Certified Organic Production

A Transition Guide to Certified Organic Crop Management, by Margaret F. Huelsman. 2008. Organic Food and Farming Education and Research Program (OFFER), part of the Ohio agricultural Research and Development Center (OARDC), Ohio State University. 74 pp.This manual walks the transitioning organic farmer through each of the major sections of the USDA National Organic Program (NOP) rules, providing a wealth of information and resources to assist the farmer in meeting each requirement. It covers organic approaches to crop, soil, nutrient, weed, pest, and disease management, with more in-depth treatment of cover crops, composting, biological pest controls, non-chemical integrated weed management, and record keeping required by the NOP.


Crop Rotation on Organic Farms: a Planning Manual, edited by Charles L. Mohler and Sue Ellen Johnson. 2009. USDA Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE, http://www.sare.org), and Natural Resource, Agriculture, and Engineering Service (NRAES). 156 pp.Based on input from over a dozen expert farmers in the Northeast, this manual provides a framework within which a producer can develop a crop rotation for her/his climate, soils, crop mix, prevailing pests and diseases, equipment resources, and market needs. Extensive tables give research based information on benefits and drawbacks of specific crop sequences.Managing Cover Crops Profitably, 3rd edition. 2009. USDA Sustainable Agriculture research and Education (SARE, http://www.sare.org), Handbook No. 9. 244 pp.

Cover crops play a vital role in sustainable cropping systems, and this SARE manual belongs in every farmer’s library. It provides a wealth of information on cover crops, their benefits, and their use and management in row crops, vegetables, and other horticultural crops. Chapters include cover cropping for soil fertility and tilth, pest and weed management; crop rotation; conservation tillage (both organic and conventional systems); a set of charts giving excellent guidance on selection, planting, and management; and in-depth information on about 20 individual crops.

How to Grow More Vegetables (and fruits, nuts, berries, grains, and other crops) than you ever thought possible on less land than you can imagine, 7th edition, by John Jeavons with a foreword by Alice Waters. 2006. Ten speed press, Berkeley, CA. 268 pp. Available through Ecology Action, http://www.growbiointensive.org.
This is the latest edition of the complete manual on the Biointensive Minifarming method of sustainable and organic horticulture, originally brought to this country under the moniker “biodynamic French-intensive,” and further developed by John Jeavons to maximize on-farm sourcing of organic matter and fertility. Packed with good basic horticultural information as well as Jeavons’ systems for developing a deep, living soil profile that supports high yield intensive production. NOTE: some of the more disease prone crops (e.g., tomato) may not perform optimally in our humid climate at the close plant spacings recommended in this manual.

Four Season Harvest – By Eliot Coleman

The BackYard Berry Book – Stella Otto

Food Systems, Food Choices, Locavores

(Reviews by Linda Davis and Mark Schonbeck)

Groundwork, by Gordon Stillman. 2011. 100 pp. $60
Sustainably and locally grown food is increasingly featured on dinner tables and restaurant menus throughout Virginia. The benefits of food grown with such care run from taste and nutrition to the bigger impacts of farming: using sustainable practices lessens a farm’s negative impact on surrounding ecosystems.

But growing sustainable food is usually more labor intensive than conventional agriculture, and farmers can face economic challenges with growing and distributing food locally. Meanwhile, community members who purchase sustainably grown food at grocery stores, farmers markets, and restaurants––or grow their own in community gardens––adjust their budgets and relationships with food to make it feasible year-round.

In Groundwork, photographer Gordon Stillman traces the growth of sustainable agriculture in central Virginia. The 100-page book features photographs of the people who are laying the groundwork of a new food economy in the region––small farms, local markets, restaurants, community gardens, and the families who grow, buy, and eat local. The book is available for purchase here.

The Omnivore’s Dilemma, by Michael Pollan. 2006. Penguin Press, New York, NY. 450 pp. $26.95
This popular volume, which swept through sustainable ag and “foodie” circles during the first couple years after its publication, opens with a discussion of ecological, health, and ethical considerations in choosing our diet from among the myriad foods and “food-like substances” available for consumption in our society. Pollan takes the reader through the “natural history” of four meals: a typical fast food meal; a meal based on ingredients grown by “big organic;” a locally-derived meal featuring Joel Salatin’s Polyface Farm; and a locavore meal that the author grew, hunted, and gathered at or near his home in California. Caution: reading this book can permanently ruin your appetite for processed foods containing soybean oil or high-fructose corn syrup.

In Defense of Food: an Eater’s Manifesto, by Michael Pollan. 2008. Penguin Press, New York, NY. 244 pp. $21.95.This book boils down the lessons of Pollan’s earlier book, The Omnivore’s Dilemma into a seven word mantra: eat food, not too much, mostly plants, backed by an engaging and fast-reading development of this basic theme. It provides an effective antidote to the endless calorie counting, popular fat- and carbo-phobias, and bewildering array of conflicting “research results” on benefits and dangers of different foods or nutrients: put together a delicious meal from real food ingredients, and enjoy better health.

