The Walden Effect: Farming, simple living, permaculture, and invention.

American Grown

American GrownAmerican Grown is a beautifully illustrated book that's worth checking out of the library.  Michelle Obama chronicles her experiences gardening for the first time, then expands out from the White House lawn to write about her campaign to combat childhood obesity.  She also profiles community and school gardens across the United States, and White House chefs include some gourmet recipes at the end of the book.

The positive side of American Grown is that it's very enthusiastic and inspirational, but the flip side of the coin is that there's very little dirt in evidence.  I wonder how many folks who start growing vegetables because of this book will be shocked when they don't have a huge staff to keep their garden impeccable and when the kale comes into the kitchen with insect-nibbled holes in its leaves.  I would have felt much more comfortable recommending this book to a gardening audience if there weren't quite so many gloved hands and if a single picture had shown the author as anything less than impeccably coiffed.

My second complaint is that the book presented very few details.  On the other hand, I'm actually a bit glad Michelle Obama only gave us select tidbits since she's clearly a raw beginner and factual errors are relatively common.  For example, the author thinks it's good she can fence out foxes who might otherwise eat her garden, and her picture illustrating the point that "the pawpaw is one of the few fruits native to the United States" is actually a papaya.  Luckily, since I'm not a historian and didn't know if she got anything wrong, I thoroughly enjoyed the section detailing the history of the White House gardens.

My conclusion is that this book would be fun to flip through on a cold winter day along with the seed catalogs, but it's not very nutritionally dense. 

(In the interest of full disclosure, I should say that I voted for her husband and probably will again.  On the other hand, I really detest the window-dressing role of First Ladies, so I'm actually more negative than positive toward this book politically.)

Our chicken waterer is the POOP-free alternative for finicky suburban hens.

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About us: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton spent over a decade living self-sufficiently in the mountains of Virginia before moving north to start over from scratch in the foothills of Ohio. They've experimented with permaculture, no-till gardening, trailersteading, home-based microbusinesses and much more, writing about their adventures in both blogs and books.

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I enjoyed your honest review and agree with your sentiments about "window dressing". I am Canadian and remember an article about Margaret Trudeau (former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau's wife), waxing eloquent on child care and domestic bliss; no mention of staff. I stopped reading Chatelaine magazine after that article.
Comment by Maggie Sat Oct 13 08:58:29 2012

Just looking at the cover, I'd say it's definitely something more tailored to a Good Housekeeping audience than your typical Mother Earth News gardener. I still tune into the news from time to time and heard some comments about how the First Lady and her counterpart are both being interviewed by Good Housekeeping. Apparently, that's the way to reach the coveted female voters.

It's nice to hear your review, and to know that there's a little more substance that I expected(even if it's history and obesity challenges, rather than gardening). I occasionally venture into the the big box bookstore in town and I notice that the vast majority of gardening books being sold at the big chain stores are little more than coffee table books-- lots of mouthwatering pictures without much else.

Comment by Sara Sat Oct 13 10:23:14 2012

Maggie --- Yeah, the staff really bothered me too. Multiple uniformed chefs and National Park Service employees to take care of a garden perhaps a fifth the size of my vegetables alone? Add in the volunteers (but discount the school kids, who might have done more harm than good), and I'd be surprised if the First Lady actually had a chance to do anything.

Sara --- The one good point about this book is that it's popular enough to hit even my podunk library, which means it's almost certainly in everyone else's. So, they can read without buying. (A good thing, since it's not worth $30.)

Comment by anna Sat Oct 13 10:45:47 2012

Personally, I am always impeccably coiffed when I garden.... :-) And sometimes I am even changed out of my pajamas first. Lol! If we could simply remove the middle sections of the grocery store, and eat only from what is around the edges, we'd have much, much less obesity.
Thanks for the review... I wouldn't buy this book, but might browse it in the library.

Comment by Deb Sat Oct 13 11:06:47 2012
The reference to foxes in the garden brought to mind a neighbor who set up a game camera to see what was sneaking into his orchard and eating fruit from his trees, turned out that a fox was climbing up and nabbing the fruit.On the subject of appearances I know that after a day of blacksmithing and or working on the land or in the garden we look like refugees from a homeless encampment but to us its just good honest dirt and grime that represents an honest days labor on the homestead.Too many people today are completely distanced from such things. Bob.
Comment by bob Sat Oct 13 17:04:19 2012

Deb --- I try to wear pants without a huge hole in the seat, especially if Mark's taking photos. :-)

Bob --- Yeah, I considered talking more about the foxes, because it is true they'll go after grapes and persimmons and so forth. But since her garden didn't have anything likely to be eaten by foxes, I didn't think she deserved that benefit of the doubt.

I'm totally with you on bemoaning the distance between people and good honest dirt!

Comment by anna Sat Oct 13 17:24:00 2012
Since you brought it up, why on earth would you vote for him again?
Comment by Heath Sat Oct 13 21:17:45 2012
I borrowed this from the Local Library recently. I thought It was a good flip through book, but not really anything useful for the average joe.
Comment by MamaHomesteader Sun Oct 14 00:47:53 2012

Heath --- You made me laugh. I'm not going to get into real politics here, but I do think that it's pretty much impossible for a president to do much. I tend to give folks the benefit of the doubt, so I figure Obama went into the presidency naively believing he could really do what he said he was going to, but soon learned that's simply not how national politics work. I'm a believer in local politics as the only spot a real person (without mega bucks) can make a difference, but I'll still vote for the lesser of two evils in the presidential race since I'll be there voting for the little guys anyway.

