Friday, January 13, 2012

Meat and Greet: Sustainable Ranching in Kansas

On January 26th, you can celebrate Kansas Day at Lawrence Public Library by meeting Kansas ranchers practicing the art of sustainable animal husbandry!  Free tasting portions of beef, elk, turkey and buffalo will be provided by Local Burger.  In the meantime, beef up on your reading by checking out these recommendations by Hilary Brown of Local Burger:

All Flesh is Grass: The Pleasures and Promises of Pasture Farming by Gene Logsdon
Amid consumer concerns about how farm animals are bred, “contrary farmer” Gene Logsdon explains historically effective grazing practices and new techniques that have blossomed during the past decade.

Deeply Rooted: Unconventional Farmers in the Age of Agribusiness by Lisa Hamilton
Hamilton looks for solutions to a problematic food system by looking to a few of the people who actually grow our food: an African-American dairyman in Texas, a tenth-generation rancher in New Mexico, and a modern pioneer family in North Dakota.

Folks, This Ain’t Normal: A Farmer’s Advice  for Happier Hens, Healthier People, and a Better World by Joel Salatin
Acclaimed agrarian Joel Salatin discusses how far removed we are from the simple, sustainable joy that comes from living close to the land and the people we love.

 Grass-Fed Cattle: How to Produce and Market Natural Beef by Julius Reuchel
Cattle are wonderfully adept at converting grass into meat, fat and milk.  Here, Reuchel offers complete information on running a profitable, environmentally sustainable farm based on the efficiency of cattle and grass.

Holy Shit: Managing Manure to Save Mankind by Gene Logsdon
Logsdon provides the inside story of manure — our greatest, yet most misunderstood, natural resource.  A fresh, fascinating and entertaining look at an earthy, but absolutely crucial, subject.

The Last of the Husbandmen: A Novel of Farming Life by Gene Logsdon
A personal depiction of the personal triumphs and tragedies, clashes and compromises, and abiding human character of American farming families.

Real Food: What to Eat and Why by Nina Planck
Hailed as the “patron saint of famers’ markets,” here Planck suggests that ancient foods like beef and butter have been falsely accused, while industrial foods like corn syrup have created an epidemic of obesity and heart disease.

The Vegetarian Myth: Food, Justice and Sustainability by Lierre Keith
Part memoir, nutritional primer, and political manifesto, this controversial examination exposes the destructive history of agriculture and asserts that, in order to save the planet, food must come from within living communities.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Literary Loveliness

In the past year I’ve read books that are smart, strange, sad, funny.  Yet Mary O’Connell’s teen novel The Sharp Time takes the cake for “loveliest.”

First, there’s the heroine’s name: Sandinista Jones.  Next, you’ve got the frothy sweet vintage couture she wears to her job at The Pale Circus.  And did I mention her teenage crush on the boy with a tiny crucifix tattooed to the pad of his thumb?

Much has been made of the fact that O’Connell is a graduate of the same Iowa Writer’s Workshop that produced Kurt Vonnegut and Flannery O’Connor.  And sure, it makes sense when you consider how tightly each phrase of The Sharp Time is written, and the quiet poetry of seemingly inconsequential details like the fermented bottle of organic carrot juice that Sandinista keeps in her fridge to remind her of her recently killed mother.  But the part that seems so un­-workshoppy is the punk rock vibe of the heroine’s salty inner monologue.  Witness Sandinista on applying for a new job: “I was about to go all Marcel Proust on his @$$.”

Then there were the parts that surprised me – the monks and the saints, which shape the whole story in a sense, but in a way that will satisfy both believers and non-believers alike.  These religious, saintly figures serve as a parable for O’Connell’s core message that mercy and compassion exist, even for punk rock girls in vintage couture with dead moms:  “I can tell you’re full of sorrows.  But the sharp time passes.”

But my favorite reason for loving The Sharp Time is the sweet, magical little universe O’Connell has imagined on Kansas City’s 38th Street – The Pale Circus vintage clothing shop.  The Second Chance? pawn shop.  Erika’s Erotic Confections.  The Trappist monks up the hill who make raspberry jam.  If you blink, you might miss it, but partway through the book O’Connell reveals that Henry Charbonneau, the impeccably dressed vintage connoisseur, and Arne, the rough-around-the-edges pawnshop proprietor, are in a book club together.  They’ve been reading the poem “The Monk’s Insomnia” by Denis Johnson: “A boy sets out like something thrown from the furnace of a star.”

I love The Sharp Time mostly because I want to go to 38th Street and sit in on Henry Charbonneau and Arne’s book club.  Then I want to head over to Erika’s Erotic Confections for one of Erika’s eye-popping banana curry chocolates.  But I’ll avoid her pale green frosting.  You would, too, if you’d already read The Sharp Time.

Mary O’Connell will appear at Lawrence Public Library with Laura Moriarty on Saturday, February 4 at 2:00 p.m.  Books will be available for signing from The Raven Bookstore.

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