Archive for January, 2013


Young Farmers: Back to the Land and Down to Business

Thursday, January 17th, 2013

A New Wave of Savvy Young Farmers Plows Ahead 

New farmers are filling a small-scale niche long abandoned by industrial agriculture. As Rebecca Thistlethwaite says in the first chapter of her new book Farms with a Future, mid-sized farms are the hardest to maintain.

The USDA Census from 2007 says as much — farms earning between $10,000 and $100,000 per year disappeared in droves, while farms earning less than $10,000 cropped up like chickweed after a spring rain. As production is scaled up, stresses on the farmland and the farmer increase, but profit doesn’t necessarily keep pace. Regulations are often more stringent for larger farms, such as Vermont’s laws about selling raw milk which reduce the pressure on the smallest producers but require mid-sized ones to do expensive testing and reporting.

But a sense of place is the true spirit of local food, and these days small and even tiny farms are starting up all across the country, feeding their communities fresh food, grown organically, and creating fun lifestyles for the entrepreneurial folks who started them. Perhaps more than any previous wave of back-to-the-landers, small farmers today are approaching their missions with a desire to do it right and make a lasting, positive impact. With inspiration (and funding) from the Slow Money movement, and from farmers like Richard Wiswall (another Chelsea Green author), newcomers to the field are proceeding with caution to match their passion and harnessing the tried-and-true methods of sound business to create a resilient and sustainable food system.

New farmers are doing market research before they start digging, and writing business plans before they go out and buy a bunch of peeping chicks. Sustainable farmers like the ones FarmPlate profiles on their blog are looking for unmet needs in the local foodshed, and developing high-value that both make a tidy profit and increase the vitality of the local food culture. At the 5000 plus new farmers markets that have opened in the first dozen years of this century you’ll find the unique fruits of their labors: specialty ferments like sauerkraut or kombucha in wild new flavor combinations, artisan farmstead cheeses, heirloom vegetable varieties long thought forgotten, grains grown and ground by hand, and heritage breeds of beef, poultry, and eggs.

Here at Chelsea Green we have a dedicated interest in the growth of this movement. We’ve built our own business model on the strength of the growing desire for living more in concert with nature, eschewing fossil fuels, and coming to a deeper understanding of ecosystems and how they sustain us. We’ve seen that desire grow over the past thirty years, and while we’re pretty sure Monsanto and Exxon Mobil aren’t going away anytime soon, we know the values embodied in sustainable agriculture are a palpable alternative to the trainwreck pattern of development humanity has been pursuing over the past century and a half.

Nowhere is it more obvious that a shift is happening than in the realm of small farms and local food, and the new wave of farmers is taking the overused concept of sustainability farther than ever. By working with livestock and composting systems to restore the health of the soil, and often using horses instead of diesel-powered tractors these farmers are going back to the future (or Yak to the Future, as one Vermont company puts it). They’re putting small but important elements in place to build diverse and strong food systems by fostering strong relationships with their communities. Even the efforts farmers are making to protect their own financial and emotional sustainability by thinking carefully, doing good old-fashioned market research, and developing flexible and ambitious business plans is pushing the envelope and expanding the meaning of sustainability.

Looking Back at a Record Year — Best-Sellers of 2012

Wednesday, January 16th, 2013

The year 2012 was one of major milestones at Chelsea Green: We took a significant step toward securing our long-term resiliency by becoming employee-owned, landed our fourth book (in less than 10 years) on The New York Times Bestseller List, and we set a new, all-time sales record.

To celebrate, this week we’re featuring our 2012 best-sellers. Some, like Gaia’s Garden, are perennial favorites, and some, like The Art of Fermentation, are brand new hits.

All our titles, are available for a 35% discount through January 31st, as part of our extended holiday sale. Just use the promotional code: CGFL12 when you check out.

We look forward to bringing you more inspiring tools and resources in 2013 as new crops of books arrive. Available soon will be Paradise Lot by Eric Toensmeier and Jonathan Bates, and Rebuilding the Foodshed by Phillip Ackerman-Leist. We’ll have more details about all of our exciting 2013 titles in upcoming e-newsletters.

In case you missed them at the end of the year, check out the recently-released Organic Seed Grower by John Navazio, and Farms with a Future by Rebecca Thistlethwaite. Both promise to be must-haves for the seed grower or fledgling farmer.

Happy reading from the folks at Chelsea Green Publishing!

