I was given the opportunity to review the book “A Slice of Organic Life” edited by Sheherazade Goldsmith, et al. I first noticed the book while perusing the local Borders bookstore. The bright colors and beautiful photos throughout make this “green your lifestyle” book stand out amongst a slew of others that have recently hit the shelves.
From the publisher:
¬†Featuring over 90 self-contained projects, from growing your own food
organically, cooking home-grown produce, keeping selected livestock,
and leading a more sustainable lifestyle, this down-to-earth, yet
practical guide is the perfect start for someone looking to go “green.”
The team of experts offer options for city dwellers with little space,
for those living in the suburbs with a bit of land, and for those who
have acres of land and no ideas on how to use them. The book includes a
foreword by Alice Waters.
The first section, No Need For a Yard, gives readers with limited space 28 different tips on ways they can make small changes in their lives. From growing your own salad and making flavored oils and vinegar, to cleaning without harmful chemicals to choosing natural diapers, this section has included many concrete ways that people new to the movement to reduce one’s environmental impact can get started. Even for readers like myself that may consider themselves beyond the novice stage of change, there are great tips to continue down an ecologically friendly path.
Here are a few passages that I found to be personally enlightening:
Given the hardwood floors that cover 75% of my home, (pg. 90) Use natural cleaners and polishes, gives recipes for both hardwood cleaner, and natural wood floor polish. One can make their own cleaner using liquid soap, vinegar, and strong brewed herbal tea in a bucket of hot water. The polish is a mixture of turpentine, beeswax, and essential oils, that is sparingly applied and buffed to a shine.
There is also a great DIY section on (pg. 68) Using safer pest controls at home, which gives a host of ways to control insects from ants to mosquitos. There are step by step instructions for making your own flea collars, as well as homemade fly paper.
The second section expands on ideas for those who have a small yard or a terrace to work with. This section has plenty of ideas for starting a garden, planting fruit trees, and building a worm composter. A passage on eco-friendly building materials and the hazardous chemicals that lie in MDF and other “traditional” materials was introductory, but beneficial.
A project that I would definitely like to try is making milk paint, by mixing casein powder (a by-product of milk) and water, with natural pigment powder to create a safe and chemical free paint product. Seems like it would be a great choice for breathing new life into an old table or piece of furniture. (You can find this recipe on pg. 132.)
A section on growing your own tea plants, and steeping your own organic tea appealed to my wife and I, as we had planted lemon balm and chamomile seeds last year, and are reaping the benefits this year. This passage tells the appropriate time to harvest the tea, as well as the naturopathic uses of the brews (pg. 170).
The final section: Yard, Community Garden, or Field, goes into more time and energy intensive projects. Here there are passages on keeping chickens, geese, honeybees, or (for the more adventurous) pigs. The section on keeping chickens is thorough enough to cover determining which breeds to raise, raising chicks, and discussing the required hen house or chicken tractor. At a mere six pages though, I’d imagine that it would be best to use the included directory to find more information on the subject.
[as an aside, the directory provides a wealth of weblinks for more information on topics included in the book, as well as other titles to look for at your local library or bookstore]
Other passages cover making preserves, growing apple trees, and preserving fresh fruit to enjoy out of season. The section on storing apples and citrus fruits was informative. Wrapped in newspaper, and stored in a cool dry area, mid season apples will last for 4-5 weeks, and late season apples can be stored up to eight months. A great tip for those bushels of apples that make their way home from apple picking. Citrus fruits, for our southern latitude readers, can be stored in paper-lined boxes, covered with sand for up to two months.
Mixed in to the larger projects in this section are gems like “Making Freshly Churned Butter”, “Making a Simple Goat’s Cheese”, and “Growing Companion Plants” – a guide for attracting pollinators, and repelling unwanted pests and plant diseases.
As someone who is striving to reduce my environmental impact, I found the topics covered were diverse enough to give ideas to many well-informed readers, while being an excellent introduction to those just warming to the idea. The book is very easy on the eyes, with intermittent spreads of beautiful photos. It is the kind of book that anyone who likes Martha Stewart would love. Consider it this year as a holiday gift for your wife, mother, or special someone that is considering making changes in their lives for the better.
That said, I do have to critiques of the book, the first is the wide-ranging use of fonts in the book. Perhaps it is just me, but switching fonts each paragraph and page turn is a little distracting. I like things simple and straight forward, and given the smoothly designed layout of the pictures, using multiple fonts per page doesn’t seem to gel with the flow of the book. The second is the lack of a explanation of the amount of time and effort is required to take on flocks of chickens, geese, goats, and other farm animals. Yes there are brief mentions of the labor involved, but I feel that a more rigorous warning should have been given to those considering taking on the care of animals. To me the decision on whether to get a goat or two should not come lightly, after considering what to do with a glut of summer tomatoes. I imagine the author’s intent is not to belittle the decision, but to open readers minds to the idea of stepping outside of their normal bounds. This book doesn’t purport to be “Country Wisdom & Know-How – Everything You Need to Know to Live Off the Land” – my favorite A to Z desk reference, but aims to show:
¬†…that the joys of eating seasonally, growing your own food, keeping bees, making compost, or keeping chickens are real, that being more conscientious isn’t about giving up things. On the contrary, it’s about rediscovering the simple pleasures of life. Each of the chapters provides simple ideas and examples of how we can lessen our impact on the world and improve the quality of our lives. Some of the topics may seem insignificant, but it’s impossible to exagerate the value of acting together. We all need to ear, for instance, and so the tiniest change in the way we eat will have profound and wide-ranging implications.
Again this is a wonderful introductory book, with many great tips. It can be read straight through, but I found myself reading a few sections at night and falling asleep to dreams of fresh compote, safely clean floors, and a wonderful herb garden.