Natural Living Des Moines

Farm City by sarahtar
April 19, 2010, 4:29 pm
Filed under: Books, Food, Home and Garden, Urban Homesteading

Last month, on a road trip with my extended family (more accurately, my husband’s extended family), I had a chance to read Farm City: The Education of an Urban Farmer by Novella Carpenter. It’s available at the Des Moines Public Library.

I will say, once I got past the first chapter, I really, really enjoyed the book. It’s a light narrative that talks you through the joys, frustrations, learning experiences, and successes of a busy urban farm in California. It was like sitting down to a long chat with the author.

In addition to chickens, the author kept ducks, turkeys, pigs, bees, and I think possibly a few other animals, as well. She killed and processed the fowl herself, which impressed me quite a bit. She fed the livestock largely on scraps (or at least that’s the impression I walked away with). Many of these scraps came from refuse bins at local restaurants – and her descriptions of their foraging trips have inspired me to find a dumpster or two to dive into myself for my own chickens.

I will say, though, her descriptions of keeping the bees made me rather less eager to give beekeeping a try. They got stung. A lot. And not while tending to the bees – just while living. Apparently, the bees liked it inside their apartment. Hm, no, thanks.

Novella, during the time of the book, was able to farm on a deserted lot that bordered her apartment’s lot. She was a squatter, but she also had permission from the landowner. I did end up wishing that I lived next to an empty, sunny lot whose owner would allow me to garden there! The trick in Novella’s case, though, was that she was living/farming in a rather impoverished part of town, and so the lot’s owner had a fairly difficult time finding anyone who wanted to build anything on the lot. I’m not likely to have that issue in my neighborhood.

One item that continually irked me throughout the book was the author’s mentioning of people’s political leanings – most particularly, anyone who somehow didn’t live up to her standards and who also happened to be (or was presumed by the author to be) a conservative. It was interesting – I’m not sure, for example, how one’s political identification affects one’s willingness to return phone calls in a timely fashion.

Regardless, this is a pretty good read that I’d recommend to anyone. I picked it up after what seemed to me to be a rather lukewarm mention in the Urban Chickens Network blog, expecting something completely different. I was pleasantly surprised. AND this made for a perfect read on our trip.


62 Projects to Make with a Dead Computer by sarahtar
February 28, 2010, 7:14 pm
Filed under: Books, Check This Out!, Waste

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Considering we’ve just offloaded 4 old computers at our house, this new book seems particularly timely.

You can enter a giveaway and read Craft magazine’s review <a href=””>here</a&gt;.

Book Review: The Green Guide by sarahtar
July 15, 2009, 10:39 pm
Filed under: Books

The Green Guide

Of course, this book is available at your local branch of the Des Moines Public Library.

This book was fairly thorough, but shallow, and had a distinct lack of directing readers to resources for further reading.

This book gets bonus points for pointing out the omissions of the German dishwashing study – you know, the one that said that washing in a dishwasher uses so much fewer resources than washing in a sink? (Namely, they didn’t take into account the process of making the dishwasher, plus they didn’t encourage the hand washers to conserve resources, only to get the dishes clean.) Also, for pointing out that front load washing machines are not always the better way to go, environmentally speaking. Those two things won me over to the book.

Now, for a series of my random thoughts while I was reading.

The authors sometimes give good alternatives to traditional, not so great for the environment products. But too often, the suggestion was just “buy organic,” as if organic is automatically awesome. Sometimes, the authors didn’t suggest any alternatives, leaving the reader ready to change their ways, but uncertain of how to do that. Frustrating.

I of course read the diapering section with keen interest, and was disappointed. The authors overestimated the costs of doing laundry (and apparently didn’t actually do any research on the subject). They also didn’t bother to look up statistics on potty training, settling instead for saying that cloth diaper advocates “claim” that use of cloth diapers results in earlier potty training. And the book was written right after G diapers came out, but before they had much market use, and the authors were just in love with the Gdiaper concept. (and who isn’t? but the practical use seems to be where most parents I know have found difficulty.)

