Sunday, April 11, 2010

My Empire of Dirt

I came across an interview with Manny Howard, author or "My Empire of Dirt", in and was intrigued to know more. In brief, Howard was given the assignment to: Transform your Brooklyn backyard into a farm. Live off the food produced by the farm for one month by New York Magazine in 2007. He was essentially- to follow the locavore movement.

Howard is not the first person to do this. Two, come to the top of my mind... 1. the Dervaes Family in Pasadena a la Urban Homestead who live, grow, and sell produce they raise in their yards and 2. the wonderful Barbara Kingsolver, author of "Animal Vegetable Miracle", who uprooted her family from drought ridden Arizona and moved to Virgina, because they "wanted to live in a place that could feed us: where rain falls, crops grow, and drinking water bubbles right up out of the ground".

1 Four tons of the good earth delivered to the driveway.
2 The spiderhole, five and a half feet deep and counting.
Building the two-story rabbit hutch. 4 The Farm nears its harvest.
A breeding pair of twenty-pound Flemish Giant rabbits.
(Photos: Amy Eckert, Eric Slater, Manny Howard)

What's different about Howard's situation is that he is in a proper city and has a smaller lot (20 by 40 feet) in which he had to work with in order to achieve this goal- and he was doing this all by himself. In the process he lost 29 pounds, survived a tornado, and managed to chop off his pinky. From toxic soil (tests initally showed it was very high in lead and sans any nutrients) to raising rabbits and living off his land. Ah what a journey!

"... I did learn something about food: Unless you really know what you’re doing, raising it is miserable, soul-crushing work. Eating food fresh from the farm, on the other hand, is delightful.

Few, if any, serious locavores would see my experience as having much to do with what they advocate: eating regionally and seasonally in order to save the planet. But I now better understand what will be needed to back up the slogans. Eating local is expensive and time-consuming, which is why this consumerist movement will not easily trickle down into mass society. It requires a willful abstinence from convenience and plenty, a core promise of the modern world. Our bountiful era is predicated on the division of labor: We don’t sew our own clothes, we don’t build our own houses—and we certainly don’t farm—because we’re too busy doing whatever it is we do for everyone else."

Well put. In the end, Philip Seymour Hoffman’s production company bought the rights to make his story into a movie. Movie or not I am sure it was a great experience and one we can all learn from.

The interview can be found HERE and the original New York Mag article can be found HERE (it's on the long side, but if you only read one please read this one). Very inspiring!

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