My Empire of Dirt

My Empire of Dirt

How One Man Turned His Big City Backyard Into A Farm

Book - 2010
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For seven months, Manny Howard--a lifelong urbanite--woke up every morning and ventured into his eight-hundred-square-foot backyard to maintain the first farm in Flatbush, Brooklyn, in generations. His goal was simple: to subsist on what he could produce on this farm, and only this farm, for at least a month. The project came at a time in Manny's life when he most needed it--even if his family, and especially his wife, seemingly did not. But a farmer's life, he discovered--after a string of catastrophes, including a tornado, countless animal deaths (natural, accidental, and inflicted), and even a severed finger--is not an easy one. And it can be just as hard on those he shares it with.

Manny's James Beard Foundation Award-winning New York magazine cover story--the impetus for this project--began as an assessment of the locavore movement. We now think more about what we eat than ever before, buying organic for our health and local for the environment, often making those decisions into political statements in the process. My Empire of Dirt is a ground-level examination--trenchant, touching, and outrageous--of the cultural reflex to control one of the most elemental aspects of our lives: feeding ourselves.

Unlike most foodies with a farm fetish, Manny didn't put on overalls with much of a philosophy in mind, save a healthy dose of skepticism about some of the more doctrinaire tendencies of locavores. He did not set out to grow all of his own food because he thought it was the right thing to do or because he thought the rest of us should do the same. Rather, he did it because he was just crazy enough to want to find out how hard it would actually be to take on a challenge based on a radical interpretation of a trendy (if well-meaning) idea and see if he could rise to the occasion.

A chronicle of the experiment that took slow-food to the extreme, My Empire of Dirt tells the story of one man's struggle against environmental, familial, and agricultural chaos, and in the process asks us to consider what it really takes (and what it really means) to produce our own food. It's one thing to know the farmer, it turns out--it's another thing entirely to be the farmer. For most of us, farming is about food. For the farmer, and his family, it's about work.
Publisher: New York : Scribner, 2010
Edition: 1st Scribner hardcover ed
ISBN: 9781416585169
Branch Call Number: 630.97471 H835m
Characteristics: 277p. : ill

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t
twintoes
Feb 22, 2015

This was a tough read; given the fact that this guy had no interest in farming, other than being paid to do it as an experiment for an article. It was so evident how little he cared about it, in how he neglected the animals, and even killed them in-humanely. I wish I had read the other reviews before checking this one out.

m
melaniecrampton
Apr 25, 2014

This guy is really irresponsible. I can't imagine how he got this published. Reading the part about the rabbit was just horrible. Does a huge disservice to urban farming. He is totally irresponsible, both to his animals/farm and family, and is extremely lazy. Definitely a cautionary tale if you want to start a urban farm without doing any type of preparation, organization or work.

c
carolinekogan
Nov 05, 2012

I randomly picked this book up off the library shelf. Fail. Thusfar it is awful. I can't help but hate the guy, he paints himself in an awful light. lazy. Half-Assed. As an urban farmer myself, all of his mistakes are preventable by doing his research first. He just plunges headfirst into this, resulting in killing most of his animals. I can't blame his wife for wanting to leave him. Im also starting to think he is lazy. He brings animals home w/o first building their coop/hutch/cage. Really?! I hate him so much I don't want to finish the book.

t
TeaORCoffee
May 23, 2012

I couldn't get through more than half of the book. A bit like watching a train wreck in slow motion; unbearable, really. It turned into a bit of a guilty pleasure, wondering what idiocy this "farmer" would engage in next. It could only have been written by someone with an unlimited bankroll and no knowledge of the real work of farming. I can only assume his wife left him by the end of the book.

h
horthhill
Sep 01, 2011

"My Empire of Dirt" was both entertaining and eye-opening. Manny Howard had me snickering and smiling. His lack of sentimentality was eye-opening. I guess you gotta be tough if you're going to eat the pets. My favourite anecdote was the maiming of the pregnant rabbit. It was horrible but I can see how the whole incident could happen. Howard was trying to feed himself for a month from only the food produced on his Brooklyn city lot. The task doesn't really seem possible, especially when the 'city farmer' starts at zero with no farming skills and 6 months to accomplish the task. The innate ignorance and stress are bound to lead to mistakes. And, they do. Howard comes across as quite candid and frank. The book is never dull. Howard is indeed entertaining. And, the story of his project is a cautionary tale.

k
khenning
Dec 17, 2010

Horrid story, terrible disjointed writing, and utter lack of knowledge on how to humanely raise animals. Do not waste your time reading this. For a really good read get Farm City.

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kittyblack
Jun 02, 2011

kittyblack thinks this title is suitable for 14 years and over

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