P.S. Don’t forget, free shipping on orders over $100.*

The Art of Fermentation: An In-Depth Exploration of Essential Concepts and Processes from Around the World

Retail Price: $39.95Discount Price: $25.97

The Art of Fermentation is, quite simply, the most comprehensive guide to do-it-yourself home fermentation ever published. And it single-handedly drove our annual sales through the roof, even spending a couple of weeks on the New York Times Bestseller List. Who knew sauerkraut was such a rock star!

Sandor Katz presents the concepts and processes behind fermentation in ways that are simple enough to guide a reader through their first experience making sauerkraut or yogurt, and in-depth enough to provide experienced practitioners with deeper understanding of their ferments. Also available as part of a book/DVD set.

Try a sample recipe for fermented “Roots” Beer…

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Gaia’s Garden: A Guide to Home-Scale Permaculture, Second Edition

Retail Price: $29.95 Discount Price: $19.47

The first edition of Gaia’s Garden sparked the imagination of America’s home gardeners, introducing permaculture’s central message: working with nature instead of against her results in more beautiful, abundant, and forgiving gardens.

This extensively revised and expanded second edition broadens the reach and depth of the permaculture approach for urban and suburban growers.

 

Read an excerpt: Building an Apple-Centered Guild…

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

Retail Price: $24.95 Discount Price: $16.22

Seed to Seed is widely acknowledged as the best guide available for home gardeners to learn effective ways to produce and store seeds on a small scale.

The book contains detailed information about each vegetable, including its means of pollination, required population size, isolation distance, techniques for hand-pollination, and proper methods for harvesting, drying, cleaning, and storing the seeds.

Browse the Table of Contents…

 

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Reinventing Fire: Bold Business Solutions for the New Energy Era

Retail Price: $34.95Discount Price: $22.72

In Reinventing Fire, Amory Lovins and Rocky Mountain Institute offer a new vision to revitalize business models, end-run Washington gridlock, and win the clean energy race—not forced by public policy but led by business for enduring profit.

Grounded in 30 years’ practical experience, this ground-breaking, peer-reviewed analysis includes market-based solutions for transportation, buildings, industry, and electricity.

Reinventing Fire was named ForeWord Reviews’s Book of the Year in Business and Economics.

Watch Amory Lovins’ TED Talk on Reinventing Fire

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

Retail Price: $29.95Discount Price: $19.47

From Eliot Coleman, the bestselling author of The New Organic Grower and Four-Season Harvest, comes an in-depth guide to year-round production of fresh, organic vegetables—with little or no energy inputs.

In The Winter Harvest Handbook, Coleman offers information on greenhouse construction and maintenance, planting schedules, crop management, harvesting practices, and even marketing ideas in this complete, fully-illustrated guide. Want to learn even more from the master? Check out the Eliot Coleman Set.

Browse the entire book online

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Local Dollars, Local Sense: How to Shift Your Money from Wall Street to Main Street and Achieve Real Prosperity

Retail Price: $17.95Discount Price: $11.67

In Local Dollars, Local Sense, Michael Shuman shows small-scale investors how to put their money into building local businesses and resilient regional economies—and profit in the process.

Shuman demystifies the growing realm of local investment choices—from institutional lending to investment clubs and networks, local investment funds, community ownership, direct public offerings, local stock exchanges, crowdfunding, and more. This book is part of the Community Resilience Guides series, a partnership with the Post Carbon Institute.

Read an Excerpt: Investing in Yourself…

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The Seed Underground: A Growing Revolution to Save Food

Retail Price: $17.95Discount Price: $11.67

With a quiet urgency The Seed Underground reminds us that while our health, food security, and sovereignty are at stake as seeds disappear to industrial agriculture’s homogenization, so, too, are the stories, heritage, and history that pass between people as seeds are passed from hand to hand.

From rural Maine to Oregon’s Palouse, Janisse Ray introduces readers to dozens of seed savers. Through this compelling book, meet the eccentric sociology professor she dubs “Tomato Man”, Maine farmer Will Bonsall, the “Noah” of seed saving, and many others.

The Seed Underground was named one of Booklist’s Top Ten Gardening and Crafts Books of 2012!

Read the Introduction…

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More New and Noteworthy Titles On Sale

Nose-to-Tail Cooking: 4 Offal Recipes from Long Way on a Little

Monday, January 14th, 2013

Reposted from Mother Earth News.

“Every earth-conscious home cook who wishes to nourish his or her family with sustainable, local, grassfed and pastured meats should be able to, regardless of income,” argues Shannon Hayes, radical homesteader and author of Long Way on a Little. The core reference for any home cook, Long Way on a Little examines the conundrum of maintaining a healthy, affordable and ecologically conscious meat-based diet, while simultaneously paying America’s small sustainable farmers a fair price for their food. In this excerpt from chapter 9, “Heads, Tails and Other Under-Appreciated Treasures,” learn about nose-to-tail cooking and how offal, such as chicken livers, lamb’s heads and oxtails, are packed with essential nutrients and often contribute the best flavor to home cooking. Then try some delicious offal recipes.

