Community Philosphy Blog and Library

Posts Tagged ‘St.Louis’

HOMEGROWN Life: Get Out There And Do Nothing! The One-Straw Revolution

Wednesday, September 15th, 2010






I’ve been doing a lot of reading this summer; at least half a dozen books all on the topic of food ethics.  The most recent book I picked up is perhaps the oldest writing of the bunch, but also the most applicable to our mindset at YellowTree Farm.


The One-Straw Revolution by Masanobu Fukuoka sparked my interest after noticing the buzz it received lately through various tweets and internet reviews.  It was originally published at the end of the seventies, long before Food, Inc. and other Michael Pollan-esque tomes I read earlier this season.

Fukuoka wrote of his experience farming in rural Japan.  “Do-nothing farming,” he called it involves no tilling, no pesticides, no chemical fertilizers, no pruning of fruit trees, no weeding, and a sort of toss-and-scatter approach to sowing seeds.

Although much of the book details his method for cultivating rice in Japan, Fukuoka’s technique of “do-nothing farming” is still applicable as a method for growing anything right here in Missouri.   By not disrupting the soil, not drowning the dirt in petrochemicals, and not over-irrigating, Justin and I can not only create an optimum environment for our crops to thrive, we can also make the job much easier.

As Fukuoka put it, “If gentle measures…are practiced, instead of using man-made chemicals and machinery to wage a war of annihilation, then the environment will move back toward its natural balance and even troublesome weeds can be brought under control.”

Every other book I read earlier this summer contained sensationalized statistics and gruesome first-person accounts, cautioning why I shouldn’t eat this or that, and setting forth all the atrocities I already know are being committed.  One manuscript nearly put me into a coma with way too much economic jargon, and another disgusted me so much it almost turned me vegan.

The One-Straw Revolution has been refreshingly different from all those books.  Fukuoka’s informal prose is charming and light, the text is devoid of scare tactics, and his example of farming is one I feel we’ll refer to time and again to improve on our own practices; to cultivate and perfect ourselves, just as Fukuoka said: “The ultimate goal of farming is not the growing of crops, but the cultivation and perfection of human beings.”

Yellow Tree Farm’s web site:


Danielle Leszcz, Yellowtree Farm

“I’m half of YellowTree Farm, an urban homestead that I founded with my husband in late 2008. Together, my husband and I grow vegetables and raise animals on less than 1/10 of an acre in St. Louis, Missouri. We speak publicly about urban farming, sew, and make our own toiletries.  I don’t have children. I have animals, which is kind of the same thing as being a parent, except I eat my babies.”

HOMEGROWN Life: Nature’s lessons of loss and humility

Wednesday, August 18th, 2010






I’ve helped raise plenty of animals at our homestead over the past couple of years.  Some, like several of our chickens and ducks, had friendly monikers like “Danny DeVito” and “Mr. Bojangles.”  Our goats were named “Gumby” and “Gidget.”  Others, like our quail, were too numerous to name.   We cared for some starting as day-old chicks, others we watched emerge from eggs we incubated ourselves, and still other creatures came to our farm at several weeks or even months old.

Chick hatching

Out of all the animals I’ve helped care for at our home, I am sure the current tally of those I’ve helped kill has far surpassed a hundred.  Still, the slaughter I helped enact was done with deliberation and preparation.

However, today’s post isn’t about the planning involved when you decide to slaughter livestock you’ve cared for.  It’s about what happens when Mother Nature does the killing for you.

More than once, I’ve been awakened by my husband early in the morning, before my alarm sounds, to have him hurriedly shout to me news that “our chickens are dead!”  In 2009 we lost roughly thirteen chickens to a raccoon attack, and a couple more to an unrelenting hawk.  So far in 2010, we’ve discovered a total of roughly thirty chickens, ducks, and squab all killed in the dark of night.

Even with netting in place to protect our poultry from predators in the sky, and even with metal wire reinforcements on the interior of their coop, Mother Nature still finds a way to prey on our animals.


…Which is precisely the reason why I’m writing this to you.

We can spend hours, weeks, or longer scrutinizing what sorts of breeds of chickens to raise.  We can browse hundreds of plans searching for the perfect coop design.  We can dote on our animals as if they’re little children or companion pets.  We can ensure that they are never without fresh food or clean water.  We can even give them all names, forming intimate attachments.  And though we may occasionally slaughter an animal to serve for supper, we are no match for the Ultimate Farmer; we are no match compared to the whims of Nature.