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, by Barbara Kingsolver, with Steven Hopp and Camille Kingsolver. 2007. Harper Collins Publishers, New York, NY. 370 pp. $26.95.
Renowned novelist Barbara Kinsolver turns her writing talents to an engaging description of her family’s move from the deserts of Tucson, AZ to southwest Virginia, and their subsequent year-long challenge of deriving their entire diet from within a 100 mile radius of their new home. Month by month, beginning in March, Barbara takes the reader through the family’s adventures growing much of their own food and obtaining the rest locally, and weaving into the story reflections on the natural and cultural history of the plants and animals that feed us. In sidebars, Steve provides succinct analyses of food systems issues, and Camille ends each chapter with locavore recipes she developed during that year.

Coming Home to Eat: the Pleasures and Politics of Local Foods, by Gary Paul Nabhan. 2002. W. W. Norton & Company, New York, NY. 330 pp. $24.95.
Inspired by a visit to his original homeland in Lebanon, where many people still grow much of their own food and save seeds of locally adapted crop varieties, Nabhan returned to his current home in southern Arizona committed to undertaking a locavore year based on what he could grow or obtain from within a 250 mile radius. The region’s harsh, dry climate forced him to delve into the area’s time-honored food traditions, learning from both Native American and European American farmers, foragers, and hunters how to feed himself from this land.

This Organic Life: Confessions of a Suburban Homesteader, by Joan Gussaw. 2001. Chelsea Green Publishing Company, White River Junction, VT. 273 pp. $16.95.
Nutritionist Joan Gussaw, her artist husband Alan, and their son Seth began growing much of their own food on a half-acre suburban lot outside of New York City in the 1970s, using the Biointensive Minifarming method, then moved to an even smaller place on the Hudson River in 1992 to do the same. This book offers an engaging account of their adventures, successes, and challenges homesteading on the Hudson, interspersed with recipes, quotes from Joan’s journal, and reflections on larger food system issues.

The Compassionate Carnivore, by Catherine Friend. 2008. Da Capo Press, http://www.dacapopress.com. 291 pp. $24.00
Are you tired of hearing ethical vegans, or your own conscience, haranguing you for eating meat, fish, poultry or eggs, while your type-O blood or other omnivore genes cry out for at least occasional tastes of animal protein? Then this book is for you.
Candidly and without judgment, Ms. Friend spells out what it means to eat the flesh of living animals. As a livestock farmer and meat eater, she tells it all like it is, seeking neither to induce nor assuage guilt in her omnivore audience. She gives a fairly graphic account of factory animal farming, and offers lots of practical information on how to choose better alternatives that ameliorate the ecological, social, and animal-wellbeing impacts of consuming meat.

Closing the Food Gap: Resetting the Table in the Land of Plenty, by Mark Wynne. 2008. Beacon Press, Boston, MA, http://www.beacon.org. 199 pp. $23.95.
Based on his own experiences as Executive Director of Hartford Food System in Hartford, CT and more recently in Santa Fe, NM, Wynne takes the reader on a decades long journey through the development of the antihunger and community food systems movements in the US since the 1960s. Moving from an analysis of the root causes of hunger in the land of plenty, Wynne moves beyond food banking aimed at getting something on the table, beyond asking why the rich get fresh organic food while the poor get fat and diabetic, to proposing real solutions. Important reading for anyone involved in community food systems work.
The Call of the Land, by Steven McFadden. Northern Lights Press, http://www.norlightspress.com/our-books-cotl.html.
Dubbed “an agrarian primer for the 21st Century,” this sourcebook documents a range of positive pathways to food security, economic stability, environmental health, and cultural renewal. It includes real life examples, from The Food Depot in Santa Fe, NM encouraging gardeners to “plant a row for the hungry,” to Appalachia’s Growing Minds serving local food in schools and hosting school gardens.

Chicken Tractor – Lee and Foreman

Book Review – Tomorrow’s Table, by by Pamela Ronald and Raoul Adamchak

Building a Healthy Economy from the Bottom Up: Harnessing real-world experience for transformative change. (University Press of Kentucky, 2016.  307pp). From Anthony Flaccavento, organic farmer, author, consultant, and former Executiver Director of Appalachian Sustainable Development in Abingdon, VA. It is full of real life examples of the socio-economic and ecological transition that is so urgently needed – and that is beginning to happen in rural and urban communities all around the US.  You can also check out a blog series “The Real Science on Genetic Engineering and GMO Foods” by Anthony Flaccavento here:  http://theprogressivewing.com/author/anthony_flaccavento/

Pests & Weeds

Managing Insects on Your Farm: a Guide to Ecological Strategies, by Miguel A. Altieri and Clara I. Nicholls, with Marlene A. Fritz. 2005. USDA Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE, http://www.sare.org, Handbook No. 7. 119 pp. $15.95 plus shipping.This handbook covers principles and practices of ecologically based pest management, with excellent diagrams and photo illustrations showing beneficial and pest insect life cycles, and examples of farmscaping, cover cropping, and other pest management methods. Farm feature stories illustrate principles, and extensive tables provide a wealth of information on pests, their natural enemies, and specific flowering plants that provide food and habitat for the beneficials.Steel in the Field: a Farmer’s Guide to Weed Management Tools, edited by Greg Bowman. 1997. USDA Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE, http://www.sare.org, Handbook No. 2. 128 pp. $18.00 plus shipping.

