Dead Zone: Where the Wild Things Were

Philip Lymbery

Dead Zone is a sombre and sobering read – a tale of the decline and destruction of varying species across the globe because of what and how we eat. Starting with Sumatran Elephants which are on the brink of extinction due to loss of habitat as palm plantations raze the forests they roam in, Lymbery considers the plight of the stork in Poland which has suffered as the country’s farming became mechanised, the bison in America’s ‘corn culture’ mid-West, Louisiana shrimp in the Gulf of Mexico dead zone, Britain’s barn owl and water vole and a host of other species across the globe.

The connection Lymbery makes in all the animals he writes about, is that they are at risk because of the industrialised farming system that governs the world’s food production – a point not often made clear. His most potent chapter is on the Red Junglefowl, the original chicken. It is threatened, not from the usual suspects of habitat destruction or hunting, but because its genetic distinction is being lost through cross-breeding with its chicken descendants. Chickens have proliferated with the rise of industrial farming, so much so that Lymbery argues for the “chickenisation of the planet”. But their declining genetic diversity puts them at terrific risk, especially as the Red Junglefowl is no longer genetically ‘pure’. Just two companies produce most of the world’s chickens and the vast numbers produced with minimal genetic diversity means that disease might possibly lay waste to the entire species.

Lymbery argues, in the words of farmer Tim May, whom he interviews, that we need to go “back to the future” in farming – back to the practices of mixed farming that sustained both soil and animals on the land. He calls for a return to ‘pasture-for-life’ cattle, where livestock graze grass and return their debt to the land by fertilising it. Returning to gentler, more holistic farming practices is the only way to repair the damage done by decades of factory farming and ensure that we don’t live in a world “where the wild things were’”.

Letters to a Young Farmer: On food, farming, and our future

Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture

The average age of farmers in the US is 58 and there are now more farmers over the age of 75 than between the ages of 35 and 44. In the UK, the average age of farmers is 59. As farmers increasingly retire, fewer young people are entering the industry or taking over farms from their parents. It raises a very important question – who will grow our food in the future?

Letters to a Young Farmer is the first book from Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture, an organisation that works to help new farmers get training, guidance and access to resources. The book is an inspirational read, comprised of contributions from 39 leading voices in the sustainable food movement including Wendell Berry, Dan Barber and Anna Lappé. It seeks to advise and encourage young farmers, as well as bring home to all of us the vital importance of building a sustainable food system.

Each ‘letter’ is written from a place of experience and wisdom, some are personal stories and anecdotes, some give practical advice, and others seek to educate or inspire. From chef and activist, Alice Waters, who says, “It is taste fundamentally that makes my work irresistible and your work vital”, to the renowned farmer, Joel Salatin, who begins, “Here is what I’d want a farm mentor to tell me if I were a young person with visions of farming dancing in my head,” these letters form a unique resource and a call to action for the next generation.

The Unsettlers: In search of the good life in today’s America

Mark Sundeen

The Unsettlers tells the stories of new pioneers searching for a life less ordinary, living off-grid, regenerating communities, growing local food. Their stories intertwine with Sundeen’s own as he seeks in them lessons on how to live a meaningful life. At the root of their tales is radical thinking on American self-sufficiency and living with less impact on the earth.

The families Sundeen tracks come from different generations, but all at heart are uncompromising. Ethan and Sarah buy a derelict farm in Missouri and start an alternative community without any dependency on fossil fuel, turning back time and returning to life several hundred years ago. It’s an extreme that even other extremists would find difficult. Greg and Olivia build a life growing vegetables in the derelict centre of Detroit, forging a successful business in a violent and dangerous neighbourhood, bringing food to a place few but those trapped there, would go. Lucie and Steve, early pioneers of organic production in wild Montana, lived for decades in a tepee, without health insurance, raising three children and saving a small fortune in a cash economy by being careful and thrifty and never living beyond their means.

The personalities of these stories are conscribed by their moral metal and unbending conviction. The search for a better life is one cast outside the conventions of monetary success and its accoutrements. Each family suggests a way to move towards a freer future where money necessitates not consumption, but rather the old value of thrift. It is this thrift that will save us from ourselves.

