ashley englishbooksproductssmall measures

small measures with ashley: eco winter reads

by Ashley

While the days of winter aren’t necessary “long” if measured strictly in terms of daylight hours, they certainly can feel lengthy. The arctic winds whipping around New England (not to mention the rest of the winter wilds lashing the entire globe) sequester many of us living in the Northern Hemisphere to the indoors. If you’re not into skiing, ice-skating or other outdoor cold-weather activities, all of that time spent indoors can make you a little stir crazy, if that energy isn’t directed toward a productive activity.

Accordingly, today’s Small Measures offers a top-10 list of eco reads for whiling away the dark days of winter. Paired with a mug of hot tea, some comfy slippers and a cozy blanket, these books will hopefully help to make winter a bit more bearable. Chock-full of inspiration, ideas and initiative, they’ll make you welcome your hours inside. I’ve listed some newly published books, as well as some “new to me” selections. Though variable in content, they are united by an emphasis on sustainable practices, be they food, energy, resource or lifestyle in nature. — Ashley

So, here’s my round-up. I’ve read most of these, and others are on my own planned winter reading list. And because I have a head cold (the irony that I got my first cold in years after my post from last week does not escape me) and a fussy baby on my lap, I’m going to let the book synopses offered by Barnes & Nobles do the talking:

1. Farm Together Now by Amy Franseschini, Anne Hamersky, Daniel Tucker

With interest in home gardening at an all-time high and concerns about food production and safety making headlines, Farm Together Now explores the current state of grassroots farming in the U.S. Part oral history and part treatise on food politics, this fascinating project is an introduction to the many individuals who are producing sustainable food, challenging public policy, and developing community organizing efforts. With hundreds of photographs and a foreword from New York Times columnist Mark Bittman, Farm Together Now will educate, inspire, and cultivate a new wave of modern agrarians.

2. The Bucolic Plague by Josh Kilmer-Purcell

What happens when two New Yorkers (one an ex-drag queen) do the unthinkable: start over, have a herd of kids, and get a little dirty? Find out in this riotous and moving true tale of goats, mud, and a centuries-old mansion in rustic upstate New York—the new memoir by Josh Kilmer-Purcell, author of the New York Times bestseller I Am Not Myself These Days. A happy series of accidents and a doughnut-laden escape upstate take Josh and his partner, Brent, to the doorstep of the magnificent (and fabulously for sale) Beekman Mansion. One hour and one tour later, they have begun their transformation from uptight urbanites into the two-hundred-year-old-mansion-owning Beekman Boys. Suddenly, Josh—a full-time New Yorker with a successful advertising career—and Brent are weekend farmers, surrounded by nature’s bounty and an eclectic cast: roosters who double as a wedding cover band; Bubby, the bionic cat; and a herd of eighty-eight goats, courtesy of their new caretaker, Farmer John. And soon, a fledgling business, born of a gift of handmade goat-milk soap, blossoms into a brand, Beekman 1802. The Bucolic Plague is tart and sweet, touching and laugh-out-loud funny, a story about approaching middle age, being in a long-term relationship, realizing the city no longer feeds you in the same way it used to, and finding new depths of love and commitment wherever you live.

3. The Dirty Life by Kristin Kimball

Single, thirtysomething, working as a writer in New York City, Kristin Kimball was living life as an adventure. But she was beginning to feel a sense of longing for a family and for home. When she interviewed a dynamic young farmer, her world changed. Kristin knew nothing about growing vegetables, let alone raising pigs and cattle and driving horses. But on an impulse, smitten, if not yet in love, she shed her city self and moved to five hundred acres near Lake Champlain to start a new farm with him. The Dirty Life is the captivating chronicle of their first year on Essex Farm, from the cold North Country winter through the following harvest season—complete with their wedding in the loft of the barn. Kimball and her husband had a plan: to grow everything needed to feed a community. It was an ambitious idea, a bit romantic, and it worked. Every Friday evening, all year round, a hundred people travel to Essex Farm to pick up their weekly share of the “whole diet”—beef, pork, chicken, milk, eggs, maple syrup, grains, flours, dried beans, herbs, fruits, and forty different vegetables—produced by the farm. The work is done by draft horses instead of tractors, and the fertility comes from compost. Kimball’s vivid descriptions of landscape, food, cooking—and marriage—are irresistible.

