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Two Books in One Review!

Hi, Folks!

I received these two books at the same time and they were so similar that
it seemed to make sense to review them together.  If you'd like to use the
review, let me know -- I retain copyright.  I'll never get rich this way,
but my fame continues throughout the nation! :-D



Bringing the Food Economy Home:  Local Alternatives to Global Agribusiness
by Helena Norberg-Hodge, Todd Merrifield and Steven Gorelick, Zed Books,
2002.  ISBN:  1-56549-146-7, 140 pages.

Civic Agriculture:  Re-connecting Farm, Food and Community by Thomas Lyson,
University Press of New England, 2004.  ISBN:  1-58465-414-7, 136 pages.

But Still Try  For Who Knows What Is Possible --- Michael Faraday

Like most science majors at Ursinus College, I read these words inscribed
above the doorway of Pfaler Hall as I entered for biweekly tests and
all-consuming finals.  Few of us, even today, could identify Faraday by his
portrait, but almost all of us have found that his value of simply plugging
away at ones calling in the face of an uncertain future applies equally
well to the student struggling to pass organic chemistry or the adult
attempting to make a living by non-traditional means  especially those
of us called to organic gardening/sustainable agriculture.

Although Bringing the Food Economy Home and Civic Agriculture were
published two years apart, the history they chronicle  the rise of global
agribusiness, its stunning success in economic terms, its hidden failures
in ecological, food safety and rural life issues and the current rise of an
agriculture of place or civic agriculture to remedy those failures  is
pretty much the same.  Both books explain how the Industrial Revolution
accelerated a trend to transform agriculture from a locally-sufficient
economy based on home-produced goods and services traded with neighbors to
a few cash-based commodity corporations dependent on maximum profits for
stockholders.  Both books also explain the farmers markets, community
support agriculture (CSA), buy local campaigns, community gardens, food
co-opts and other local structures that have arisen to counter the concerns
many have with the current corporate global food system.

For those who prefer the really big picture, Bringing the Food Economy
Home, written by International Society for Ecology and Culture (ISEC)
staffers based in the UK, concentrates on the global implications of a
corporate food system and provides examples from both First and Third World
countries.  While several US essays are included, many of the photos,
charts and accompanying stories explaining familiar concepts are from
sources that will be new to most US readers.  The book also includes
extensive endnotes, a decent index, a chart of US and UK measurements and a
resource guide of organizations to consult or join.

Civic Agriculture is part of the Tuft University series Civil
Society:  Historical and Contemporary Perspectives. The focus, therefore,
is more on US social history and how community-based agriculture increases
social capital.  As Lyson, the author, is based at Cornell University, he
provides an excellent historical context on how Northeast growers, who
traditionally sold their products in local urban markets, have been able to
resist somewhat (relative to the MidWest and far West farmers and ranchers)
the pressures to go corporate and in the current century, preserve their
land by embracing CSAs, farmers markets and other forms of civic

And yet, buried beneath the earnest arguments about how growers and
consumers alike can prosper through local food systems, both books admit
that all these local efforts are barely making a dent (between 2 to 4% of
food industry revenues) in global agribusiness economic clout and access
to power to maintain that clout.  As Lyson states:

Civic agriculture does not currently represent an economic challenge to
the conventional agriculture and food industry and it is unlikely to pose a
challenge anytime soon.  However, it does include some innovative ways to
produce, process and distribute food.  And it represents a sustainable
alternative to the socially, economically and environmentally destructive
practices that have come to be associated with conventional agriculture.

In other words, to those of us who strive to make a living in sustainable
agriculture: But still try, for who knows what is possible.

Reviewed by Dorene Pasekoff, Coordinator
St. Johns United Church of Christ Organic Community Garden
Phoenixville, PA

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