I also, of course, found it odd that the authors continually encouraged using reusable, washable items like rags, and of course clothes… but not diapers. Odd.

Moving on, the authors barely mentioned buying local or knowing your suppliers as a way to ensure not only that you’re buying good products that are good for you, but as a way of increasing your eco-friendliness. They mentioned farmer’s markets, but that’s the extent of local shopping they talked about.

All in all, while the authors mostly avoided hype, they also didn’t totally explore some topics (for example, there are apparently no downsides to hybrid cars). Obviously, completely discussing every topic in depth would make the book impossibly thick, but clearly some sections could have been a little more balanced.

That said, this has been my favorite Eco book that I’ve read so far.

Book review: Green goes with Everything, Sloan Barnett by sarahtar
May 18, 2009, 2:57 pm
Filed under: Books

I found this one to be difficult to read. There were just too many words on the page or something. Also, it’s kind of a lengthy ad for Shaklee.

That said, there is some good information in the book, particularly for those looking for easy ways to get started living Green. The book is divided into pratical sections, like “Clean Body,” “Clean Baby,” and “Clean Food.” She talks about the surprising number of nasties in soap, laundry detergent, makeup, etc.

Many of the suggested solutions are just alternate things to buy. If you’re just looking for “instead of Ajax dish soap, buy a green brand instead” advice, you could probably get away without buying ANY books, and just go shopping at Campbell’s or New City instead. But she does suggest things such as just forgoing baby lotion (babies usually don’t need lotion if you avoid drying soap and too frequent baths), etc. (no mention of forgoing makeup, though!)

(I’ll note, she calls disposables “safer.” I’m not sure what she means by that. I have yet to see a cloth diaper explode or do anything that would make me think of them as “less safe.”)

Book Review: Complete Idiot’s Guide to Green Living by sarahtar
March 1, 2009, 10:57 am
Filed under: Books

Alright, I really didn’t care for this one. It’s too textbook-ish without giving any real information. Too much theory and “should” and “ought” with not enough practical steps. As with all of the Complete Idiot guides, there’s a lot of fancy formatting, lots of white space, and a serious dearth of good information.

I did, however, like the chapter on raising Green kids – none of that Scare The Pants Off Of Them stuff, and very focused on Teach Them To Appreciate Nature. A huge thumbs-up in my opinion.

So, though this is, like all the books I’m reviewing, available at the Des Moines library, it’s not particularly useful.

Reclaim, Recycle, Reuse book review by sarahtar
February 19, 2009, 4:06 pm
Filed under: Books

Another fine selection from the Des Moines Library.

This is not a particularly large book, but it’s jam-packed with bulleted lists. Almost overwhelmingly so. Some of the ideas are good ones, some are not so practical. Some make sense only when you consider that the book was published in Australia. Interestingly, it took me several times over the page talking about passive solar to figure this one out! (“Wait! Did they say to use north-facing windows to capture the sun?”)

Living like Ed Book Review by sarahtar
February 15, 2009, 10:05 pm
Filed under: Books

I really liked this book. It’s basically written in a casual, conversational style, as though Ed was just chatting with you about all the things he thinks are important when choosing to live green. He includes things that are easy to do (like turning down your thermostat) and things that are more challenging (solar panels). There are some places I would have preferred more statistical evidence, but that’s not really what the book’s about.

He also got me all stirred up to get an electric bike to enable me to get further distances while towing both kids. (like the library, which is out of reach on the bike) I just don’t have that kind of scratch, though!!

My favorite part of the book was easily his discussion of transportation choices. Clearly, for Ed, his electric car is the best option – he recharges it with his solar panels. But his discussion of biofuels vs hyrids (hybrids win) and driving vs flying (driving wins) were interesting.

All in all, the book gets into several Green topics, all in a light conversational tone that conveys good information without sounding textbook-y.

This is a super fun book, and would make a good gift, as well.