“Heads, Tails and other Under-Appreciated Treasures,” is a foray into what most Americans consider the grisly side of prudent meat consumption. I, too, fell into this camp, balking at the very idea of cooking a pig’s head or skewering a chicken’s heart. The thought of tackling this chapter, frankly, filled me with dread. Having written it, I’ve come through the fog, and the recipes included are some of my family’s favorites. While heads, tails and organ meats do not represent as much waste from an animal as the bones and fat, their concentration of minerals and fat-soluble vitamins makes discarding them a huge waste of nutritional value. And, handled properly, they are fantastic.

Long Way on a Little represents the single greatest learning curve I’ve climbed in my understanding of grassfed meats and how to most thoroughly use them. It represents four years of studying cookbooks from the Great Depression and World War II eras, of experimenting in the kitchen, of writing and rewriting until I could outline a new cuisine for my family that minimizes our waste and maximizes our nutrition and our enjoyment. I hope you will find it useful in your own kitchen, and that you will join me in what has now become a permanent learning path, of perpetually exploring how we can use our food choices to heal the planet and change the course of history in this country, and how, ultimately, each of us can find the delicious trail to going a long way on a little.

Offal Recipes

I’ll admit it: I did not look forward to researching and writing this chapter of the book. Organ meats, heads, feet and other such odious (in my opinion) cuts were an over-glorified salvation effort—the affected cuisine of die-hard nutritional fanatics, stoic old-world hausfraus or pretentious epicureans. According to my own eco-sensibilities, if a person chose to forsake the organ meats, but made full use of the bones and fat of the beasts that gave their lives for our wellbeing, well, that was ample thrift to earn the omnivore’s atonement. As far as I was concerned, the kidneys, livers and hearts could go to the dogs, the heads and feet to the compost or the renderer. I have just enough customer demand for oxtails to equal our supply, so I rarely ate those, either (though they never repelled me as hearts and heads did).

KEEP READING: http://www.motherearthnews.com/real-food/offal-recipes-ze0z1301zwar.aspx#ixzz2Hc2ztj6K

Recipe: Squash Ravioli

Friday, January 11th, 2013

The following is an excerpt from In Late Winter We Ate Pears: A Year of Hunger and Love by Deirdre Heekin and Caleb Barber. It has been adapted for the Web.

Tortelli di Zucca

Squash Ravioli

Around the elegant northern city of Mantova these ravioli are called Tortelli alla Mantovana, “in the style of Mantova.” Of course, in Mantova itself they are simply referred to as Tortelli di Zucca, “squash Tortelli.” A Tortello is a 2-inch-square raviolo, also called a Cappellaccio in some regions. They are not difficult to make and they are worth all the time and effort.

In addition to the ingredients listed below, you will need either a pasta-rolling machine (not to be confused with a pasta-making machine) or (proficiency with) a rolling pin; as much open counter space as possible; a pastry brush; and a little water. Keep in mind: Measure the flour carefully, better to have pasta dough that requires regular dustings of flour as you work it than to have an impossibly stiff dough. And once you begin to roll out the dough you must work without interruption to avoid handling complications. Serves 4.

  • 4 eggs
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour, plus extra for dusting the dough
  • 1 can (12 ounces) plain pumpkin
  • 1/4 cup crushed amaretti cookies
  • 1/4 cup plain bread crumbs
  • 1/2 cup ricotta
  • Salt and pepper
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons butter
  • Freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

In a large bowl mix together the eggs and 3 cups flour until you can compress the mixture into one shaggy mass with your hands. Wrap this crude dough in plastic and set it aside while you prepare the filling

In a large bowl, mix together the pumpkin, cookies, bread crumbs, ricotta, and salt and pepper until well blended. Taste and correct seasoning as needed. Set filling aside while you roll out the pasta.

Cut off a piece of dough the size of a grapefruit. Set the pasta machine at its widest setting. Use a rolling pin to roll out the dough until it is just thin enough to put through the rollers of the pasta machine. Put the dough through the machine again but at the next setting down. Continue to put the pasta through the machine, each time on successively thinner settings— dusting with a little flour as necessary to keep the dough from sticking to everything in sight, except itself—until you have rolled it through the machine on the thinnest setting.

