The Story of the Land, from Headwaters to Plains

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You can sense the change of season at Buffalo Peaks Ranch. But just as the summer winds down at the Land Library’s headwaters site, we have exciting news to report back here in Denver. The Rocky Mountain Land Library will soon be opening it’s third place-based learning center at Denver’s old Puritan Pie Factory, located in the historic Curtis Park neighborhood. This urban branch is designed to help connect people to nature — not the distant natural history of our nearest National Parks, but the nearby nature of the neighborhoods where we all live.

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The Puritan Pie Factory at 26th & Champa.

We have two city-inspired collections that we are anxious to share, namely a Kids Nature Library (with thousands of books on bugs, birds, bats, and more), along with (what we’re calling) an Urban Homestead Library, featuring books on nature in the city, with many volumes on green-living, including hundreds of titles on edible landscaping, urban farming, beekeeping, raising chickens, and much, much more.

With thousands of books as an inspiring resource, the Purtian Pie Factory will be home to workshops and classes, nature clubs and activities for kids, neighborhood gatherings, plus artist & craft studios. If the community has a creative need, we would love for the Pie Factory to help fill it.

For instance:

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Some of our favorite books are on seeds (really!). Along with seed books, we’ll be setting up a Free Seed Library, much like this wonderful photo from the Manitou, Colorado Seed Library.

 

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How about a Teaching Kitchen for both kids & adults? Over the years we have noticed that the intersection of food & land is a perfect place to feel those connections we all have to nature and the land! (This fun photo is from the Organic Teaching Kitchen in New York).

Thanks to the visionary owners of the Puritan Pie Factory, so much is possible! Over the next few weeks & months we’ll all be learning more about the Pie Factory and the Curtis Park neighborhood. Who knows what new ideas and programs will emerge as we explore this amazing opportunity together!

Many of us are especially excited that the Pie Factory is already part of Denver’s Beat Tour. Just next door to the factory is the site of Neal Cassady’s boyhood home.

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We’re already stacking up our Beat books, everything from Jack Kerouac’s On the Road to Gary Snyder’s Riprap Poems!

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Let there be Pie! From Headwaters to Plains, from South Park to Curtis Park:

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Swapping Seeds and Stories

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A Seed Library. The idea is simple. Pick up a packet of free seeds at your local library, plant them at home, harvest a few seeds from the plants you grow and return the surplus to your friendly neighborhood seed library. The circle is complete, but think of all the learning along the way, and how much more we are able to appreciate the natural processes on which life depends. And what a great way for neighbors to learn from each other, swapping stories and advice, along with precious seeds.

The Land Library is already planning on incorporating a free seed exchange at its future Urban Homestead Learning Center. We’ve been learning from several libraries across Colorado, and beyond. For even more lessons learned, we’re thrilled to have Cindy Conner’s new book Seed Libraries and other means of keeping seeds in the Hands of the People. Paul Hrycyk, Seed Library Coordinator at Seeds of Diversity, had this to say: “Seed Libraries is a must-read for anyone embarking on the task of setting up their own seed library, or those just interested in becoming more informed on the issue of genetic diversity in our food systems. It combines practical knowledge with the philosophy behind seed libraries and would be useful in your first or tenth year of operating a seed library and saving seeds. Highly recommended!”

Also pictured above: An ingenious new use for the classic card catalog, now serving as a repository for local seeds. This old catalog was lovingly painted by Linda Thistle, a volunteer at the Washington County Library in Abingdon, Virginia.

Along with seeds to share, the Land Library will have a couple of bookcases full of books on seeds and seed saving. Terrific books such as these!

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An Orchard Invisible: A Natural History of Seeds by Jonathan Silvertown, and from Kew Gardens, Seedswap: The Gardener’s Guide to Saving and Swapping Seeds by Josie Jeffery.

Currently at our Waterton Canyon Nature Library, here’s two wonderful kids books that show what a compact marvel a seed is:

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A Seed is Sleepy by Dianna Hutts Aston & Sylvia Long, and Seeds by Ken Robbins

Lastly, here’s a forthcoming books we are all waiting for, along with one of our all-time favorite books on seeds, food, and land:

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The Triumph of Seeds: How Grains, Nuts, Kernels, Pulses, and Pips Conquered the Plant Kingdom and Shaped Human History, due out in late March, from Thor Hanson, author of Feathers: The Evolution of a Natural Miracle. And one of our favorite books on the subject: Janisse Ray’s The Seed Underground: A Growing Revolution to Save Food — a perfect place to begin to explore the “built-in generosity of seeds.”

