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Backyard Roots

By Lori Eanes, Skipstone Books, $21.95

Book review by N. R. Mallery

Backyard Roots is a collection of stories about people who farm on what small pieces of land they have available in crowded, mostly urban, areas. They all live in West Coast areas of the United States or Canada, but the lessons they have are for all of us who garden.

The thirty-five people or groups whose stories are told all have started and run micro-homesteads, and so they have a lot in common. They are very different in other ways from one to another, however. They farm for different reasons, some to get the best organic food they can, others to have available supplies of the vegetables of their distant homelands. They are of different ages from quite young to very old. They farm using different methods, some simple, and some very high-tech. But they share a common thread of micro-homesteading.

The things they do are sometimes surprising. While just about every one of them raises vegetables, many have livestock of one type or another. Some keep bees, and some keep chickens or even ducks. There are fish farmers raising tilapia in urban aquaponics systems. There are urban goats. Somehow the idea of operating a dairy farm in a city puts me into a contemplative mood.

There are discussions of different farming methods. Composting is discussed, both for methods of dealing with waste and to provide fertilizer. Water is another issue of importance, and collecting rain water in the urban environment is covered.

The organization of farms is as varied as the products. Many of these people work alone or with their families. Others have community organizations, and some of these work with greenhouses or recovered lots that had previously only grown weeds and collected trash. One has a rooftop garden and a community kitchen.

In addition to the stories, Backyard Roots has a large number of tips for those who might want to have urban farms. Some of these are simple suggestions or observations on how best to do things, but others go into details about some very specific issues. For example, suppose a person wants to raise poultry in an urban setting, but zoning or city ordinances forbid it. The book addresses the questions of what things can be done and how to do them.

Backyard Roots is a book I could not put down. Not only does it have value to anyone who might want to run a micro-homestead, it is just plain fun to read. Clearly, I recommend it highly.

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