On a lightly floured work surface, lay out the sheet of pasta and cut it in half. Set aside one half. Lightly brush the remaining half sheet of dough with water. Place filling by the tablespoonful at 2-inch intervals in 2 rows down the length of the dough. Beginning at one end, carefully lay the setaside sheet of dough over this piece, pressing it into place down the middle as you slowly lay it down to cover the dots of filling. Once in place use your hands to align and press the edges of the dough together, and to press between the dots of filling. (You must be sure to get good contact so that the ravioli don’t open up when boiled.) When the dough sheets are pressed together around the filling, you are ready to cut the ravioli apart. Slice once lengthwise between the two rows and then cut crosswise between dots to free up each raviolo. Set the ravioli on a clean dishtowel where they won’t be disturbed, making sure they do not touch one another. Repeat the procedure, beginning with a grapefruit-sized hunk, with the remainder of the dough until the filling is used up. (Any leftover dough can be stored or rolled and cut into another shape for use on its own.)

Fill a bowl large enough to hold the tortelli with hot water and set aside to warm.

Bring a large pot of well-salted water to a boil. Put about 10 or 12 ravioli in the boiling water and cook for 8 minutes. While they cook, gently melt the butter in a sauté pan. Empty and dry the warmed mixing bowl and transfer the melted butter to it. After about 8 minutes lift out a tortello with a slotted spoon and test one corner: it must be tender to the bite, not al dente. When tender, use the slotted spoon to remove the cooked tortelli and very carefully turn them in the melted butter. Once all the tortelli are buttered, serve immediately with a separate bowl of grated parmigiano alongside.

Why I’m On A Hunger Strike — Diane Wilson

Thursday, January 10th, 2013

Diane Wilson is a long time environmental activist, the author of Diary of an Eco-Outlaw, and An Unreasonable Woman, and an injured worker advocate in the Texas Gulf Coast. She is presently on a hunger strike to stop Valero from investing in the Canada tar sands. She forwarded us this letter last week…

Workers! Demand Valero divest from tar sands. The life you save may just be your own.

I’m a fourth generation fisherwoman from the Texas Gulf Coast. For forty years I have made a living on a shrimp boat plying the Gulf Coast waters, but for the past twenty-five years, I have fought a long and difficult battle with industry to preserve the health and wellbeing of our Texas bays and marine life for our children and our children’s children.

Today I am involved in one of my most difficult challenges. I am on the 35th day of a hunger strike that I began to convince Valero to divest from Canada’s tar sands.

Many stakeholders have been pulled into this fight that is so colossal and mind boggling that it can almost be called biblical and not be an exaggeration. The indigenous tribes of the First Nation in Canada, land owners, cities’ water supplies, communities surrounding the refineries, and the very planet that we call home are all being threatened by the extraction of tar sands and the XL pipeline that is snaking its way from Alberta, Canada to the Gulf Coast of Texas.

Workers in the refinery don’t get mentioned much and that’s pretty surprising given that workers are ground zero for exposure from the refining of tar sands.

When a refinery uses a bitumen blend from Canada’s tar sands, it is using a raw material that contains large quantities of sulfur. This means U.S. refineries using tar sands generally produce more intense sulfur dioxide air pollution that is, today, not adequately regulated. The result is heightened health risks not only to communities living near tar sands refineries, but also to the workers inside.

In fact, workers are the most direct line for sulfur dioxide poisoning.

A few statistics from publicly available sources indicate that, in general, tar sands refineries spew more sulfur dioxide pollution per barrel produced than refineries that do not use tar sands. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), short- term exposure to elevated sulfur dioxide levels is associated with reduced lung function, chest tightness, wheezing, shortness of breath, respiratory illness, deterioration of the lung’s defense systems, and the aggravation of cardiovascular systems.

In addition, a refinery’s processing of tar sands leaves a toxic cocktail of 20 by-products (often at 1,000 times above the safe limit) that include the cancer-causing chemicals benzene, toluene, and hydrogen sulfide.

Now I know what some workers are going to say when they read this. I know because I’ve asked them and they say, “Smells like money to me!” or “Not me! I’m healthy! ” Or “That’s why I have two life insurance policies.”

Then stuff happens.

The experts say 870,000 workers get sick and 55,000-60,000 die each year in the United States from an occupational disease. Then the experts add the caveat that these numbers are undoubtedly underestimates. How much of an underestimate? Well, as much as 69 percent of illnesses and injuries never make it to the Bureau of Labor statistics. And the vast majority of workers with an occupational illness never receive any benefits from workers compensation.

Ask any injured worker who’s developed an illness brought on by exposure to a chemical and he can recite a litany of reasons why help never comes.

