Warning: If you attempt hobby farming, you will talk to your neighbors, ask for advice, and spend more time outdoors than online… That’s the inside joke of Audrey and Michael Levatino’s new book The Joy of Hobby Farming ($15, Skyhorse Publishing, 2011). The couple also maintains that, “We can become responsible producers instead of just responsible consumers [by hobby farming].”
And though the term “hobby” may connote dilettantism, that’s a misconception. Unless you inherited your farm or ranch or are independently wealthy, you likely keep a day job or two to pay the mortgage and expenses. Any farm, therefore, becomes a hobby—but a hobby that pays in food and happiness. The Levatino’s 23-acre farm, Ted’s Last Stand (tedslaststand.com), in Gordonville, Virginia, for example, produces cut flowers, vegetables, eggs, and honey that they cultivate for sustenance and to sell at their local farmer’s market on the weekends.
The Joy of Hobby Farming walks readers along the path to homegrown food, with clearly designed chapters, inviting color photos, and practical morsels of wisdom, like how to plant a strawberry patch in your flower beds, keep hens in your downtown backyard, move from a condo to a house with land, or how to erect a stand at the local farmer’s market. The book is also a bit like drinking from a fire hose: nuts-and-bolts advice floods off the page—everything from tax and insurance information to septic systems and compost piles. What tools will you need? Tractors¬ “are not toys” (“Your Farm,” pages 34–35). Do you want to improve your pastures? Raise chickens (“Small Creatures for the Hobby Farm,” pages 141–156).
The Levatinos capture the philosophy and beauty of hobby farming and make caring for larger grazing animals, like donkeys and horses, and pasture management actually sound doable. And weather your property includes livestock or just a planter or two, the couple can’t help but argue that home food production is political statement. They are clearly passionate about the social and environmental benefits of improving land for food production, and it’s easy to feel inspired.
“The ethos of Hobby Farming is living close to the land,” they write.
There is a tangible cycle of progression in farming that takes you from savoring your first radish in the late spring to enjoying the social reward of sharing tomatoes and zucchinis in the fall with friends and neighbors. Read this book, and you’ll be well on your way. Store-bought food will never taste the same.