MamaHomesteader --- I could have shortened my post considerably and said just what you said. :-)

Comment by anna Sun Oct 14 08:59:49 2012

I think people are being a bit tough on Michelle. What she’s doing here is trying to bring attention to a cause and maybe to inspire other people to action. The fact that she even mentions the pawpaw suggests to me that she’s at least pointing people in the right direction.

Regarding the President, it’s what he’s actually done that‘s a problem: sign the Patriot Act, sign the NDAA, reappoint Bernanke, escalate the Afghanistan War and the Drone War, wage unconstitutional war in Libya, prosecute legal medical marijuana use and oversee a general increase Federal secrecy. It’s what the ACLU says about Obama, not what the GOP says, that really bothers me.

I’m voting for Gary Johnson.

Comment by BeninMA Sun Oct 14 17:05:19 2012

BeninMA --- You're probably right about us being too hard on Michelle. That's why I added the caveat at the end --- because First Lady projects is a pet peeve of mine, so I might not be giving her enough benefit of the doubt.

I suspect Mark and I agree with you on all your reasons not to vote for Obama. But I still feel like we live in a two party system and can't expect a president to agree with us even 25% of the time. Since one of the two main contenders is going to win, I'd rather it was Obama since I suspect I'll agree with the alternative more like 5% of the time.

Comment by anna Sun Oct 14 18:15:08 2012

Anna -- Yes, that is the sad reality. I just vote based on principle -- at least I get a good night's sleep from that (kinda Thoreauvian too). And if more people did it, the politicians would catch on lightning fast.

But I understand that Democrats are in a difficult spot at this point. In 2016 I think there will be a push for "let's pick a real liberal this time."

Comment by BeninMA Sun Oct 14 22:16:30 2012

Hey Anna, No politics, but I hope it is okay to ask a couple of questions. You don't have to answer if it's a hassle. First, when is the weekend homesteader book coming out? I know it's on preorder, I like to group shipments to take advantage of free shipping when. Possible. Second, how do you keep your outdoor worm bins from freezing in winter?
Third, do you have a particular kind of knife you've found useful for slaughtering chickens? Thanks

Comment by Deb Mon Oct 15 02:13:39 2012

BeninMA --- Personally, what I would like is a no confidence vote option, the way real elections have. That way, people wouldn't feel like if they didn't vote for one of the big two, something worse would happen. If we all voted "no confidence", then we'd have to bring in a new set of candidates and try again. I hope you're right about a real liberal in 2016!

Deb --- Weekend Homesteader is due to come out November 13. Amazon might have changed their policy about preorders, though --- I preordered a book due to come out in December last night along with another book and they told me that the other book would ship right away. I'm not sure about that, but it would be nice if true since that often holds me back from preorders --- I don't want to wait to get the whole shipment until the book comes out. :-)

About worm bins and freezing --- it's all about size. Since our worm bin is 8 feet by 4 feet by 1 foot, the worms can migrate to the center during cold weather. In a colder place, you might consider a worm bin built into the ground (which we considered, but figured would be overkill for our climate).

I use our best kitchen paring knife for chicken-killing, sharpened as much as possible. :-) I suspect there's a better option, though, and would love to hear back from you if you find someone else with a real recommendation.

Comment by anna Mon Oct 15 07:36:43 2012

Read George Washington's farewell address and what he had to say about the two party system. Briefly, he said it would destroy America. I shake my head at those people who vote party lines. I don't. Vote for people with strong morale's and of good character.

Our news agencies are all morally bankrupt. They don't tell the truth about EITHER candidate. I'm of the opinion that more people would vote against #44 if they knew the truth about the man and the people who've influenced him during his life.

But at least you vote. You and I are among the minority in that aspect.

Comment by Heath Mon Oct 15 11:45:39 2012
Heath --- I hear where you're coming from, but I still think that we live within the system we live within. Sure, I'd love it if we didn't have a two party system, but we do. Unfortunately, voting for a third party in a two party system means your vote doesn't count. The way to change that is to change the two party system, but that's going to take a lot of effort that I suspect neither you nor I is willing to invest in the problem. :-)
Comment by anna Mon Oct 15 12:12:22 2012
Wait, pawpaws are the only fruit native to the (I assume continental) US? What about black raspberies, crab apples, grapes, red mulberries...
Comment by Emily Tue Oct 16 13:48:05 2012
Emily --- You'll notice her wording was "one of the few fruits". I had the same reaction you did, though, until I read more carefully.
Comment by anna Tue Oct 16 15:49:29 2012
That book is more like Alice in Wonderland. Did you know they have a gardner who tends to that and the bees. He makes over $125 grand per year with benefits. About the same salary as the person who is on call 24/7 for the movie room in case someone wants to watch Guess who's coming to dinner in the middle of the night. It's become a personal playground for BHO and family.
Comment by phildirt Tue Oct 16 18:16:09 2012
phildirt --- I'm afraid that's par for the course for being one of our elected leaders. :-/ Now, if we had a president (or even a senator!) who lived in a trailer and gave all the excess cash back into the national coffers, I'd be highly impressed. :-)
Comment by anna Wed Oct 17 16:42:12 2012

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