Aquaponics Vacation Reading

By: Tawnya Sawyer

Over the past two weeks, our family went on our annual Lake Powell houseboat trip with my brother-in-law’s family. Vacations tend to mean different things to different people but to me, it is all about reading books. In my ‘normal’ life I tend to work until between 9:00 and 10:00 every night and then watch the Daily Show or something else equally brain dead on TIVO. I’m just too tired to do anything else. I only have time to read books in short snippets on my iPhone while waiting in lines or to listen to audio books while walking the dog or on long drives. So all year long I look forward to a vacation read-a-thon and take guilty pleasure in pondering which books to read.

So what reading material does an aquaponic gardener take on vacation? This year I managed to finish two wonderful books and most of an audobook on the drive up and back, and to start one more book.

TomatolandTomatoland: How Modern Industrial Agriculture Destroyed Our Most Alluring Fruit, by Barry Estabrook – This book was recommended to me at the very last minute by fellow aquapon, Molly Stanek. Being a huge fan of tomatoes (what gardener isn’t?) and fascinated by the self-destructive tendencies of industrial agriculture, there was no way that I wasn’t going to jump on this book! And I wasn’t disappointed. It took me on a riveting journey through the Florida tomato industry, starting with an analysis of why tomatoes shouldn’t be grown in Florida in the first place and why every tomato grown there requires a staggering amount of petroleum based fertilizers, pesticides and water. The indecency continued with the plight of the migrant workers who work in these fields. Entire chapters were devoted to their sub-human living conditions and their horrifying health problems and birth defects caused by pesticide exposure, and slavery.

After dropping to the low point of the slavery chapter (hard to beat a chapter on slavery when you are trying to make a strong point about negative social impact!), the tone began to climb with a chapter on tomato breeding, which highlighted the fascinating work of two tomato breeding masters in Florida. The book actually ended on a high note by spotlighting the work of some small family farms, particularly one in New York, and the influence of consumer demand to potentially change the course of the poor tomato. This book was extremely engaging and gripped me from start to finish.

Farm CityFarm City: The Education of an Urban Farmer by Novella Carpenter – This thoroughly entertaining book was a perfect book for an aquapon to read on vacation. It was delicious pleasure reading, although not without some significant messages and substance thrown in along the way.

A true story set on a vacant lot in a rough urban neighborhood in Oakland, CA; this book takes you on the author’s personal journey of transformation into an urban farmer. She starts typically enough with a raised bed vegetable garden designed using permaculture principles. To this she adds a bee hive and chickens, both of which she had experience with before the move to Oakland. The book is divided into three sections – Turkey, Rabbit and Pig – and the real story begins when she gets an assorted box of baby meat birds in the mail. I won’t ruin the story for you by going into much more detail, but suffice to say that integral to Novella’s notion of Urban Farming is the raising of animals for food in a way that is low impact and sustainable – and then – humanely slaughtering her animals. I entertained anyone within earshot with the occasional cry of ‘ew’ she just cut off a chicken’s head with pruning shears, and, now she has two pigs she is feeding by dumpster diving! Plus, her emotional journey was particularly interesting to me because of my recent experience with harvesting my first aquaponically grown fish.

This was one of those books that you just hate to finish because you have really developed a personal relationship with the author by the end. I’d like to have her over for a fresh fish dinner someday!

Four FishFour Fish: The Future of the Last Wild Food by Paul Greenberg – We listened to this in the car during our 10 hour drive back and forth to Lake Powell. This incredible book tells the story of what is happening to the fish in our oceans and waterways through the stories of four fish species: Salmon, Sea Bass, Cod and Tuna. The stories and history run the range from a colorful salmon vendor in Alaska to a harrowing tale of surviving a storm in the Mediterranean Sea to deliver the first artificially bred bass fingerlings. It alternates between information and storytelling, but it always entertains and is a must read for anyone who is concerned about the plight of our wild fish. Plus, the author is a fan of aquaponics and has said the following in an endorsement of my upcoming book “I have always wanted to put my money where my mouth is and figure out how to do sustainable aquaculture in the context of my home garden.” He is our people.

Next I started Gaia’s Garden: A Guide to Homescale Permaculture by Toby Hemmenway, but, alas, vacation ended so now this next wonderful book is relegated to those rare moments of down-time that become available in the real world.