Feed yourself

Pioneers of self-sufficient green lifestyles offer advice

Light green reading—but lifestyle-changing.

Light green reading—but lifestyle-changing.

It might seem counterintuitive to embark on a green, independent lifestyle by asking for advice. But seriously, why reinvent the wheel? Or, for that matter, the tomato cage?

Several new books, including two by Davis writers, offer first-person accounts and great tips for managing a life that’s a little less reliant on Trader Joe’s and a little more in tune with the planet and its seasons.

First up, Harriet Fasenfest’s A Householder’s Guide to the Universe: A Calendar of Basics for the Home and Beyond (Tin House Books). A self-described “gardener, food preserver and backyard economist” who blogs at www.culinate.com, Fasenfest takes a no-nonsense approach. What some call “urban homesteaders” she calls a “householder.” It doesn’t matter where you live, as long as there’s room for a garden—but it is a full-time job. Oh, she doesn’t think women should go back to the kitchen, necessarily. But someone certainly should.

Fasenfest has what were once “old-fashioned” values—frugality among them—which are rapidly regaining ground as necessities in our postmodern society. She divides planning and work by month, and includes such non-food- and non-garden-related tasks as budgeting, spring cleaning (“One word about vinegar—though you might be tempted, don’t use anything other than white distilled vinegar”) and child rearing (“How can we pass down the full scope of this life without committing to it ourselves?”). She’s an interesting person, but extremely committed, and reading her book can quickly become an exercise in “Oh, but I could never do that!”

But, of course, Fasenfest didn’t start big. She started with what she had and grew from there.

One thing that even urban scum can manage is a few pots of herbs, or even an entire patch, and Davis herbalist Kami McBride has a book to put those herbs to use in ways that go far beyond rosemary chicken or chamomile tea.

Not that those are bad uses, mind you, but McBride’s new book, Herbal Kitchen, The: 50 Easy-to-Find Herbs and Over 250 Recipes to Bring Lasting Health to You and Your Family (Conari Press) offers a brief introduction to “kitchen medicine” before providing a botanical resource of the most common medicinal herbs. Included are excellent line drawings for identification and a listing of the herb’s properties, as well as McBride’s own notes on her personal experience with it. The book is also full of recipes for making drinks, oils, smoothies and bath salts.

An herb garden can fit on a patio or deck—or even be minimized to a couple of window boxes—but if you’ve got a traditional backyard that you’re tired of mowing, then Davis writer Spring Warren’s new book, The Quarter-Acre Farm: How I Kept the Patio, Lost the Lawn, and Fed My Family for a Year, is certainly worth a close look. Heck, even if you want to keep part of the yard, it’s still worth reading; Warren has a great sense of humor and a double dose of honesty. She shares the ups and downs (including a very funny tale involving her goose, Goosteau, and an aluminum can) and invites a local organic farmer to evaluate her mini-farm, all in a very conversational style.

And, like Fasenfest and McBride, Warren provides plenty of recipes and suggestions for planning our own experiments with sustainable living. It’s really not impossible, even in suburban and urban environs.

However, you might want to skip the whole “goose” thing.