To swap seeds is to keep a variety strong and valuable — a genetic currency, the exchange of priceless genetic material. How interesting that the agrarian within us understands that to survive, to keep our crops viable, we have to be openhanded. Seeds have a built-in requirement for generosity.” — Janisse Ray

The Land Library is all about connecting people to nature and the land. There are so many ways you can help us establish the Headwaters to Plains Network, with learning centers at three locations along the South Platte River — from the Headwaters of South Park to inner-city Denver. If you would like lend your support in any way that you can, please let us know!

Lessons from Cuba, After the Thaw

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With the great help of many, the Land Library keeps moving forward with plans to establish an Urban Homestead Library for inner-city Denver. Making ready for that happy day, we continue to add many more urban agriculture books to our collection. Our most recent acquisitions may come from 90 miles offshore, but we know for sure that they will offer inspiration for our Mile-High City.

Carey Clouse’s Farming Cuba: Urban Agriculture From the Ground Up tells a very hopeful tale. Following the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 1990’s, Cuba’s lifeline was suddenly cut. With fuel, fertilizers, and pesticides disappearing overnight, Cubans began growing their own organic produce wherever they could find the space — on rooftops, balconies, vacant lots, school grounds. By 1998 there were more than 8,000 urban farms in Havana, producing nearly half of Cuba’s vegetables.

Farming Cuba vividly reports from Havana’s orchards, gardens, chicken coops and pig pens — giving hope to any city bent on providing healthy local food, neighborhood by neighborhood. Here’s two more wonderful books to inspire any state-side urban farmer:

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Sowing Change: The Making of Havana’s Urban Agriculture by Adriana Premat, and Unfinished Puzzle: Cuban Agriculture, the Challenges, Lessons and Opportunities by May Ling Chan & Eduardo Roach.

With the recent thaw in U.S.–Cuba relations, wouldn’t it be wonderful to follow-up with a lesson-learning exchange program between urban farmers separated by 90 miles of ocean, and a mutual, unfortunate past?

For more on Cuba’s urban farm plots, here’s a terrific film clip from the BBC’s Around the World in 80 Gardens:

On the Honey Trail with Eva Crane

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Trained as a nuclear physicist, world renowned bee expert Eva Crane is easily one of the most intriguing and accomplished figures who have found their way onto the Land Library’s shelves. Her sudden shift from quantums to bees came on the occasion of her wedding in 1942. Among the wedding presents that day was a working beehive — a thoughtful gift meant to help the young couple cope with stingy wartime sugar rations. That it did, but it also set Eva on a lifelong fascination with bees, beekeeping and honey hunting.

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For the next fifty years Eva Crane visited over sixty countries on the trail of the honey bee. Her travels yielded over 180 papers, articles and books, culminating in The World History of Beekeeping and Honey Hunting (pictured above), a hefty tome that Paul Theroux called a masterpiece “for its enormous scope and exhaustiveness, and for being an up-to-date treasure house of apiaristic facts.

Eva Crane’s passion and dedication went beyond her own work. She founded one of the leading institutions of the beekeeping world, the International Bee Research Association. After her death in 2007, the IBRA published a special tribute to its founder, Eva Crane Bee Scientist, 1912-2007, the latest (but hopefully not the last) Eva Crane volume added to the Land Library’s shelves!

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As this black & white photo shows, though scholarly by nature, Eva Crane was no stranger to the intricate workings of the hive. Also pictured above are two classic works by Crane: The Archaeology of Beekeeping (1983) and Bees and Beekeeping: Science, Practice and World Resources (1990).

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And here’s the very first Eva Crane book the Land Library was lucky enough to find. We were in search of good books on rock art to add to our collection, and, lo and behold, in a dusty bookshop in New York’s Lower East Side we came upon Eva Crane’s The Rock Art of Honey Hunters, a fascinating study of over 150 sites across the globe!

