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The Organic Farming Manual

A Comprehensive Guide to Starting and Running a Certified Organic Farm

About.com Rating 4.5 Star Rating


The Organic Farming Manual by Ann Larkin Hansen
Photo courtesy Storey Publishing

The Organic Farming Manual, is, much like the title states, a comprehensive overview of how to start and manage a certified organic farm. Bonus; there are plenty of insightful interviews with organic farmers peppered throughout.

From the Publisher

The Organic Farming Manual by Ann Larkin Hansen is a well organized organic farming manual, with many pros and very few cons. Well worth a read if you're interested in organic farming. The publisher states:

"Beginning farmers committed to launching an organic operation and experienced farmers hoping to transition from traditional farming techniques will find all the information they need. The organic certification process is lengthy and demanding, but author Ann Larkin Hansen clarifies every USDA requirement and offers complete advice on selecting equipment, tending the land, caring for animals and marketing farm products."

Basics About The Organic Farming Manual

There are 16 full chapters included in The Organic Farming Manual, plus an extensive glossary and some excellent extra resources as well, such as book and organization suggestions. There's also an introduction discussing what organic means.

To give you an idea of what's broadly included in this book, the main chapters include:

  1. Back to the Roots - a history and benefits of organics section.
  2. Land
  3. Soil
  4. Equipment
  5. Plants 101
  6. Garden Crops
  7. Field Crops
  8. Orchard Crops
  9. Livestock 101
  10. Pigs and Poultry
  11. Ruminants for Meat
  12. Dairying
  13. Biodiversity
  14. Organic Certification
  15. Going to Market
  16. The Larger Context

A Book for Everyone

Saying this book is for everyone may be a bit bold, but right off the bat, one of the best things about this book is how it manages to appeal to various groups of people involved in organic farming or organic advocacy.

For example, if you're newly interested in organic farming, this book offers an excellent intro to all things organic farming. If you're not sure if you want to go organic on the farm, this book may be able to help you decide if organic is for you. If you're already going though the process of certifying your farm as organic, then this book is one tool that can help keep the experience in check.

If you don't want to go organic, but do want to farm more sustainably then this book will help you as well. Lastly, if you're just curious about farming, this book is perfect and won't overwhelm you.

What I Liked About The Organic Farming Manual

  • Hansen points out that organic certification and organic farming are not one and the same. She also notes that organic doesn't always equal sustainable. Both of these issues are important distinctions in the organic industry.

  • The content had a few organization glitches, but worked overall. Chapters are broken down into easy to manage chunks with nice bold headers. There are also extras such as quick tips, organic quotes and farmer profiles peppered throughout each chapter.

  • Hansen is a personable and engaging writer. For example, although I seriously doubt I'll ever raise pigs, Hansen's chapter on pigs was still an interesting read.

  • Farmers and farm profiles from various areas are featured, such as, New Mexico, Wisconsin, Missouri, Minnesota, New York, Colorado and more.

  • Beyond farmers, there are profiles of other important players in the organic industry as well, such as executive director of the Organic Farming Research Foundation in Santa Cruz, heirloom seed collectors and others.

  • Black and white photography, easy to read charts and other illustrations are used throughout the book to show various tasks or concepts. For example what sort of soil amendments are allowed via the Final Rule, how to identify beneficial insects, how to encourage native pollinators and more. Almost every page in this book contains some sort of illustration or chart, which helps readers navigate the concepts.

  • Excellent biodiversity chapter.

  • Hansen encourages readers to seek out further education, such as internships, classes and more.

What Could be Improved in The Organic Farming Manual

  • Organic tips are offered throughout the book, but the one dedicated Organic Certification chapter is fairly slim. I felt it could have included more information, especially surrounding why you should consider certification.

  • It would have been nice to see more information about maintaining organic certification. While this book went through the process of transitioning to organic and getting certified, there was little offered in terms of staying in good certification standing.

  • I wish this book was printed with Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified paper, or other sustainable recycled paper. So far as I can tell, it's not, which is too bad as the content lends itself to sustainability.

Overall Score and Recommendation

I could say that The Organic Farming Manual is worth a read for the biodiversity chapter alone. Luckily, I don't have to say this, because the rest of the book is awesome too.

Not only is this one of the only books around about small to large scale certified organic farming, but it covers the topics in-depth, without getting overly wordy. That's hard to do, because organic certification and organic farming are huge topics.

I usually recommend that folks check out books at the library, until they're sure they'll enjoy said book, because it's more eco-friendly. In this case, I'm going to recommend you purchase The Organic Farming Manual. I'm sure you'll read this book more than once, especially if you're planning an organic farm or already working on a organic farm.

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