CLICK HERE for all 10 book reviews after the jump!

4. The Self-Sufficient-ish Bible by Andy & Dave Hamilton

In this fun and helpful handbook, “Green Twins” Andy and Dave Hamilton present an approach to eco-conscious living that proves that helping the environment does not require altering an entire lifestyle. This guide is packed with creative ideas for recycling, growing organic vegetables, and establishing an environmentally friendly office for those who lack the space or time to be completely self-sufficient but still want to minimize their environmental impact. There are small suggestions for those just getting started—such as choosing alternative kitchen-cleaning products—as well as bigger projects—including making a solar oven from a used pizza carton and establishing a green nursery for children—that cover all aspects of modern family life. Earth-friendly recipes, herbal remedies, and eco-friendly travel solutions round out this helpful resource to making the Earth just a little greener every day.

5. The Creative Family by Amanda Soule

When you learn to awaken your family’s creativity, wonderful things will happen: you’ll make meaningful connections with your children in large and small ways; your children will more often engage in their own creative discoveries; and your family will embrace new ways to relax, play, and grow together. With just the simple tools around you—your imagination, basic art supplies, household objects, and natural materials—you can transform your family life and have so much more fun! Amanda Soule has charmed many with her tales of creativity and parenting on her blog, SouleMama. Here she shares ideas and projects with the same warm tone and down-to-earth voice. Perfect for all families, the wide range of projects presented here offers ideas for imaginative play, arts and crafts, nature explorations, and family celebrations. This book embraces a whole new way of living that will engage your children’s imagination, celebrate their achievements, and help you to express love and gratitude for each other as a family.

6. The Four-Season Harvest by Eliot Coleman

Can you imagine bringing a little taste of southern France to northern New England winters? Originally published in 1992, Four-Season Harvest introduced readers to Eliot Coleman’s simple, efficient system for growing and harvesting vegetables throughout the year, no matter what the climate. Now, in this revised and expanded edition, Coleman takes his gardening classic several steps further, describing the continuing evolution and perfection of the winter gardening concept. Especially noteworthy is the knowledge, wisdom, and inspiration that Coleman received on a winter pilgrimage to southern France in 1996. What he had realized is that, although the climate may be different there, southern France (and parts of Italy) lies along the 44th parallel, the same latitude as Coleman’s farm in Maine. That means that day length is the same in both regions, and the amount of sunlight is the key that regulates plant growth. The simple crop-protection and storage schemes that Coleman has developed enable any home gardener in a place such as New England to enjoy fresh food year-round, à la the traditional cuisine of rural southern France.

7. The Urban Homestead by Erik Knutzen & Kelly Coyne

The Urban Homestead is the essential handbook for a fast-growing new movement: urbanites becoming gardeners and farmers. Rejecting both end-times hand wringing and dewy-eyed faith that technology will save us from ourselves, urban homesteaders choose instead to act. By growing their own food and harnessing natural energy, they are planting seeds for the future of our cities. If you would like to harvest your own vegetables, raise city chickens, or convert to solar energy, this practical, hands-on book is full of step-by-step projects that will get you started homesteading immediately, whether you live in an apartment or a house. It is also a guidebook to the larger movement and will point you to the best books and Internet resources on self-sufficiency topics. Written by city dwellers for city dwellers, this illustrated, smartly designed, two-color instruction book proposes a paradigm shift that will improve our lives, our community, and our planet. Authors Kelly Coyne and Erik Knutzen happily farm in Los Angeles and run the urban homestead blog www.homegrownrevolution.org.

8. Made From Scratch by Jenna Woginrich

Discovering the pleasures of a handmade life was a longtime dream for urban homesteader Jenna Woginrich. At 24 years old, living in an apartment in Knoxville, Tennessee, and working as a computer designer, Woginrich was nurturing her dream of learning to homestead. Now, at 27, she’s settled on a rented farm in rural Vermont, where she cares for two working sled dogs, chickens, a flock of sheep, honeybees, a couple of geese, fluffy Angora rabbits, and a backyard garden that provides much of her own food. Part memoir and part how-to manual, Made from Scratch recounts Woginrich’s growing independence and the successes and missteps she experiences as she learns to more fully live off the land. By turns upbeat, dramatic, and sometimes sorrowful, her story embodies the experience of the new homesteader, one who is committed to reducing dependence on commercially produced goods while still working a day job to pay the rent. Woven into the narrative, readers will find easy-to-follow instructions for making clothing, playing a musical instrument, preserving fruit, brewing the best pot of coffee imaginable, and much more.

