Sunday, December 30, 2012

Review: Urban Farm magazine

I went out this morning to feed the porch cat and saw that somebody had left a copy of Urban Farm magazine on top of his little house for us. So after making a cup of coffee and breezing through the Times-Standard I picked up and took a look.

Five years ago when we moved to the Mighty Small Farm and got our first pair of chickens, I was struck by how few resources were available for the very small-scale farmer or animal husbander. The books and magazines I did see treated 5- or 10-acre plots as small, and a backyard flock of poultry was 25 or 50. And the tone was definitely for-profit industrial, not cottage scale.

Well, that was five years ago, and the interest in cottage-scale farming—permaculture, sustainable agriculture, urban farming—has surged. Same with heirloom varieties and heritage breeds. Good timing on our part!

Yet...yet. Well, let's look at Urban Farm. The Nov/Dec issue's features are fermentation, homemade kombucha, homegrown sprouts, goats, practical backyard design, urban wineries, and a Portland, Oregon, urban farm road trip. Columns are winterizing your beehive, egg-laying in winter, heritage turkeys, and a grab-bag column called Green Thumb.

The magazine starts strong with a touching piece by the editor on Christmas oranges, and a time when winter fruit was a special treat. Very nice.

And I enjoyed Kristina Urquhart's "Wintering Your Hive" column even though we don't yet keep bees on the Mighty Small Farm.

Ditto the features on fermentation, though I'll come right out and say how glad I am that Elizabeth Millard did not pursue her hints about fermented meat. Cheese and rice!

But "Sustainability and the City," about Stones Barn Center for Food and Agriculture in Pocantino Hills, New York, isn't, at 30 acres of cultivated land and another 40 acres of woodlands, exactly urban. The last feature in Urban Farm, the Portland travelog, talks about Zenger Farm, but doesn't go into much detail as to location or acreage, and it's the last bit of the article, behind curbside recycling and a music festival.

Kelly Wood's "Egg-laying in Winter" does a good job explaining why the ladies don't lay in the dark months of the year, and how to change that if so desired by adding artificial light to your chicken coop. What she doesn't discuss is breed selection for winter layers or broodiness, which also affects egg production. Since she's been raising birds on her 1/2-acre farm (yes!) for over 8 years, maybe it was an editorial choice to keep the focus general and light.

Which leads me to "Urban Feast: Let's Talk Turkey." Yes, let's! What I as an urban farmer would like to know is, which breeds for the table? How compatible will a turkey be (or turkeys? do I need to raise them in a group, or is one okay?) with my chickens, the mini goats you told me about a few pages back, cats, or children? Is processing my turkey for the table much different than killing and plucking a chicken? Do people raise turkeys for eggs? How much room does a turkey need? Bedding, coop, feed, what do they need?

But what I got was four pages on buying a turkey at the store, recipes—like I need another gravy recipe—and...oh, wait. That was it. Total bust.

So was the insipid "Practical Backyard Design." My favorite practical backyard design tip was to make time for contemplative practices such as yoga in order to "catch personal energetic resources and store them up for another time." That sound you hear is me gagging.

So, I don't know if you remember the old Organic Gardening magazine; it was full of articles on digging, and making compost and bins, and weekend projects like sheds and potting stands, and selecting the best wheelbarrow. Then they redesigned it to be more...woman-friendly? I don't know. But all of a sudden Organic Gardening was filled with recipes and articles on selecting flowers (but not how to construct a raised bed or lay out a flowering border) and there went a good magazine right down the drain.

So while I'm happy my neighbors love me enough to drop magazines (and egg cartons!) off at random times, I can't see myself ever subscribing to or purchasing an issue of Urban Farm. Too many photos of pretty landscapes and plants, not enough dirty hands or really, advice on dealing with a big issue on any urban farm: waste. Where does the poop go? You bought your mini-goats, who's going to deal with their manure? When I think of my chickens in the winter months, yes, the drop in egg production is indeed on my mind but so is the issue of odor control—well, that one's always on my mind; I have neighbors—and pest control. Those are really the issues: how to be productive on the little space you have, how to use what you grow and to recycle, how to be a good neighbor without those 40 acres of buffering woodlands, how to set a good example.

Now I must get up from this computer and go make myself an omelet with some home-laid eggs and local goat cheese before putting my work clothes on and getting my hands dirty. And maybe a little poopy.

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