Sunday, May 17, 2009

Book Review: Made from Scratch

I'm mad about crafts and fixing up my house. Growing vegetables, making quilts, baking bread -- I love to do them all and have a long trail of partially completed projects to prove it. It's finishing that's hard, which is why I want Jenna Woginrich to be my new best friend.

Woginrich knows how to complete her home improvement projects. She chronicles them, and her larger journey towards a more self-sufficient, simpler life, in Made from Scratch: Discovering the Pleasures of a Handmade Life.

For Woginrich, living more simply means doing things like raising chickens, teaching herself how to play the fiddle, and growing some of her own food -- simple for her perhaps. Into her tales of shearing angora rabbits and recovering a nearly decimated colony of bees, she weaves plenty of practical advice for the wanna-be homesteader.

For example, in the chapter on raising chickens, Woginrich explains that the primary reason baby chicks die is because they get cold. She then details how to rig a brooder box with a bare lightbulb to keep them warm.

Woginrich relishes the past and isn't afraid to say so. In her quest for a cheese grater, she spends an hour scouring two antique shops before locating her booty. "There are a lot of really good reasons why I run to the past when I need something as utilitarian as a cheese grater. Things were made better, looked prettier, and lasted longer before plastic took over," she declares. Maybe, but sometimes Walmart is just easier!

To her credit, Woginrich gives ample recognition to the people who have helped her create her homestead. Throughout the book, she enlists coworkers, shopkeepers, and anyone else she can lasso into helping her, proving over and over that first, experience is the best teacher and second, no man is an island.

Woginrich is a vegetarian, even  though she raised her family's Thanksgiving turkey (which her family then couldn't bring themselves to eat). "I haven't eaten any meat in almost seven years. I do, however, plan on eating meat again when I raise it myself," she writes in an e-mail message.

"I am not anti-meat. I'm anti assembly-line, cruelty, factory farms, and agri-big business. Small local humane farms of veggies and animals are my kin," she says.

Remarkably, Woginrich manages a regular 9-to-5 job in addition to tending her farm. She encourages newbies to experiment with self-reliant living in whatever way they can, no matter how small. "Just because you won't be moving out of your apartment any time soon doesn't mean you can't be more self-sufficient," she says in the book's preface.

"Plenty of people in suburbs and sublets all over the country are replacing their pansies with peas and putting up henhouses where doghouses used to be. Knitters are casting on in subways and homebrewed wine is fermenting in your neighbor's basement. A revolution in self-sufficiency is riding the L train and we saved you a seat," she offers.

What I liked best
• The book is enthusiastic, not preachy, and is filled with personal stories and tips for numerous homesteading activities.
• Woginrich operates from the premise that finished is better than perfect, which enables her to plow through any number of projects and complete them, when navel-gazers like me would have abandoned them.

To learn more about Jenna Woginrich, view her video or visit her blog.

You might also enjoy Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver.

1 comment:

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