(Read Part One here.)
In the past few months, I’ve been devouring any book on permaculture that I can find (I’m working my way through The Permaculture Handbook right now— review to follow when I finish the tome). Here are some of the gems I’ve discovered.
The Permaculture City: Regenerative Design for Urban, Suburban, and Town Resilience by Toby Hemenway
You guys already know that I’m a Toby Hemenway fangirl, and this book just strengthened that conviction. I expected a book about urban gardening, but what I got was that and so much more: it’s essentially a field guide to leveraging our place in the city to create ecological sustainability. Unlike many back-to-nature types, Hemenway loved cities and saw their incredible potential for creativity and cooperation.
The book discusses both nuts-and-bolts logistics, such as growing in contaminated soil or harvesting greywater, and permaculture theory, explaining what makes city dwellers uniquely suited to caring for the earth. He begins by discussing permaculture’s tenets in detail, then shows how these principles apply to food, water, energy, livelihood, community empowerment, and resilience.
The book is a lot to absorb, and builds considerably on Gaia’s Garden, which I would recommend reading first. I’m certain I’ll return in a year or two and read through The Permaculture City again, hoping to internalize more of the concepts and work through how to put them into practice. In the meantime, this book is thought-provoking and empowering, encouraging me to embrace my place in the city and see the patterns, edges, and opportunities all around me.
Paradise Lot: Two Plant Geeks, One-Tenth of an Acre, and the Making of an Edible Garden Oasis in the City by Eric Toensmeier with Jonathan Bates
I loved this book! Toensmeier, who helped pioneer the permaculture idea of a “food forest,” talks about his and his friend’s experience growing one in their suburban yard. From choosing plants to designing guilds to dealing with legal regulations, the authors walk us through their process of putting their concepts into practice.
As someone who wants to create my own version of a food forest, this book was wonderfully helpful. I enjoyed seeing the permaculture concepts in action: Toensmeier is honest about his failures as well as his successes, and talks about their techniques in a down-to-earth way. The writing might be a bit technical for someone who is just dipping their toe into the permaculture world, but this is an excellent follow-up to Gaia’s Garden. I like having a clear picture in my head of what abstract theories look like in practice, and this book was exactly what I was looking for.
Street Farm: Growing Food, Jobs, and Hope on the Urban Frontier by Michael Ableman
This is more of a memoir than a how-to book (although it contains some how-to sections) about Ableman’s work with the nonprofit urban farm, Sole Food, in Vancouver, BC. He describes their journey through a maze of government regulations, site contamination, unstable drug-addicted workers, theft, and a host of other problems, without attempting to sanitize the process or make us think that the farm is a solution to the myriad problems that plague the inner city. I appreciate his honesty as he shows both the joys and burdens of his journey.
The book is arranged oddly, categorizing some pieces of the story by sequence and some by topic. In the end it felt more like a series of vignettes than a cohesive story, and eventually these somewhat unconnected pieces began to drag. I still read the whole book because of my desire to see models of urban agriculture, and for anyone with an interest in social justice, it’s still definitely worth a read. However, if someone is looking to understand the nuts and bolts of growing food in a small space, Paradise Lot is a better bet.
What have you been reading?