MY EMPIRE OF DIRT by Manny Howard


How One Man Turned His Big-City Backyard into a Farm
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A magazine journalist cultivates a farm in his Brooklyn backyard.

Whether chasing a celebrity chef to Brazil or ghostwriting an editor’s intimate chronicle of infidelities, Howard, a former editor at Gourmet magazine, among others, has had more than his share of “hairbrained assignments.” So it came as no surprise when a New York Magazine editor commissioned an experiment in slow-food urban agriculture whereby the author would farm his own provisions—enough to sustain him for one month. Here, the author expands his James Beard Foundation Award–winning article into a book about self-sustainability and the benefits of responsible, eco-friendly consumption. Converting the clay-like “barren earth” of the author’s backyard into a crop-producing garden was no easy feat. Aided by hydroponic technology, plants flourished and the garage soon became a habitable barn. However, tribulations began to mount. Acquiring tilapia proved futile, rabbits resisted mating (“My rabbits don’t fuck like rabbits”), Howard’s pinkie was practically severed from a botched attempt at chicken-coop construction and a surprise tornado drowned bean, squash, pumpkin and tomato plants. The author’s tireless farming efforts also put a strain on his marriage to successful businesswoman Lisa. Woven throughout the refreshingly honest narrative are charming familial memories: the couple’s droll, much-negotiated decision to keep their first child and to marry, the delivery of a second child precipitating a relocation to Prospect Park and frequent asides on Brooklyn’s history and ponderings from farmer and “agrarian activist” and “partisan in the politics of domesticity” Wendell Berry. Howard’s skeptical thoughts on those who seek out locally grown produce versus the “clinical mechanization” of food may flummox environmentally friendly readers, but by harvest time, the author proves an outspoken and productive modern-day farmer.

An occasionally snarky, consistently engaging experiment in environmental science.

Pub Date: April 27th, 2010
ISBN: 978-1-4165-8516-9
Page count: 288pp
Publisher: Scribner
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15th, 2010


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