Friday, September 14, 2007

my empire of dirt

The following article and video are from the most recent issue of New York Magazine. A Brooklyn family man takes his 800-square foot backyard and makes it his soul source of food for one month. He spends his whole summer (march-August) making his home and yard into the smallest farm in New York City. It is fabulous, frustrating and inspiring. He’s doing exactly what the book I’m currently writing is trying to help persuade people to do (only, more fun and less crazy… he’s trying to accomplish in one summer what I want to accomplish in ten years) The entire several-page article talks about his experiences with planting, rabbits, chickens and other things I myself have grown pretty familiar with. With the “localvore” movement building, it’s a really fascinating read. You can read a blurb below and follow the rest via the link at the end.

"A farm essentially is... Dirt. Death. Sex."
-Manny Howard, The Farm Project

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At 6:40 a.m. on August 8, the tornado hit my house in Brooklyn. Most people viewed it as a snow day in summer, a meteorological oddity. Not me. After a sleepless night listening to the wind and the rain intensify, I watched the sky turn green, then heard the hemlock tree in the yard next door split in two, clip the gutter on the third floor of my house, and bounce off the roof of what used to be our garage and had come to be known as “the barn.” As the wind torqued up even further, the limb of an oak torpedoed the most productive quarter of my vegetable garden, smothering a thicket of tomatoes, snapping the fig tree, pulverizing the collard greens, burying the callaloo, and splintering the roof of my main chicken coop.

That’s right, my chicken coop, which happens to be in my tiny backyard farm—800 square feet of arable land.

A tornado hadn’t struck Brooklyn since 1889, when Flatbush was farmland; this one laid waste to the lonely little farm that I had planted in my backyard and that, within days, I planned to rely on as my sole source of food for an entire month.

I started my farm, hereafter referred to as The Farm, in March, with my eye on August as the month I’d eat what I had grown. It was, in original conception, equal parts naïve stunt and extreme test of the idea that drives the burgeoning “locavore” movement. According to this ethos, we should all eat food produced locally, within 100 miles—some say 30—of where we live, so as to save our planet and redeem our Twinkie-gorged souls. Now that the “organic” label has rapidly become as ubiquitous and essentially meaningless as the old “all-natural,” the locavores have established a more sacred code, one meant to soothe our anxieties about what goes into the food we eat.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

perfection

When you bake your own bread, churn your own butter and get eggs fresh from your own chickens you will discover that French toast has hit a new plateau you had never dreamed of. Surely if you visit you will try this. Unless you’re one of those people who prefers pancakes or omelets or some other lesser breakfast eatable. Which I will also make for you- but will do so silently judging.

Monday, September 10, 2007

farm update

dogs
People ask me if I have any pets and I answer something like “Oh yeah, I have chickens and a hive of bees and some rabbits” and I completely brush over the dogs. Not because they’re forgettable but because Jazz and Annie aren’t pets. They are Roommates. They aren’t some creepy stand-ins for children, sub human buddies, or something I dress up for kicks, they’re just “Jazz and Annie”. I come home from work, dump my bag by the coat rack and start telling them about how crappy or dreamy things are at the moment. So I feel weird calling anyone I talk to regulary a "pet" This morning before work and after our walk Annie and I sat on the couch and watched an episode of Gilmore Girls with really really strong coffee; jadeite in my right hand and scratching her head with the other. Warm under a wool blanket. It was nice.

chickens
Okay. If reincarnation exists I want to come back as a rural vegetarian’s chicken. They live in such ways you and I could never dream. They spend their days laying in the sunshine or chasing grasshoppers around the lawn. They have a nonstop buffet provided for them. They are on no particular schedule, and have no real threats. And if the ladies want to sleep in while William patrols, they do. I’ve gone outside and met William in the driveway, said morning, and walked around to the coop only to find all the other girls still nestled together on the roost asleep. Probably dreaming about what all women dream about (Oprah and unicorn rides). Yes, these are happy birds.

bees
The bees are in push time. Thanks to my shoddy landscaping there is a wild array of non-mowed wildflowers and weeds producing pollen and nectar. I'm really hoping they keep up the good work, because they are the underdogs of the farm. They practically were goners when they lost their queen, then they were nearly overtaken by yellow jackets, and after that the drought made water supply at the creek almost non-existent. But they are still keeping on, and they might just make it through the winter yet. We’ll keep rooting for the home team, and this winter I’ll keep shoveling them out. I am a very exciting young person.

rabbits
I’ve learned that rabbits are a love/hate relationship. Generally, I like them. They are quiet, pretty and eat very little. Like everything else that lives here they require minimal attention. But they stink. I clean out their cages every three days and they stink. I come back from the rabbit hutches and the dogs go retarded convinced somewhere on my person is a delicious meal. Anyway, the Angoras and the Lop (named Fumiko after a friends’ grandmother) are hearty guys. I’ve now sheered the angoras three times and sold most of it online at Etsy. There’s a big market for pure angora (Angora goats don’t offer angora, they offer mohair) I’m a very very very small part of that market but it’s still nice to know that they pay for their own food and supplies and I get to hang out with a rabbit in my lap on occasion. Which at campfires is nice.

wildlife
So we’ve got a coyote named August, which you know about if you’ve been reading dogcoffin. He's doing well and patrolling daily in the back fields. But there’s also a Doe and her fawn that have taken up residence near the house. I named them Gwen and Oscar. Sometimes I’ll be doing dishes and catch a glance of Oscar running by the kitchen window and then Gwen will step over the chickens slowly and saunter by behind him. I like those two, they liven up the place. No moose have moved in from the bogs yet but I hope to see some cow/calf pairs by October. There’s a big coven of ravens that live in the aspens and a mated set of bald eagles too. And then there was this weird Saturday morning when I looked outside the front window and saw a turkey hen and her chicks (turks?) waddling along the driveway.

gardens
I have to go out and cover everything now because night temps drop into the 30s. So last night I was outside coving the gardens with 4mil plastic in an attempt to keep my lettuce and broccoli kicking into November if I can. So far, so good. Eggplants are coming in late, so are the peppers but I have high hopes. Tomatoes, they will slaughter the kitchen soon.

That's pretty much it. This is the home stretch till the first snow. Then everything shuts down and all i do is cook, bake, bitch about fall being over and play music. Which I enjoy doing, every one.