scallopers and six farmers. Although the scallop season is a short one — just December to March — it doesn’t make economic sense to have a facility that can’t be used year-round. So when the co-op isn’t focusing on scallops, the space will be used to process and market local produce, chicken and meat.

Part of the plan is to include a blast freezer and walk-in cooler than can accommodate both shellfish and other products, he says.

While the CBRC organizers did a lot of research and pilot projects before approaching SMM, Hopkins says the experience gained at SMM meetings has been beneficial.

“It’s a great networking opportunity,” he says. “People have introduced us to wholesalers and retailers who are interested in our day-boat scallops.” Additionally, he says, SMM has provided legal, financial and marketing expertise through its speakers and presenters.

Rukin says although fisherman are a small part of the SMM group, they are seeing more interest from that sector. At a breakout session at the annual meeting, she says, there was a table with four or five seafood people. “There is a lot of education and awareness building in that sector here in Maine,” she says, “and we are actively working to grow that.”

“With all the turmoil in the financial world, it makes sense to develop markets and investors closer to home,” says Hopkins.

Contributing Editor Joanne Friedrick lives in Portland, Maine

A Field Day with Gene Logsdon

Monday, January 9th, 2012

Reposted from the Rodale Institute.

Organic pioneer, farmer and author Gene Logsdon welcomes Susie Sutphin to his farm and talks about farming as art, 16” ears of corn, feeding the world, getting small and staying contrary.

By Susie Sutphin

In 1974, a book of poems came across Gene Logsdon’s desk  while he was working for the Farm Journal in Philadelphia. He read four poems and closed the book. He got up from his desk and marched straight into his editor’s office and said, “I’m going on a trip.”

“Where?” replied his editor.

“To interview Wendell Berry!”

The two have been good friends ever since. They are kindred, agrarian spirits. In Gene’s living room is a shelf of Wendell’s books. Below is a shelf of Gene’s books. “We have a friendly competition going,” says Gene with a smile.

I can relate to Gene’s affinity for Wendell’s writing. After reading an essay by Gene Logsdon in the book “The New Agrarianism,” I knew I wanted to meet Gene. In no way, can I compare to his and Wendell’s literary excellence nor their years of dedication to a pastoral life but Gene’s writing struck a chord with my food system aspirations and I knew I had to meet him. And that wish came true last fall.

Gene is one of farming’s most prolific writers with over 25 books, countless essays and now a thriving blog, The Contrary Farmer. In 1975, he moved with his family from Philadelphia back to his home of Upper Sandusky, Ohio and purchased a small 22-acre farm. As a longtime lover of art, Gene’s farm became his canvas. And like an artist, he would use his landscape to experiment with growing techniques and farming designs that mimicked nature’s biological processes. He wrote about his practical experience sharing his wisdom and pastoral philosophy with others. His writing had a symbiotic relationship with the farm just like the interdependent relationships observed in nature between plants and soil, livestock and grass, etc. One feeds the other.

We chatted fireside for over three hours. The rain drizzled outside and there were concerns of a first frost and the impact it may have on a small test plot of maturing, field corn. We talked about his long-ago plans to have a raspberry business, his love for paintings by Andrew Wyeth, and his neighbors (most of whom are conventional growers with scheduled chemical applications and monocultures but who are also his friends). He and his neighbors have a mutual respect for the each other. They have all been at it a long time and are good at what they do. We talked about crop rotations, tillage, pest management and his passion for pasture farming. He bred lamb for years. In 2008, he mated his ewes for the last time. The 15 lucky gals who remain will live out their lives and assist Gene in his life’s work, studying the benefits of his rotational grazing techniques.

We spoke at length about how to get big ag interested in being more sustainable. For a long time I’ve wanted to believe that conventional farmers were just hog-tied to a system -caught in a viscous cycle with government subsidies and Monsanto contracts. Otherwise, I felt they were stewards of the land and saw the destruction their farming practices had and would change if given the financial incentive. Quite the contrary Gene says, “Most think they are helping to feed the world.”