Just as blight may wipe out our entire tomato crop, just as Japanese beetles may devour all of my beautiful zinnias, so too may a raccoon massacre nearly all of our birds.

It is incredibly important to keep in mind that as farmers we can plan, but we can never control.

More now than ever, media makes us witness to how arrogance and agriculture do not mix.  A pompous farmer is a dangerous farmer.  Rather, humility creates a cautious farmer, a respectful farmer.  The killing of our animals has instilled in me the constant reminder that there are forces at work greater than any defense or plan I can conceive.  The potential death of any life we cultivate, whether animal or vegetable, is part of the game.  Sad as it may be whenever we discover any of our animals dead, it is also most humbling.  In fact, these tragedies provide me with a renewed sense of humility that, despite all the despair involved, I’m thankful for.   I hope that similar positive lessons can be found should Nature ever plague your own flocks.

Yellow Tree Farm’s web site:

Danielle Leszcz, Yellowtree Farm

“I’m half of YellowTree Farm, an urban homestead that I founded with my husband in late 2008. Together, my husband and I grow vegetables and raise animals on less than 1/10 of an acre in St. Louis, Missouri. We speak publicly about urban farming, sew, and make our own toiletries.  I don’t have children. I have animals, which is kind of the same thing as being a parent, except I eat my babies.”

A few photos and coverage of the HOMEGROWN Urban Country Fair

Sunday, October 4th, 2009

HGUCF visitorsHGUCF worm bin race

Worm RaceGMO Free zone

Photos by Kim Buchheit and Matt Edson – thanks guys!!

Fair extols value of growing own food


ST. LOUIS — Urban country might be a contradiction in terms. But a gathering of beekeepers, picklers, fermenters, crafters and farmers at Tower Grove Park on Saturday tried to prove otherwise.

At the Homegrown Urban Country Fair, urban homesteaders and do-it-yourselfers shared their tips for a handmade, recycled, locally sourced life, emphasizing that self-sufficiency isn’t just the province of rural folks.

“People are growing their food in the city,” said Cornelia Hoskin, a fair organizer. “We definitely see that as a trend.”

The fair was sponsored by Homegrown, a year-old social media website launched by the Farm Aid organization that’s aiming to be the online home of crafters and makers-of-stuff everywhere. The idea, Farm Aid and Homegrown organizers say, is to forge a connection between farming and the growing DIY movement, engaging urban-and-suburbanites along the way. Homegrown, in effect, is an extension of Farm Aid working to cultivate a new, mostly urban-dwelling generation of farm supporters.

“It’s our social media way of connecting people to the farm,” explained Hoskin, of Cambridge, Mass. “Pickling, fermenting, canning — all of the rural arts are being resurrected. … It’s a cultural movement more than a fad, and it’s changing our food system.”

At Saturday’s fair, Autumn Wiggins, a crafter from O’Fallon, Ill., who uses “upcycled” materials, was making a hula hoop out of irrigation tubing.

“Crafting is just part of this urban homesteading because you’re trying to be resourceful and use everything around you,” she said. “It all parallels.”

In other words, it’s about self-sufficiency, using fewer resources and consuming less — the core principles of the locavore movement in food.

At Saturday’s fair, signs reading “Farm Power,” “Eat Your ZIP Code” and “Make your Mark” hung from trees. The bearded, woodsy members of the band Northwoods played under some towering trees, while visitors wandered through the booths, learning about backyard beehives and butter making. Members of the Washington University farming group Burning Kumquat held a “food meditation,” where they tasted thyme, sage and bell pepper.

“It’s about getting in touch with food, tasting what you’re eating and thinking about where it comes from,” said Alyse Festenstein, a Washington University freshman from Chicago.

Her Burning Kumquat-mate, Jen Swanson, agreed. “I like growing my own food,” she explained, “because it tastes that much better when I know how much time went into it.”

Fermenter Rachel Bigler of St. Louis stood by her SCOBY — Symbiotic Colony of Bacteria and Yeast — extolling the powers of probiotics and teaching people how to ferment at home.

“It’s just about knowing your food,” she said. “If you know what goes into making your food, you’re healthier. And healthy people are happier.”

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