Book Review
Title: "Your Farm In the City: An Urban Dweller’s Guide to Growing Food and Raising Animals"
Author: Lisa Taylor and the gardeners of Seattle Tilth
Publisher: Black Dog & Leventhal Publishers, 2011; 336 pages; $18.95

I love very few everyday experiences more than a farmers market. There’s something about the mix of strolling leisurely, but with a tad bit of purpose, in the outdoors; multisensory shopping with nose and hands and mouth in what I see as the rustic way — with cash, not cards; chatting with vendors about their berries; meeting new friends and running into old ones; and the ultimate finale of lounging on the grass or under an umbrella and getting full on five berries and a few leaves (conveniently forgetting all the samples tasted in the last hour).

That everything is organic allows me to suspend my city-girl ways of washing every bite of food within an inch of its life, scrutinizing every label, and Googling ingredients to suss out any lurking trans fats, unnatural dyes or preservatives before I allow anyone to take a bite. Despite my intensely calendared life, I’ve been known to drop everything for an impromptu turn or two through the farmers market at one of the lakes near my home.

And I know I’m not alone — my urban hometown has at least 11 farmers markets within a 10-minute drive from the middle of town that I know of, and many more community-supported agriculture (CSA) networks that drop off fresh, local, seasonal fruits and veggies at pickup spots around town. It seems that we desk-jockeying, midnight-oil-burning urbanites crave to get our fill of nature and its bounty, and the explosion of farmers markets is one way we’ve found of doing just that.

Many urban dwellers, in my town and across the globe, are converting whatever patch of land, balcony, walls or rooftops they can commandeer into their own personal farm.

Providing the single most comprehensive, beautifully designed, step-by-step guide to creating this sort of personal urban farm that I’ve seen yet (and I’ve seen lots), comes Lisa Taylor and the gardeners of Seattle Tilth, a 12-acre farm and learning center, with their new book, "Your Farm In the City: An Urban Dweller’s Guide to Growing Food and Raising Animals."

As a homeowner who is currently facing the challenge of knowing with vague, but definite, certainty that I want to move forward with converting my wild backyard into an orderly, productive, organic kitchen garden — not knowing where to begin, I can vouch that this book provides the process, structure and organized sequence it takes to go from simply wanting a garden, to growing one, with or without common urban garden desirables like composting, raised beds, edible flowers and city livestock. (Chickens, rabbits and bees, oh my!)

The 30-plus years of wisdom from Seattle Tilth’s historical education of wannabe urban gardeners shines through, especially in terms of the perfect tailoring of answers to all the questions a truly clueless would-be gardener like yours truly would have, before we can even figure out how to articulate the question.

Also, the techniques and tenets that comprise the "Tilth Way" set out a list of principles the new urban gardener can live, plan and make his or her gardening decisions by — everything from placing a high value on creating a closed garden system that minimizes "outside inputs with the goal of creating a diverse and sustainable urban ecosystem" to basic tenets like encouraging biodiversity; planting the "right plant (in the) right place"; working with nature, rather than trying to "tame or control" it; and, above all else, the priority of building healthy soil.

Taylor takes readers from basic principles; to asking them a series of questions to help them understand their space and plan a garden that is appropriate for it, and for their lifestyle; to helping them build healthy soil and smartly set up other growing areas (in containers, raised beds and even verticals like trellises and teepees), before walking them through seeds, fertility issues, and the ins, outs, cautions and how-tos relevant to the various fruits, vegetables and fauna that are commonly included in city farms, as well as the pests many gardeners seek to exclude.

Throughout, Taylor provides case studies of successful urban farms, with information on where to learn more about them on the Web, as well as uber-useful sidebars with tips on important micro-topics, from mapping out sun and shade and testing for lead, to planning a garden that is accessible to people with disabilities, or that will thrive in spite of being frequently visited by children.

Taylor also includes page after page of sample "farm" layouts, tips on buying the right tools, and a directory of alternative agricultural resources for home gardeners.

Whether you want to plant a few strawberry pots and grapevines on your fences or go full-blast and get some goats, "Your Farm in the City" will take you from getting oriented to getting organic. I strongly recommend this book.

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