A Love Story, In No Way A Cautionary Tale

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For seven months, Manny Howard—a lifelong urbanite—woke up every morning and ventured into his eight-hundred-square-foot backyard to maintain the first farm in Flatbush, Brooklyn, in generations. His goal was simple: to subsist on what he could produce on this farm, and only this farm, for at least a month. The project came at a time in Manny’s life when he most needed it—even if his family, and especially his wife, seemingly did not. But a farmer’s life, he discovered—after a string of catastrophes, including a tornado, countless animal deaths (natural, accidental, and inflicted), and even a severed finger—is not an easy one. And it can be just as hard on those he shares it with.
We now think more about what we eat than ever before, buying organic for our health and local for the environment, often making those decisions into political statements in the process. My Empire of Dirt is a ground-level examination—trenchant, touching, and outrageous—of the cultural reflex to control one of the most elemental aspects of our lives: feeding ourselves.
Unlike most foodies with a farm fetish, Manny didn’t put on overalls with much of a philosophy in mind, save a healthy dose of skepticism about some of the more doctrinaire tendencies of locavores. He did not set out to grow all of his own food because he thought it was the right thing to do or because he thought the rest of us should do the same. Rather, he did it because he was just crazy enough to want to find out how hard it would actually be to take on a challenge based on a radical interpretation of a trendy (if well-meaning) idea and see if he could rise to the occasion.

2 thoughts on “A Love Story, In No Way A Cautionary Tale

  1. I am the guy whose doctoral dissertation was lost and then found in the rubble of 318 Hicks Street in April of 1975. (See pages 132/33 in your Empire of Dirt book. I am right now in the middle of harvesting radish shoots and re-potting pea plants, 20 floors up right next to the Brooklyn Bridge.

    Our friend, Bob Swacker, sent me a two page excerpt and I was amazed to see a photo of the old hulk. Well, we are well and growing and growing stuff here in Brooklyn and it would be my pleasure, over a hot or iced tea to have you survey our upper forty (about 40 square inches of balcony, hee hee) with you and give you the full and real story of the collapse of 318
    Hicks Street. Long story, some scary moments, somemajor loses and a tolerably happy ending. Our son, who was 6 months old at the time is now 35 and also a Brooklyn Dude.

    Please give me a shout out and listen to some of my wretched music!!

    My older brother Ed is an even cooler dude (us old geezers talk like that) Google Eddowling.com.

    Be Well,


    • Tom,
      Hello and one thousand pardons for IDing you as a woman. “The Dissertation (whatever THAT is) in the Rubble” was a magical story from my childhood. As such, it didnt even occur to me to x2 check the facts; I hope you understand.
      Please, tell me what as the dissertation topic? Do you still live in Brooklyn? If no, where?
      Were you aware of the spring running under State Street. In the the picture in the book, the boy by the police barrier is me. I know that must have been quite a harrowing experience, but, Gawd, it was such a magical moment for me and every kid I knew growing up in the Heights… some compensation, I knopwm but…
      Thanks for reaching out. And if I get the oppportunity to do a revised addition, I’ll make sure I right this wrong!

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