“Inspired by the coop design in Nick Park’s animated film Chicken Run, I was using the table saw to mill eight-inch plywood into strips to make footholds for the entrance ramp when the blade of the saw tagged my right pinkie, destroying the second knuckle.”
Okay… we’ve all had our shares of blunders in the kitchen, no doubt, and of seemingly ingenious crafty ideas that have gone awry. But reading this story by Manny Howard made me want to bang my head against the subway pole with nearly every sentence. How many wrongs does it take to supercede any possible right you might be doing for the world? Howard could hold a world record for surpassing that number, whatever it may be.
The story is written as a first-person memoir chronicling Howard’s urban farming experiment, a vow to live off of what he produced in his own backyard for the month of August. It sounds like a humble enough task, until Howard brings rabbits, chickens and ducks into the mix. It’s one thing to eat vegetables planted in soil that’s less than ideal or nutritionally bereft. But then he orders in Flemish Giant rabbits from Connecticut and a flock of chickens and cluelessly attempts to contain them in his backyard. Furthermore, Howard describes these additions to his “farm” without so much of a bat of the eye, as if these animals were the most practical proteins for your everyday urban farmer. Then you notice that it’s never really explained just who is Manny Howard? How does he have all the time in the world to work on the arduous task of transforming a tiny Brooklyn backyard into a farm, or the money for the substantial raw materials (and live animals), and where in Brooklyn exactly is this place? Come on, this is New York Magazine after all, and I want to visualize the setting.
I should really be the one to complain, as a blogger. But I look to publications like newspapers and magazines to inform me and serve as examples of good reporting. Howard’s article, however, reads like a long, winding blog entry. Which doesn’t serve the story well; its rushed and half-baked evolution of the farm prattles on and I’m still trying to count how many animals have perished due to Howard’s poor handling of their living conditions.
Here’s the bottom line: I have no problem with building a farm in one’s backyard nor making a raucous over how and what one eats, nor attempting to do the seemingly impossible in an urban environment (wink, wink). But I don’t understand the story’s conclusion. Toward the end, after summing up the enormous expense, unexpected failures and impracticality of the entire project, Howard pseudo-sagely prophesizes:
“Eating local is expensive and time-consuming, which is why this consumerist movement will not easily trickle down into mass society. It requires a willful abstinence from convenience and plenty, a core promise of the modern world. Our bountiful era is predicated on the division of labor: We don’t sew our own clothes, we don’t build our own houses — and we certainly don’t farm — because we’re too busy doing whatever it is we do for everyone else.”
This is from a guy who takes the Flemish Giant rabbits he purchased from Connecticut to a specialist to have them professionally knocked up, only to bring them back to his Brooklyn home and one of them dies of heatstroke within two weeks. Essentially, someone who knowingly went for the spectacular rather than the livable, and screwed up shamefully at making a farm as well as an entertaining read.
And I’m sure that many locavores will be asking the same thing, but what does this whole “farm” stunt — really — have to do with eating local?