Friday, April 30, 2010

Chicken & egg thing

By Elizabeth Dana

Ditmas Park backyard farm since 2007. But he’s not only doing it for the meat.

Inspired by the “locavore movement” that encourages eating locally grown food, Howard took it one step further: to live off only what he could grow in his backyard for an entire month.
He did it — and got a book out of it, too.

“My Empire of Dirt: How One Man Turned His Big-City Backyard into a Farm” chronicles how Howard converted his urban backyard into a vegetable garden, chicken coop, rabbit hutch and duck pond. His summer was filled with demanding physical labor, chasing rabbits and, of course, castrating chickens.

The idea — at least originally — was to go beyond the trendiness of being a locavore and actually learn what it means to grow food and raise livestock in an urban setting.

But animal deaths, a near breakdown of his marriage, a tornado — the first to hit Brooklyn in over a hundred years — and a severed finger tested his physical, mental and emotional strengths.

“I didn’t have any idea that this thing would grab me by the ears and pull me into the ground with it,” said Howard. “It was certainly all-consuming, but it was never a question that I would finish.”

Nearly three years later, “the farm” is still functioning, albeit on a smaller scale — more low-maintenance chickens have replaced the now-deceased rabbits, for example.

The experience made him realize that the locavore movement falls short.

“Knowing the farmer and being the farmer are two totally different things,” he said.

Manny Howard will read from “My Empire of Dirt: How One Man Turned His Big-City Backyard into a Farm” at Sunny’s Bar [253 Conover St. between Beard and Reed streets in Red Hook, (718) 625-8211] on May 2 at 3 pm; and Greenlight Book Store [686 Fulton St. at Portland Ave. in Fort Greene, (718) 246-0200] on May 13 at 7:30 pm.

Photo by Stefano Giovannini


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