Serious Reads

Reviews of food-themed memoirs, beach reads, and histories.

Serious Reads: Breaking Through Concrete, by David Hanson and Edwin Marty

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The current resurgence of the back-to-the-land movement has a slightly different twist than the California-based one in the 1970s. The main obstacle facing many would-be farmers is land—which can be expensive. So rather than head to the country to cultivate crops, farmers are breaking ground in the middle of urban areas, where abandoned lots may be anywhere. In their book Breaking Through Concrete: Building an Urban Farm Revival, David Hanson and Edwin Marty show us community garden and farm projects across the country. The beautiful pictures and inspiring tales paint a picture of blooming cities, where food can be grown even in the cracks of sidewalks.

The authors traveled to Chicago, Philadelphia, Atlanta, and beyond to explore small-scale farming initiatives. Some of the projects are community gardens—pieces of land sectioned up into plots that can be cultivated by individuals. These gardens, such as P-Patch Community Garden Program in Seattle, Washington, provide a space for individuals to form communities around growing food. The 73 P-Patch plots total 23 acres of urban gardens across the city, and members collectively donate 100,000 pounds of extra produce to Seattle food banks each year.

Some farms, such as Greensgrow Farms in Philadelphia and Juniper Gardens in Kansas City, are making a profit by selling their crops at local farmers' markets and specialty stores. These small businesses provide employment opportunities to inner-city residents, new immigrants, and individuals looking to supplement their incomes. Employees are equipped with the skills to start their own farming operation, perhaps the most valuable accomplishment of these gardening organizations.

Each chapter ends with a "how-to" - how to compost; how to start a community garden; how to change your city's zoning codes; how to engage your community in education programs. These sections add another level of dimension to the narrative of the book. If you are inspired by the highlighted projects, then you can make tangible steps to starting a garden or farm of your own. There is no preaching or politics—just simple tips for those looking to grow some food for themselves.

The book is full of beautiful pictures that contrast the delicacy and bounty of agriculture with the cement and pollution of busy cities. With skylines and highways in the background, new urban farmers are rejuvenating their towns with jobs, fresh produce, and hard work. Breaking Through Concrete breaks down the new-farmer stereotype of upper-middle class 20-somethings, and reveals that people of all shapes and sizes are participating in this urban farm revival.

About the Author: A student in Providence, Rhode Island, Leah Douglas loves learning about, talking about, reading about, and consuming food. Her work has also been featured in Rhode Island Monthly Magazine.

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