Work related illnesses are difficult to identify, especially those with long periods between exposure and illness. Part of the problem is simply an absence of data on the health effects of hazardous exposures. Absolutely nothing is known about potential toxicity for more than 85percent of chemicals in use in industry. In addition, routine training on known hazards and their effects is lacking. The average doctor receives 4 hours or less of training in occupational medicine in a 4 year medical school curriculum.

But the major reason is Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) reliance on employers self-reporting. Employers have strong incentives for underreporting illnesses or not at all. Businesses with few illnesses on the job are least likely to receive inspections from OSHA, they have lower worker compensation insurance premiums, and they have a better chance of winning government contracts.

There are other reasons. Employers and Worker compensations Insurers have major incentives to deny a connection between a workplace exposure and disease. Every occupational disease that is not recognized saves them money by socializing the cost on to someone else, mostly injured workers, their families, and taxpayers.

Workers themselves may not want to suggest their health problem is work related, fearing they might lose their job or suffer retribution from an employer angered by a Workers Compensation claim. Workers report widespread harassment and intimidation when they report an injury or illness. Reports, testimonies, and new accounts show that many employers fire or discipline workers who report injuries or illnesses or complain about a safety problem. Other employers add demerits to a workers record for reportable illnesses or injuries or absenteeism that resulted from an alleged safety violation.

This is all just to say: Workers! Demand Valero divest from tar sands. The life you save may just be your own.

NEW! Gift Sets for Gardeners and Eco-Foodies

Wednesday, January 9th, 2013

Several classic Chelsea Green books are now available as convenient sets at discounted prices. By combining books that are commonly purchased together, we make it easier and more affordable to add these valuable titles to your library, or give them as gifts.

In addition to putting their expertise down on paper in our books, several of our authors have also produced instructional DVDs, and we are now offering book/DVD sets for a complete educational experience.

The Eliot Coleman Set: If you love the joys of eating home-garden vegetables but always thought those joys had to stop at the end of summer, this set of three books by master organic farmer Eliot Coleman is for you. Includes The New Organic Grower, Four-Season Harvest, and The Winter Harvest Handbook, all for just $51.90 .

The Preserving the Harvest Set: If you’re a dedicated gardener you probably know about hot-water-bath canning and pickling, but there are many other ways to preserve the bounty of your harvest so it will last the whole year. This set combines Preserving Food without Freezing or Canning (a classic book on simple methods of food preservation), with The Resilient Gardener, a new book on gardening that includes some innovative preservation methods. Set price: $35.72

The Sandor Katz Fermentation Set: This set combines Sandor Ellix Katz’s two classic books on fermentation with a DVD of one of his popular fermentation workshops. Last year’s The Art of Fermentation was a runaway hit, reaching the New York Times Bestseller list and helping Chelsea Green to record sales. It’s the most comprehensive guide to fermentation ever published, and complements Katz’s earlier book Wild Fermentation (which is much more like a typical cookbook) nicely. This set also includes a DVD of one of Katz’s popular fermentation workshops, in which he discusses the cultural implications of fermentation, and guides you step-by-step through a few easy ferments. Price for the set: $64.94

COMING SOON! Top Bar Beekeeping Set: This book + DVD set combines the new book Top-Bar Beekeeping by Les Crowder and Heather Harrell, with an instructional DVD on how to use top-bar hives, which require more care than box hives, but produce more valuable beeswax while keeping bees healthy. With top-bar hives the bees naturally construct their own wax combs rather than relying on prefabricated frames of plastic cell foundation in a typical box-type hive. And top-bar hives are now being used to raise healthy bees organically, without the use of antibiotics, miticides, or other chemical inputs. Set price: $34.95

Perennial Vegetables Set: Imagine growing vegetables that require just about the same amount of care as perennial flowers and shrubs, need no annual tilling or planting, yet thrive and produce abundant and nutritious crops throughout the season.

Get the best information on growing these easy and interesting crops from Eric Toensmeier’s award-winning book Perennial Vegetables, and tour his own lush forest garden in the new DVD, Perennial Vegetable Gardening with Eric Toensmeier. Set Price:$59.95

COMING SOON! Natural Beekeeping Set: Today’s beekeepers face unprecedented challenges, a fact that is now front-page news with the spread of “colony collapse disorder.” Newly introduced pests like varroa and tracheal mites have made chemical treatment of hives standard practice, but pest resistance is building, which in turn creates demand for new and even more toxic chemicals. In fact, there is evidence that chemical treatments are making matters worse.

