Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Off the Shelf: 'My Empire of Dirt' by Manny Howard

Off the Shelf is an occasional feature wrapping up a book about a food-related topic. These are not reviews; think of them as extended book jackets with important pull-out points.

Manny Howard was a writer who was tasked with living off of only what his farm could produce for a month, and he details his experiences in "My Empire of Dirt: How One Man Turned His Big-City Backyard into a Farm."

The book did not go into as much how-to as I thought it would, but Howard does a good job telling the stories behind the farm, including the book-long fight with his wife over the endeavor.

As interesting as Howard's adventures of creating a farm in an 800-square-food backyard are, perhaps the most interesting thing in the book is a layout of the farm on the title page. It shows the Back Forty -- the garden, in essence -- as well as the aviary tower, FEMA trailer and more.

Among the anecdotes Howard peppers through the book is one that crushed his vegetable garden. A tornado ripped through his New York City neighborhood and destroyed much of his garden. Likewise, he had quite the time with his rabbits and fish and, well, most everything.

The book is, at times, a litany of failure after failure. But the one area in which his farm succeeded was with his laying hens. Those hens helped wean the family from buying eggs for one year, and they often had more eggs and gave them away to friends and family.

As someone who has grown interested in raising backyard chickens, it's that part that is encouraging.

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