Moving Toward Self-Sufficiency: The Urban Farm Handbook

You need not live in an urban area for the Urban Farm Handbook to be useful to you. I admit that I did find myself briefly missing Berkeley’s lovely year-round growing season and generous sunshine as I read about the author’s endeavors in the Pacific Northwest, but then I remembered the price of real estate in the Bay Area and how I never could fully adjust to the reality of earthquakes and the feeling (mostly) passed.

The book features excellent hands-on, detailed instructions for how to do things like grind your own grains, raise chickens and goats, make your own cheese, yogurt, kefir and more, start or join a buying club with friends and neighbors to buy in bulk directly from local farmers, start and maintain your own bee colony, establish a year-round garden, slaughter your own animals, make your own soap, salves and lotion, and build a community of like-minded people doing the same stuff to support you in it. Read more

Cooking with Your Kids

As a little girl, I loved sitting on the kitchen counter while my mom cooked. While I kicked my feet against the cabinets, she taught me how to peel an onion efficiently and how to crack an egg and use my index fingers to get all the white out before tossing the shells into the compost bin. And I still vividly recall the excitement I felt over the beautiful, golden, sesame seed-studded  loaves of braided challah we baked in my second grade class at the Woodstock Children’s Center–they were like some kind of miracle. Childhood is such an important, impressionable time of life when the vast majority of our lifelong habits are formed, or at least pointed in the direction in which they’ll head. That’s why my husband and I want to introduce our son, Will, to growing and cooking food alongside us. Read more

Sap Is Rising: Adventures in Maple Sugaring

Lately, we’ve been having cold (below freezing) nights and warm (above freezing) days–the exact conditions needed for maple sugaring. The change in temperature is what makes the sap rise and spill out of taps into waiting buckets. I’ve wanted to try maple sugaring ever since I was a little girl marveling at the metal spiles and buckets that decorated the huge maples along our road in upstate New York in early spring. Everything about the process whispered “magic” to me. The small metal taps, the grand old trees, the buckets that appeared mysteriously over night, and most of all, the special “water” that dripped from the stiles and plink, plink, plink-ed into the buckets. This is the stuff Tuck Everlasting is made of. Read more

Talking Poultry, Raising Backyard Birds In Berkeley

Our North Berkeley neighborhood is a haven for chicken fanciers. I’ve counted at least six coops within a three-block radius of our house! And we’re fortunate enough to live right next to one of them. Our lovely back neighbors, Fran and Chip, have three young hens in their backyard. In addition to entertaining Will, who now says “buck, buck” and heads for the back door whenever we say “chicken”, we also receive delicious eggs with brilliant orange yolks from the girls next door. Read more

Greening Your Kitchen: Forget Free-Range, Buy Pasture-Raised Eggs From a Local Farm

A reader recently asked me if I could expand the post I did last year on “choosing the right milk” to include eggs, another food for which there a lot of confusing buying options. Although there are more details below, the short answer is that you should look for eggs that are “pasture-raised” from a farm near you. Pasture-raised is pretty much what it sounds like — they are eggs laid by hens that are raised with open access to pasture where they can scratch, peck, bask in the sun, eat and run around to their hearts content.

Unfortunately, “organic”, “cage-free”, and “free-range” classifications/certifications do not guarantee that the birds are fed a natural diet or that they live the life of a normal chicken, complete with keeping their beaks (egg-laying hens raised in factory farms routinely have their beaks cut off–a truly horrible practice that is done to prevent them from hurting each other in their extremely close living quarters), having enough room not just to turn around but also to run around in, as well as unlimited access to the real outdoors and all the sunlight, yummy grass, and nutritious bugs they desire. Read more

The Art of Canning: A How-To

Even though supermarkets have made canning and preserving unnecessary, there is still something wonderfully fulfilling about preserving food yourself (and the results are MUCH tastier than anything you can buy in a grocery store.)

When my husband’s grandmother, Marcia, a great cook and remarkable woman who I loved, passed away a few years ago, I inherited her preserving cookbook, Putting Food By.

I treasure this worn book, not because the recipes are anything special, but because it is speckled by years of use and it includes her notes. Marcia kept a detailed record of everything she “put by” in its blank end pages. Read more

Farm City: Gardening In The Ghetto

If you liked Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, my guess is that you will love Novella Carpenter’s new book, Farm City: The Education of An Urban Farmer. I found it to be both grittier and funnier than Kingsolver’s book and even easier to read.

The book chronicles Carpenter’s somewhat unintentional experience of creating a “squat garden” in the vacant lot next to her apartment building in Ghosttown, which is what she and the other residents call their rundown neighborhood located near downtown Oakland. Read more

Slow Food For Fast People: An Interview With Amanda West, Creator of Amanda’s Feel Good Fresh Food

Fast food is the ultimate American invention — cheap meals for people on the go. But we’ve paid a heavy price for our national addiction — an epidemic of obesity, the destruction of our fragile environment, and the loss of community ties that are maintained by taking the time to prepare and eat food together.

Despite these negatives, the need for quick affordable food is undeniable in today’s world. But why on earth are McDonalds and its competitors our only option? Every single time I get hungry on the road, in an airport, or at a shopping mall I wish someone would open a healthy fast food restaurant… and it turns out the wait is finally over. Amanda’s Feel Good Fresh Food restaurant opened it’s doors for business in Berkeley at the end of July 2008. Read more