My idealism was set back by this fundamental difference. But as the afternoon progressed, I started to understand Gene’s approach to this question. It’s not so much about transitioning to organic certified as it is about transitioning away from industrial agriculture. But how do we get there? Storming the castle with pitchforks and torches is not an effective form of persuasion. Nor is pushing a hard line of organics on conventional growers. But if we can get larger farms to downsize into small and mid-sized farms, we could break the current commercial model. Smaller farms can adopt sustainable farming practices more easily than larger ones because they can accommodate biodiversity better, thus requiring fewer outside inputs to control pests and weeds. Food will not have to travel as far because the farms will be supporting a local economy as part of a more, regional, food system.

Gene offers a great suggestion in his blog post Small Farms Create More Jobs. Here’s the skinny: Many of the big-daddy corn producers have anywhere between 4,000 and 6,000 acres. It takes only one farmer and one to two ranch-hands to farm these mega-farms because of the gigantic equipment available today. What if just a fraction of the 90 million acres of corn fields nationwide (and remember we are just talking corn–this doesn’t include other commodity and specialty crops) were broken down into smaller 150- to 300-acre family farms? Each could employ two to four people and their families. Many farmers are getting older. They may not have next of kin to take over the farm or their children may not want to continue farming. The opportunity awaits these families. But we have to reach them before Monsanto or a developer does and prove the economic benefits for them, the immediate future of their communities and future of their grandchildren.

We looked at the time and it was after 4:30 pm. I was honored Gene had taken so much time to speak with me. Before I left, there was one last thing on my list: a farm tour. The two-acre vegetable garden and orchard provided an edible, front-yard landscape. Behind the house, a short path lead through the forest to the barns and pasture. How lovely to have this contemplative stroll each day under the canopy of a mature woodland. As we emerged on the other side, I could see the sheep sunning themselves in the field. The clouds had broken providing a temporary thaw to the otherwise chilly, fall air. Underfoot, you could feel the structural health of the grass, hummocky from years of succession. We picked at different threads of green poking out of the field discussing the variety of the mix available to the sheep. One of the farm cats, Flash, joined us for the whole tour, rubbing up against my pant leg whenever we stopped. We looked out over the eight pastures he uses to rotate the sheep–techinically seven because one will be returned to a forest. (Forests are the subject of his new book, Sanctuary of Trees, due out this year.)

We found our way to the small test plot of open-pollinated corn (aka field corn). He had been telling me about the 16” ears he was finding in the crop. We sifted through the stalks first finding a 12”-, then a 14”- and finally a 16”-long ear of corn. Gene thinks it may be the longest ear of field corn he has ever heard of. For the past 35 years, he’s been selecting seeds from the biggest ears each harvest saving them and planting them the next year. That is dedication and thoughtfulness. It gave me pause to realize that, more than ever, I was in the presence of a great man and a great farmer. He will mill the crop for cornmeal and for supplementing the otherwise natural diet of the sheep and chickens.

We sank back into the woods connecting the pastures to the house. At the entrance to the backyard, two deep, rubber bins were buried in the ground up to their lids. “Outdoor root cellars right?” I guessed.

“Yes, exactly! We keep potatoes in them,” replied Gene.

“I love simple ideas like that,” I commented.

“Not enough money in simple ideas,” said Gene.

It was subtle but profound. Conventional agriculture is far from simple, but it is where it is today because industrialization is considered profitable and the way to make money. Ironically, it’s the simple ideas that are going to bring equity back into our food system.

Susie Sutphin is studying sustainable food systems and captures her findings and experiences on her blog, She lives in Truckee, CA and is working to shape a more regional food system for the Reno/Tahoe area.

Pluck ‘em!

Friday, January 6th, 2012

With all the doom and gloom about the future of the book industry, it can feel like book sellers and publishers are being led, like lambs — or chickens — to the slaughter.

Which gave us an idea here at Chelsea Green: Pluck ‘em!

Why limit ourselves to publishing books about sustainability and regeneration and small-scale farming? Why not diversify our holdings? Spread our wings, so to speak.

Our idea is a combined mobile poultry processor and bookmobile. Wait, I can explain.

Sure this move could ruffle some feathers in the book-publishing world (or leave us with egg on our face), but that’s part of Chelsea Green’s mission and joie de vivre.