Farm to Table: The essential guide to sustainable food systems for students, professionals, and consumers

Darryl Benjamin and Lyndon Virkler

Farm to Table is a comprehensive textbook on the food movement, perhaps the first such collation of key issues and impacts of how we eat. While ‘farm to table’ is a phrase overwhelmingly associated with a style of cooking based on using fresh, usually organic, local ingredients, this book takes a wider view of this phenomena. It contextualises the ethos of ‘farm to table’ and its evolution, beginning with problems of conventional industrial farming at the heart of our agriculture system. Throughout, the book makes a strong argument for why ‘farm to table’ eating offers a better way forward for our food system, and suggests ways to rethink, “…the scale of the food system infrastructure to reflect the realities of small-scale producers”.

In the US, chefs have played a critical role is disseminating the idea of ‘farm to table’ eating, Jacques Pepin and Alice Waters among the most influential. ‘Farm to table’ food brought a sea change in American cuisine. But ‘Keeping it Affordable’ is important and the book recognises that ‘farm to table’ isn’t – and can’t be – just about high-end cheffing. It considers the impact of purchasing and sustainability policies on accessing farm to table food, amongst a wide range of other issues.

While there is little to take issue with in this book, it fails on one point, in relation to meat consumption and the environmental impact of livestock. While acknowledging, the problems of grain-fed beef on feed lots, it still recommends chicken (without the distinction of its being organic or even free-range) as a better choice and does not distinguish the value of grass-fed livestock, nor lamb in particular, as arguably the most sustainable meat.

Making Small Farms Work: A pragmatic whole systems approach to profitable regenerative agriculture

Richard Perkins

Do you dream about starting your own small-scale sustainable farm, or wonder how other people make it work? Richard Perkins demonstrates what can be done in a northern climate to create a living from a diversified integrated regenerative farm system. This book is an in-depth and practical account of the first few years of setting up Ridgedale Permaculture Farm in remote rural Sweden. The farm has a land area of 10.6 hectares and located at 59° North latitude. The growing season is short and very busy, as multiple enterprises operate on the farm. The farm is run as a holistic integrated whole, where each aspect is complementary to all others. The farm has a CSA market garden, pastured hens and egg mobiles, pastured broilers, sheep, among a whole host of other activities such as perennial cropping, water harvesting, forestry and natural building.

Many people dismiss permaculture as an hobby that only works on a the scale of a garden and is not viable as a model for farming, but a growing number of farms such as Joel Salatin’s Polyface Farm, Mark Shepard’s New Forest Farm and Ridgedale are proving that they can be successful on a farm-scale. This book gives useful and honest information about the design process and set-up and operating costs as well as clear explanations of all the farming practices, from grafting techniques to stunning and plucking broiler chickens, along with detailed photographs.

It is clear that beyond the innovative design of Ridgedale and the skills demonstrated to build such a farm, that communication and education are of utmost importance. Ridgedale’s permaculture design courses, workshops and internships attract students internationally. The farm has a very popular social media presence on Facebook and a Youtube channel with regular videos about life on the farm. Richard and the Ridgedale team fearlessly combine traditional low-tech farming skills with the best modern tools on offer to create a farm that will perpetually regenerate, building soil fertility and increasing biodiversity.

The book is sold direct from the farm.

And don’t miss…

The Unlikely Heroes: Stories of an agrarian renaissance

Walter Lewis

Rarely do we get to see first-hand the place from which our food has come, or the people who work tirelessly to produce it. Walter Lewis’ new book provides a unique insight to an often lonely world of hard work, an existence surrounded by nature and at the mercy of the elements. It’s a world which is often romanticised but in reality can be tough. As people turn against the modern industrialised food system and try to produce their own food, many entering agriculture for the first time, Walter seeks to capture through photographs the journey these ‘unlikely heroes’ are on.

Nick Green, Founder and Director of Incredible farm in Todmorden, West Yorkshire. Incredible Farm both produces food on a local scale and in permaculture derived practices, along with providing opportunities for local schools to visit and learn about sustainable framing and related issues.

The Milking Parlour at Calf at Foot dairy in Suffolk. It is one of only two dairies which keep calves with the mothers until fully weaned and is the creation of Fiona Provan, Herdswoman Extraordinaire!































Title Photograph: Florin Gorgan

Sign up to our Newsletter

Stay up to date with the latest SFT views and news