This reference combines a manual describing a range of tractor-drawn cultivation tools (including illustrations, charts showing crop and weed height ranges for which each is suited, and written description and guidelines) with a series of farm stories illustrating successful mechanical weed management systems. The book is divided into three sections addressing agronomic crops, vegetables and other horticultural crops, and dryland farming on limited rainfall, which have special soil conservation and soil quality challenges associated with weed management. Although a number of newer tools have been developed for specialty crops since this book was published, it is still a valuable resource for organic farmers and others who avoid or minimize the use of herbicides for weed control.

Weeds of the South, by Charles T. Bryson and Michael S. DeFelice, photographs by Arlyn W. Evans. 2009. University of Georgia Press, Athens, GA; can be ordered through Amazon.com. 468 pp.
At last! A complete field guide to the major agricultural weeds of the Southern region, from Texas to Virginia and Maryland; Florida and the Gulf Coast to Kentucky, West Virginia, and the southern reaches of the Corn Belt. The manual includes a key to the plant families, a glossary of terms, and one-page descriptions for each of about 400 weed species, including photo illustrations and geographic distribution maps.

Resource Guide for Organic Insect and Disease Management, by Brian Caldwell, Emily Brown Rosen, Eric Sideman, Anthony Shelton, and Christine Smart. 2005. New York State Agricultural Experiment Station, Cornell University, http://www.nysaes.cornell.edu. 169 pp.
This manual is designed for vegetable farmers who are USDA certified organic or in transition to organic. Sections include crop management practices for major vegetable crops, photo illustrations of main pests and diseases, in-depth fact sheets on 13 pest control materials approved by Organic Materials Review Institute (OMRI, http://www.omri.org) for use on certified organic farms, and appendices on plant resistance to pests and disease, beneficial insect habitat, and trap cropping.

Soils & Compost

Building Soils for Better Crops: Sustainable Soil Management, 3rd edition, by Fred Magdoff and Harold Van Es. 2009. USDA Sustainable Agriculture research and Education (SARE, http://www.sare.org), Handbook No. 10. 294 pp.
This handbook provides excellent practical information on the physical (texture, tilth, drainage, aeration), chemical (nutrients, pH, cation exchange capacity), and biological (soil food web, soil-plant-microbe interactions) aspects of soil health and soil quality, and the links between soil health and plant vigor and pest resistance. Ecological soil management, the book’s largest section, is packed with practical information on sustainable soil and nutrient management, crop-livestock integration, and dealing with specific soil conservation and macro- and micro-nutrient issues associated with particular soils and production systems.The Complete Compost Gardening Guide, by Barbara Pleasant & Deborah Martin. 2008. Storey Publishing. 319 pp.A truly comprehensive look at the materials and techniques of composting for the homeowner, including slow and fast composting, vermi-conmposting, sheet and hole and trench composting, eliminating weed seeds, making custom soil mixes etc. Amusing sidebars from the authors’ diaries. Gorgeously illustrated.

The Nature and Properties of Soils, 14th edition, by Nyle C. Brady and Ray R. Weil. 2008. Pearson Education, Inc., Upper Saddle River, NJ. 965 pp.
The newest version of the classic academic soil science text has incorporated much of what has been learned over the past 100 years (by organic farmers and soil scientists) about the vital importance of soil organic matter, soil life, and ecological soil management in sustainable soil fertility, crop production, and carbon sequestration. The authors emphasize the importance of knowing the physical, chemical, and biological characteristics of a particular soil in relation to climate and production system in management decisions. The in-depth treatment of soil properties and processes, the 12 main soil orders (types) and their many variations, crop nutrient cycles, moisture, acidity/alkalinity, salinity, organic matter, and soil erosion make this an invaluable reference for the serious student of soil, whether grower or consultant.

The Soul of Soil, a short and very readable explanation of soil dynamics, by Grace Gershuny.

Let it Rot – A short and very readable primer on the principles of composting.

The Complete Compost Gardening Guide, by Barbara Pleasant and Deborah Martin. 2008. Storey Publishing, paperback, 318 pp.

Sustainable Agriculture Policy

Grassroots Guide to the 2008 Farm Bill, by Zachariah Baker, Ferd Hoefner, Martha Noble, and Aimee Witteman, Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, www.sustainableagriculture.net. 128 pp.This manual gives an outline of all the programs under the 2008 Federal Farm Bill that offer funding, technical support, research and outreach, and other services for family farmers and practitioners of organic or sustainable farming systems. Although some details may already be out of date owing to changes in USDA personnel, much of the information remains relevant and current; key updates can be found at the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition web site given above.

Tomorrow’s Table – By Ronald and Adamchak. – An exploration of the techniques of genetic engineering. For a thorough review, see Mark Schonbeck’s analysis