It’s time for a new approach. In this set, which includes the new, full-color, Natural Beekeping, Revised and Expanded Edition, and a DVD workshop, Ross Conrad brings together the best “do no harm” strategies for keeping honeybees healthy and productive, all of which are covered in a thoughtful, matter-of-fact way. Set price: $54.95

Holiday Sale Extended Through January 31st

Tuesday, January 8th, 2013

The holidays may be over, but our holiday sale has been extended through January 31, 2013!

That means you can still save 35% on any purchase from chelseagreen.com by using the discount code CGFL12 when you checkout.

This sale is a great time to stock your library. If you’ve had your eye on our runaway hit, New York Times Bestseller The Art of Fermentation, now is a great time to grab it. Or if you’ve been tempted to pick up some some gardening classics like Eliot Coleman’s The Winter Harvest Handbook or Carol Deppe’s The Resilient Gardener, or books to help improve your small farm like Richard Wiswall’s The Organic Farmer’s Business Handbook, or Joel Salatin’s Pastured Poultry Profits — this sale is a great chance to get them for a low price. Be sure to check out our new book/DVD sets as well. This is a nice time to snap them up for a great price.

Books like the two-volume series Edible Forest Gardens are usually $75 apiece and $150 as a set. With the 35% discount they would only cost you $48.75 each, or $97.50 for the set. That’s a great deal for some of the best resources available on cultivating forests of food using natural methods!

The recently released Natural Building Companion is another great deal. Part of a new series from Yestermorrow Design-Build School, the book includes information on almost any natural building technique you can imagine, from straw bale to cob, and much more, plus a DVD to help you learn. Normally $59.95 amount, during the sale you can get The Natural Building Companion for just $38.97.

Likewise, Passive Solar Architecture, a comprehensive book on building to utilize the readily available power of the sun to both heat and cool your home. The book normally costs $85.00 but during our sale you can get it for just $55.25.

If you’re a small farmer interested in producing your own seeds, check out our new book, The Organic Seed Grower by John Navazio. Funded partially by a USDA SARE grant, this beautiful and easy-to-use book is a guide to producing seed organically, including botanical information, planting distances, how to harvest, prepare, and store seed, and so much more. The book’s full price is $49.95, sale price $32.47.

These books are particularly nice to get during our sale, but the discount code applies to every book in our catalog, except for any that are already on sale. Remember to use the code CGFL12 when you checkout, and happy shopping!

Save 25% on Desert or Paradise

Monday, January 7th, 2013

Sepp Holzer was doing permaculture before he even knew what permaculture was. He started playing around in his mother’s garden as a little boy, learning how nature functioned and what helped plants thrive. When permaculture practitioners visited Holzer’s homestead, they were astonished to find the theories they learned from Bill Mollison and David Holmgren applied to beautiful effect — and in a steep, northern, high-altitude (read: really harsh) climate.

Since then, Holzer has been recognized as one of the premier permaculturists on the planet, and has consulted on landscaping projects around the world. Especially important to the success of Holzer’s landscapes is his use of ponds and terraces to manage water, especially in semi-arid climates. His latest book, Desert or Paradise, focuses on these water control methods.  This week only you can get it for 25% off.

In the excerpt below, read about Holzer’s understanding of how water affects a landscape, and his attitude toward nature.

“My most important rule is to put myself in the position of the other. I imagine that I am the tree…the same goes for the pig, the earthworm, the ladybird, the nasturtium or the sunflower and of course the other human being. Would I feel good in their place? If the answer is ‘yes’, I am doing everything right. If the answer is ‘no’, I have to find out what is wrong. When I am lacking sun or shade, when I realize my feet are in the water or that my movements are limited I have to change things. All beings need to feel good and then they function at their best. I need to remember that, and so do you.”

Desert or Paradise is full of case studies from Holzer’s work around the world, especially in the Mediterranean region, which suffers from rampant desertification after millenia of agricultural overuse (and a few especially bad centuries of industrial fertilizers and pesticides).

If you’re interested in learning from Holzer himself, check out his upcoming US workshops, here. He will be holding three multi-day intensives on agroecology in Loma Mar, California from March 21-25; Bozeman, Montana from March 27-31; and Duluth, Minnesota April 6-10.

Reading Nature: An Excerpt from Desert or Paradise

Project: How to Make an Axe

Friday, January 4th, 2013

When it comes to useful DIY projects, I’m sure most of you don’t think, “Gee, I think I’d like to make myself a hatchet today.”

But with some scrap steel, a hacksaw, a file, a drill, a bonfire, a bucket of water and an oven, you can make this simple, hardy, “democratic” axe.

Don’t believe it? Read on!

The following project on how to make a quality broad axe is from A Handmade Life: In Search of Simplicity by William Coperthwaite.

