Monday, August 27, 2012

Nonfiction Monday - Potatoes on Rooftops

I grew up in western NY surrounded by dairy farms. Even today the house I grew up in is surrounded largely by fields and not the kind of suburban housing developments that seem to be swallowing up our green space. Because of these roots I've always made room in my teaching for agriculture lessons. Too many kids today just don't understand where their food and fiber comes from. If they live in a city, they may have even missed opportunities to tend a garden of their own. However, urban gardening has grown in popularity as families and individuals explore ways to eat healthier and in a manner that is more environmentally conscious.

In POTATOES ON ROOFTOPS: FARMING IN THE CITY, Hadley Dyer gives us a book that shows just how manageable eating locally can be and how important it is for personal health and the health of our planet. She also highlights the urban farming movement and shares a wealth of ideas for getting kids involved.

Part 1: Hungry Cities does a fine job outlining the issues concerning city living, the number of miles it now takes to get food to people, and how many city dwellers find themselves living in a food desert, an area where there are no sources of good food close by. Imagine you live on a low income and can't easily travel to another neighborhood. The options aren't good, especially when "convenience stores charge up to one-and-a-half times as much as a grocery store. So a carton of eggs might cost $4.00 instead of $2.50. The only other option might be a fast-food restaurant, where the calories are plentiful but the food is full of fat and salt." All this important background information sets the stage for delving into the myriad of ways urban farming can and does occur.

Part 2: Plant a Seed describes the different forms urban gardening takes. Beyond traditional pots and rooftop gardens, people can grow food on trellises or on specially designed walls. In Los Angeles, the Urban Farming Food Chain Project "created food-producing wall panels that are mounted buildings." Dyer provides readers a great deal of information on how to get started, what to grow, and what to grow it in. The ideas are clever and often use recyclable materials.

Part 3: Green Your City looks at harvesting water, composting, raising small animals, growing vegetables inside, and much more. There's an interesting look in this chapter, as well as the others, at what folks in other parts of the world raise and how they do it.

Part 4: Your Green Thumb focuses on the principle of "Think globally, act locally." It is much easier to become involved in this movement, both personally and at the community level than one would think. Dyer describes some fo the projects in cities around the world, as well as the ways people are reclaiming spaces in their cities for agriculture. For example, in Detroit many vacant lots are being used for agriculture projects. The charity Urban Farming "has established gardens throughout the city that are tended by community groups, and the harvest is given away for free."

The book ends with a glossary, a section entitled Learn How to Start Your Urban Farm which contains a number of suggested titles, an annotated bibliography of web sites for further information, and a lengthy list of acknowledgements.

The images in the book have been carefully selected and nicely complement the text. I was particularly surprised and engaged with the number of "extra" facts/stories that were inserted that expanded on an idea or presented something tangentially related to the topic. I learned quite a bit from these pieces and they gave me even more to ponder. Here's an excerpt.
Former South African president Nelson Mandela spent 27 years as a political prisoner on Robben Island. He dug into the rocky soil with his bare hands to create a vegetable patch that was just 0.9m (one yards) wide and shared his harvest with fellow prisoners. People visit his garden today as a monument of kindness, perseverance, and hope. 
If Mandela's humble garden had the power to transform lives, what could we do with the space, tools, and technology available in our cities?
I've been growing herbs in a pot for some time now, constantly frustrated by the poor soil in my yard. Dyer has convinced me that I can do so much more with just a bit of effort, and that it will be well worth it. Overall, Dyer makes an inspiring and powerful case for urban farming. I'm ready! How about you? RECOMMENDED.

Author: Hadley Dyer
Publisher: Annick Press
Publication Date: July, 20102
Pages: 84 pages
Grades: 5-10
ISBN: 978-1554514243
Source of Book: NetGalley digital review copy

This review was written for Nonfiction Monday. Head on over to Simply Science and check out all the great posts highlighting nonfiction this week.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for this recommendation. This one will be a good addition for the Doucette Library for student teachers.
    Apples with Many Seeds