9. Radical Homemakers by Shannon Hayes

Mother Nature has shown her hand. Faced with climate change, dwindling resources, and species extinctions, most Americans understand the fundamental steps necessary to solve our global crises—drive less, consume less, increase self-reliance, buy locally, eat locally, rebuild our local communities. In essence, the great work we face requires rekindling the home fires. Radical Homemakers is about men and women across the U.S. who focus on home and hearth as a political and ecological act, and who have centered their lives on family and community for personal fulfillment and cultural change. It explores what domesticity looks like in an era that has benefited from feminism, where domination and oppression are cast aside and where the choice to stay home is no longer equated with mind-numbing drudgery, economic insecurity, or relentless servitude. Radical homemakers nationwide speak about empowerment, transformation, happiness, and casting aside the pressures of a consumer culture to live in a world where money loses its power to relationships, independent thought, and creativity. If you ever considered quitting a job to plant tomatoes, read to a child, pursue creative work, can green beans and heal the planet, this is your book.

10. Mycelium Running by Paul Stamets

More mushrooms, less pollution! Yes, you heard right: growing more mushrooms may be the best thing we can do to save the environment and mushroom expert Paul Stamets explains how in Mycelium Running, a groundbreaking manual for saving the world through mushroom cultivation. The science goes like this: fine filaments of cells called mycelium, the fruit of which are mushrooms, already cover large areas of land around the world. As the mycelium grows, it breaks down plant and animal debris, recycling carbon, nitrogen, and other essential elements in the creation of rich new soil. What Stamets has discovered is that the enzymes and acids that mycelium produces to decompose this debris are superb at breaking apart hydrocarbons—the base structure common to many pollutants. So, for instance, when diesel oil-contaminated soil is inoculated with strains of oyster mycelia, the soil loses its toxicity in just eight weeks. The science is both simple and brilliant, and in Mycelium Running, Stamets discusses the various branches of this exciting new technology, including mycorestoration (biotransforming stripped land), mycofiltration (creating habitat buffers), myco-remediation (healing chemically harmed environments), and mycoforestry (creating truly sustainable forests).

What about you? What eco-inspiration is resting on your nightstand? We’ve 7 1/2 more weeks of winter staring us down, so I’ve got plenty of time for reading on my (frosty!) hands.

Suggested For You


  • Wow…good list. I have read about half of these, the most recent A Dirty Life. I have the Fab. Beekman Boys on the Ipad too!! Happy weekend reading!

  • I’m reading Made From Scratch now and love it. And I can’t wait to read The Dirty Life… I’m an upstate NYer, which makes their Essex farm even more alluring!

  • Great list! I have only read a few, I hope I can find some of these at the library. I was really inspired by radical homemakers. Thanks for sharing so many good book ideas!

  • Four Season Farming is amazing! This practice is starting to take hold in upstate NY, where I live. I’m quickly becoming addicted to fresh winter veggies.

    The author/revolutionizer also graduated from my alma mater, so I’m biased in his favor!

  • I agree, Four Season Farming is absolutely wonderful! I’m excited about reading _The Resilient Gardener_ by Carol Deppe. I’ve heard wonderful things about it. As a veteran reader of gardening books, it’s exciting when I find a book that gives me new information.

  • Thank you so much! I haven’t heard of many of these books before and look forward to checking them out, especially the Dirty Life.

  • All FABULOUS books! We review books about food, farming and sustainability on our blog Farmbrarian, and we’ve featured many of these books.

  • Thanks so much for including The Bucolic Plague on your list. Those who enjoy the books can catch the new season of The Fabulous Beekman Boys on Planet Green beginning the end of March

  • Another fun read, “My Empire of Dirt” by Manny Howard”. A magazine writer gets an assignment to eat only what he can produce on his plot of land in NYC. Hilarity ensues.

  • perfect reading list to tide us all over until spring actually comes – I’m hoping our library carries a few of these titles.

  • An awesome addition to this list would be Animal,Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver. If any of these books resound with you, this one definitely will too…and it is such a joy to read.

  • We love The Bucolic Plague so much my fiance and I are fighting over our only copy! Thanks so much for this uplifting list. I just bought two more books from it.