When love and skill work together, expect a masterpiece.
—John Ruskin

It is hard to find a good broad hatchet—a small, broad axe with a wide cutting edge beveled on only one side, like a chisel; this special bevel makes it easier to hew to a line.

After forty years of hunting in antiques shops and flea markets, I have found only two broad hatchets that passed muster. To friends who sought one of their own, the outlook was discouraging. They could get one made—if they happened to know a good blacksmith, if they had a good design, and if they could afford the price.

Or you could forge one yourself, but by the time you had learned to make a fine one, you would have become a blacksmith yourself. This is an elite tool.

In Japan, in the Tosa region of the island of Shikoku, I was surprised by the number of blacksmiths. Each village had its smith, and all could make excellent edge tools. It was delightful to see the grace and skill of those smiths. I became friends with one who made a broad hatchet to my specifications. Twenty years went by, and in the interim I had studied many axes and was blending what I had learned into my ideal of a broad hatchet.

A few years ago I carved a pine model and sent it off to my blacksmith friend in Shikoku. Yes, he would make it for me. Two years passed and it did not appear. I assumed the project was forgotten.

While visiting Italy, I came upon an elderly smith who had made axes years ago. I carved another pattern, and he forged the axe. Now, these are far from democratic tools. To get one you first have to design it and then know a smith in Japan or Italy or wherever who can—and is willing to—make an axe from your design.

It was doubtful that the axe from Japan would materialize, and the Italian smith was very old and sick and would probably not make another. A good broad hatchet for students and friends who wanted one was as elusive as ever. And though this axe adventure was exciting, and I had acquired some fine ones, we badly needed to have some inexpensive ones available.

While studying in Switzerland the breakthrough came. The tiny fellow who lives upstairs above my right ear (and works mostly at night) shouted “Eureka!” He presented me with a full-blown design for a democratic axe.

I could hardly wait to get back to my bench. For steel there was an ancient plow point of about the right thickness lying behind the barn. Into the bonfire it went and when glowing red, we heaped ashes over it and let it remain until morning, cooling slowly and releasing its hardness. Next day I reheated and hammered it flat using a handy ledge for an anvil. When it cooled, I drew the pattern on it. Three hours of work at the vise was needed to cut it to shape with a hacksaw and another hour to dress it with files.

For us amateurs in axe making, there are two major difficulties. One of these is forging the eye of the axe—the hole into which the handle is inserted in a conventional axe. This democratic design eliminates the eye. The other difficulty is tempering, or bringing the steel to the correct hardness. Smiths have long been respected for their skill at this magical process of tempering steel, which requires good judgment and much experience to be able to do dependably.

After a good deal of pondering, experimenting, and reading all that I could find on tempering, some of the mystery began to fade. Before tempering, the steel must be hardened by being brought to red heat and then plunged in water. Then it seemed that tempering was merely a matter of temperature control. So we put the axe in an oven set at 475°F for half an hour and let it cool slowly. This worked!

Now, you smiths may object, reminding us that a tool like an axe that gets a blow needs to be soft in the eye to resist breaking. To this charge I plead nolo contendere. However, a broad hatchet is made with a short handle for use on a block, and such hatchets do not undergo the same severity of blows.

For the first time, we now have a democratic axe—an axe that most anyone who wants one can have. (You say you never knew you needed an axe, and I say, very well. Even so, here we have another example of one more democratic tool, which will make design of the next one a little easier, whatever its purpose.)

This experience with the broad hatchet is important for me on several levels. First it has been a exciting adventure all along the way, from learning to appreciate the variations in different forms of such a basic tool, to designing my own which others made, to ultimately making my own. Another level of the adventure is to be able to help others make their own hand axes and in the process gain the confidence that comes from making a tool. This process demonstrates how we can have adventure in a variety of ways: designing, working with the hands, and working with the mind as we carry the concept of democratic things further.

Another value this experience has had for me is the breaking of mental and social barriers, which we need to be able to do if we are to solve our problems and create a decent society that works for all people.

At times the outlook appears very dark. It would seem our problems are insurmountable. As with this little hand axe, I was quite sure that I would never make my own. And yet, without consciously focusing on the problem directly, unconscious forces were at work and discovered a solution. This gives me hope that if we can continue searching and caring and supporting one another—we may be able to find the solution to even our worst problems.

P.S. The broad hatchet from Shikoku finally arrived. It is a veritable gem. Actually, two came—a left- and a righthanded one—polished to a mirror finish and gently wrapped in small white towels.