The inspiration for our mobile bookstore and poultry plucker was inspired by a notice issued today from the Vermont Agency of Agriculture. It turns out the state is looking to offload its successful “mobile poultry processing unit.”

Their press release read:

Calling all Vermont meat producers and processors! The Vermont Agency of Agriculture Mobile Poultry Processing Unit is currently available for purchase. The mobile unit, which was the first of its kind for farmers to process poultry under state inspection right on the farm, has been a huge success in developing Vermont’s poultry industry. With the market for locally produced poultry and rabbit continuing to rise, this piece of infrastructure offers a great business opportunity.

( …)

The mobile unit has a daily processing capacity of 250 chickens or 100 turkeys, with two operators. It can be docked either at farms or at fairgrounds across the state.

The mobile unit is currently listed for sale at There will be an open house on Wednesday, January 11, 2012 from 1 to 4 p.m. at the north end of the Waterbury State Complex parking lot.  To RSVP for the open house, please contact Chelsea Bardot Lewis at 802-828-3360 or [email protected]   The bidding process closes at 6:00 p.m. on January 13, 2012.

What better way to put into practice what we preach? By bringing fresh, local meat from small-scale farmers directly to market we’d put more money into the pockets of local farmers and growers rather than giant agri-business; we’d also help put a chicken in every pot.

The attached bookmobile would allow farmers and their guests to browse some of our inspiring food and farming titles – like Harvey Ussery’s The Small-Scale Poultry Flock: An All-Natural Approach to Raising Chickens and Other Fowl for Home and Market Growers — while we process the poultry. Or whatever small farm animal is on the menu.

I can see the slogan now: “We Chop, While You Shop.”

The History and Natural Magic of Fermentation

Friday, January 6th, 2012

The Field Trip podcast takes a tour through the world of pickles, meeting a couple of masters of the tangy arts. They talk to Sandor Ellix Katz, who muses on the long and delicious history of our relationship to ferments. That section starts around 16:58, and is well worth a listen!

He answers questions like: What does it smell like in your kitchen right now?

And: How do you know that the sauerkraut you’ve been fermenting at room temperature on your kitchen counter for weeks won’t kill you?

The answer to that one is striking. According to Sandor there has never been a recorded case of food poisoning from fermented vegetables. Which means that fermented vegetables are far safer than raw ones, as several of the most devastating recent outbreaks of food-borne illness have come rolling down the produce aisle — not from the slaughterhouse as you might have suspected.

We’re definitely fermentation lovers around here, and we’re happy to be Sandor’s publisher! Later this spring we’ll be bringing his newest book, The Art of Fermentation: An In-Depth Exploration of Essential Concepts and Processes from Around the World, to hungry readers everywhere. Check it out! We bet you’ll be as excited to get a copy as we are to publish this new fermentation bible!

Gordon Edgar’s Favorite New Cheeses of 2011

Thursday, January 5th, 2012

Reposted from SF Weekly, author Gordon Edgar sheds some light on his favorite new cheeses of the past year!

By this point in his career, Gordon Edgar, head cheese-buyer at Rainbow Grocery and author of Cheesemonger: A Life on the Wedge, knows a good cheese when he sees one. “The most exciting thing I found this year,” he says, “was Avalanche Cheese Company in Paonia, Colo., which I’d never heard of before 2011.”

“They make goat cheeses exclusively,” he continues, “and two of their cheeses are the best versions of those types of cheeses that I’ve tried. One is a traditional, bandaged-wrapped goat cheddar, which not many people have attempted to make. Their version has big flavor, sharp like you’d expect, then really grassy, earthy, and complex. On the other end of the spectrum is their Lamborn Bloomers, an Italian robiola-like cheese normally made with cow’s milk. Avalanche’s is incredibly oozy — especially for a goat cheese — and buttery. ”

“On the local front,” Edgar says, “Franklin Peluso, a third-generation cheesemaker who makes teleme — for years, you couldn’t go to a Bay Area Italian deli without finding teleme — is now making a washed-rind teleme that just came to the market this week. It’s more like a taleggio. Whereas teleme is really mild and milky-sour, this washed-rind is stinky, intense, and rich and creamy.”

Needless to say, all three cheeses can be found in Rainbow.

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