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Book Reviews

Grow a Sustainable Diet: Planning and Growing to Feed Ourselves and the EarthWestern Fruit, Berries and Nuts: How to Select, Grow and Enjoy
By Robert L. Stebbins and Lance Walheim (Horticultural Publishing, 1981).
Review by Mary Zellachild

This legacy book has been important to Ecology Action's work and is highly recommended by John Jeavons. He describes it as containing more information on fruit-growing "than one person could learn in three lifetimes." The writers obviously love the subject and took the time to present it in a complete, well-formatted and reader-friendly way.

A huge amount of detail is included, and vibrant color jumps out from almost every page, even from the charts. For example, there's a beautiful color collage of 30 popular varieties of apples, followed by detailed information about caring for and harvesting this fruit, plus five pages of charts with the origin, zone, harvest season, description and remarks about 46 varieties. Then when it seems apples have been fully covered, there is another color collage and chart about 12 older apple varieties! There are also charts for pears, peaches, nectarines, sweet and sour cherries and plums, that show the dates different varieties are ready to harvest. Using this, a person could choose varieties that would give them a longer season to enjoy a particular fruit. For example, someone planting a carefully planned selection of apple trees could have that fruit to eat from June to December.

The book breaks down a large number of geographical areas from coastal Washington to Montana, from high elevations in Arizona and New Mexico to southern California, and all states in between, and briefly discusses fruit-growing in each area. There is also a discussion of pests and diseases by climate zone. Another section discusses pruning and training fruit trees, with helpful drawings on how to prune various types of trees in their different growing seasons—from newly planted to mature.

A chapter on propagation discusses in detail methods such as cuttings and layering, and then goes on to talk about grafting. The two general methods covered are bark grafting and cleft grafting, each illustrated with line drawings. A page of photos is dedicated to cleft grafting, which is described as "one of the most popular and usable methods for deciduous trees." That chapter ends with two pages of propagation charts for tree fruit, berries, nuts and subtropical fruits.

This book is a treasure, a "must read" for anyone wanting to start, upgrade or maintain a whole orchard or just one or two trees. One caveat: Ecology Action doesn't endorse the use of pesticides which are discussed. This book is currently out of print, but an online search shows it is well reviewed and still available.


The Lean Farm: How to Minimize Waste, Increase Efficiency, and Maximize Value and Profits with Less WorkFood Rebellions! Crisis and the Hunger for Justice
by Eric Holt-Gimenez and Raj Patel (Food First Books, 2009).
Review by Mary Zellachild

Since this book was published in 2009, a lot of the information it contains about our food system has become even better known generally. However, the issues are far from being resolved and are still causing large-scale hunger and inequity around the world. It's good to be reminded of these issues, to gain a clearer perspective of what has gone wrong and what solutions could best be employed to tip our whole system towards a more equitable way of being for everyone.

The authors highlight five main causes for the price of food increasing so greatly over the last few years: the rise in oil prices, rising meat consumption, climate change, agro-fuels, and speculation in grain futures. Also important is the decreasing percentage the farmers receive from each food dollar. In the 1950s it was 40% to 50% whereas today it is only around 20%. However, the authors believe that the major factors in our broken food system are "global monopolies of the industrial agrifood complex, with the help of international finance institutions and the complicity of governments."

The second part of the book looks at some possible solutions to these challenges. These include the huge number of people around the globe who are advocating for changes in our system and the types of local, small-scale, productive agriculture projects that have been started worldwide. Both sections are filled with boxes that contain fascinating information ranging from "Speculation 101: Gambling with the World's Food," "NAFTA: Effects on Agriculture," to "Cuba's Urban Agricultural Transformation."

IMAGE CREDIT: food-rebellions-crisis-and-the-hunger-for-justice

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