To Make an Axe:

  1. Trace the pattern on the next page on annealed (temperable) steel, 5/16-thick.
  2. Cut out the axe head with a hacksaw.
  3. Smooth all edges with a file, and file the bevel to make the cutting edge. (For a right-hander, the bevel should be on the right, for a lefty on the left.)
  4. Drill two rivet holes.
  5. The face should be slightly hollowed, like a shallow gouge. To do this, carve a hollow (6 inches long and 1/4 inch deep) in a chopping block. Heat the axe head until it is glowing red, then hammer it into the hollow with the bevel side up.
  6. To harden the steel, heat it to glowing red and plunge it immediately into cold water.
  7. To temper the steel, put the axe head in an oven at 475°F for about twenty minutes and allow to cool slowly.
  8. Carve a handle of hardwood in the form shown in the photograph and rivet it to the axe head. You can customize the handle’s curve and weight to your own preferences.

If one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.
—Henry David Thoreau

How to Spot a Farm with a Future – Grist Interviews Rebecca Thistlethwaite

Thursday, January 3rd, 2013

If you follow the farming blog Honest Meat, you already know who Rebecca Thistlethwaite is. Thistlethwaite and her husband have traveled the country visiting farms and documenting their travels on Honest Meat. They once were farmers themselves, but decided to stop for a while to do some on-the-ground research to answer the most important question they knew: what makes a farm truly sustainable? 

Thistlethwaite’s brand new book, Farms with a Future, poses many answers to that question, gleaned from successful, innovative small farmers around the nation.

Recently, Grist.org interviewed Rebecca about her farming journey, the challenges farmers face, and the lessons she learned while traveling and writing Farms with a Future. Read an excerpt from the interview below, and the entire interview here.

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By Twilight Greenaway

A few years ago, Rebecca Thistlethwaite and her husband were working 80 hours a week running a large pastured meat and egg operation called TLC Ranch on rented land. The couple had spent six years barely making ends meet. They wanted to buy their own ranch, but the cost of land in Monterey County, Calif., was astronomical. Getting their meat processed presented several challenges (as it does for many small producers) and many of their loyal customers were cutting back on local and ethically produced food after the economic downturn. So, the couple decided to sell the farm and throw in the towel. Kind of.

In October of 2010, Thistlethwaite wrote on her blog Honest Meat:

… we are off to live in an RV for the next couple years, volunteer on farms and ranches around the country that we admire and hope to learn from, write a little blog about our adventure, and have some fun too.

And that’s exactly what they did. The result of this adventure is Thistlethwaite’s new book, Farms with a Future: Creating and Growing a Sustainable Farm Business. As she sees it, the book is a “practical, accessible guide that doesn’t sugarcoat the challenges of farming, but gives people some good ideas.” It’s chock full of concrete suggestions based on Thistlethwaite’s year of research and observation, the kind of book you write precisely because you need just such a guide yourself but can’t find it anywhere. And it will probably help a lot of young farmers. It might also dissuade some from jumping headfirst into a business that is not for the faint of heart — but Thistlethwaite is fine with that.

We spoke with Thistlethwaite recently about the book, the journey, and the farm she hopes to start next.

farms_future_cover

Q. Do you want to talk a little about why you and your husband chose to sell your ranch?

A. We decided to take a break because we felt like the conditions under which we were operating were just not conducive to running a successful farm. We were paying some of the highest land rent in the country. And we were leasing land, so we really never knew what was going to happen the following year. We were also living in an area with a lot of crime. We had animals and equipment stolen; that made it really hard to run a business.

We didn’t want to quit farming, but we wanted to change where and how we were going to do it. So we thought we’d learn about how other farming operations around the country were doing it, how they are grafting together sustainable business models that meet their quality-of-life goals while being good for the earth and economically viable. It was a way to get inspired and learn. And it was a much-needed vacation!

We visited and interviewed about 19 farms total. And I think 14 of them ended up in our book.

Q. And where did you end up after the trip?

A. Now we’re located in the Columbia River Gorge on the Washington side.

Q. Do you want to speak about the challenge you and the farmers you visited face when it comes to conveying the value of sustainably produced food?

A. With the contraction of the economy, consumers are actually looking for more than cheap food. They’re looking for something that is affordable, but also embodies their other values — whether it be environmental values, social values, or the value of supporting their local economy.

So even if you’re a wholesale farmer, I think it’s really important to get your brand and your values across to your eventual customers. To just be an anonymous farmer producing an anonymous commodity doesn’t give you a chance to let your customers know who you are and what your story is. Telling that story and getting it all the way to the end user is really important. And you will be rewarded if it’s done right.

Keep reading over at Grist…

Photo Credit: Jen Jones


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