For more on honey hunting, take a look at one of our earlier posts:

The Ancient Art of Honey Hunting

Our Wild & Moveable Feast

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A couple of years ago, the Rocky Mountain Land Series was lucky enough to host Gary Lincoff for his authoritative (and extremely fun) book, The Complete Mushroom Hunter. In his latest book, The Joy of Foraging, Lincoff takes on the entire plant kingdom. This is a wonderfully illustrated handbook, and Gary’s enthusiasm is certainly infectious. He’ll have you searching out nuts, wild fruits, edible greens — and even seaweeds. Along the way, you’ll learn much more about the place where you live.

That’s exactly what happened to John Lewis-Stempel. Looking around his English farm he saw a trout flash in the brook, mushrooms sprinkled across his fields, and a squirrel eating hazelnuts. That led him to think, wouldn’t it be wonderful if you could live on what nature provides for free? The result is one of the most unusual and well-written books we’ve read in quite sometime: The Wild Life: A Year of Living on Wild Food (also pictured above).

Here’s John Lewis-Stempel on the humble hazelnut: ” There is no sensible reason for me to be out at eleven at night, shining a torch up into the leaves and incipient catkins, gathering hazelnuts. Whatever is left on these few last trees will remain till first light, when I will have to come back anyway with a shepherd’s crook to pull down the high branches, an exercise impossible to combine with torch-holding. I am picking solely to do something to satisfy a squirrel-like urge to store up for the oncoming winter….
Hazelnuts are more amenable to the jaw when roasted, when they become starchy, like semolina. Roasted hazelnuts can also be pressed for oil. The process is laborious and the amount of pale amber oil that can be obtained from a pound of nuts is to be measured in parts of a teaspoon. Hazelnut oil is precious. Outside of duck fat, it is the only cooking oil I can obtain from the land.”

Here’s two more books on the art of feeding free!

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Fat of the Land: Adventures of a 21st Century Forager, Langdon Cook’s foraging tale from the Pacific Northwest, and A Feast of Weeds: A Literary Guide to Foraging and Cooking Wild Edible Plants by Luigi Ballerini.

As for urban foraging, we’ve been really inspired by the work of this group:

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The London Orchard Project plants new community orchards, rejuvenates neglected ones, and (in one of their strokes of sheer genius), they map existing London fruit trees, all ripe for foraging:

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Know Soil, Know Life

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Few of us pay attention to the ground at our feet. Soil, covered over and often ignored, is about to get the attention it deserves. The United Nations General Assembly has declared 2015 as the International Year of Soils.

In the year ahead there will be a global educational focus on the crucial role soil plays in food security, climate change mitigation, and essential ecosystem services.

Soil’s rich mix of both mineral and organic has always excited the Land Library, and when we get excited we naturally begin to gather books — one book after another, after another.

For this post, we start with a classic, Sir Albert Howard’s The Soil and Health: A Study of Organic Agriculture, with a new introduction by Wendell Berry (pictured above). First published in 1945, this book directly links the health of the soil to the health of people, and the natural world upon which we depend.

Courtney White extends the argument in his 2014 book (also pictured above), Grass, Soil, Hope, which makes the case for soil as a constant sink for carbon dioxide, and so, a natural way of reducing carbon in our warming skies.

Both books are rallying cries for the positive work we can do right now, namely:

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Building Soils Naturally: Innovative Methods for Organic Gardening by Phil Nauta, and Start with the Soil: The Organic Gardener’s Guide to Improving Soil for Higher Yields, More Beautiful Flowers, and Healthy, Easy-Care Gardens by Grace Gershuny.

Here is something else we hope comes from the International Year of Soils — a sense of wonder, to borrow Rachel Carson’s wonderful phrase. Even a lifetime might not be enough to give us an appreciation for the teeming life in a square foot of soil — and how vulnerable that life is. Here’s two of our favorite field guides to the wonders of the world below:

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The Earth Moved: On the Remarkable Achievements of Earthworms by Amy Stewart, along with James Nardi’s wonderfully comprehensive The World Beneath Our Feet: A Guide to Life in the Soil.

Soil is such a vibrant mix of rock, muck, microbes, fungi, and much more. We hope to feature many more great books over the course of the International Year of Soils. For now, here’s a soil primer that we love!

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Know Soil Know Life, edited by Daniel Lindbo, Deb Kozlowski, and Clay Robinson.

Parlez vous francais?

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Well, if you don’t speak French, no worries — read on! Recently, a Land Library friend donated one of the most remarkable books on bees and beekeeping that we have ever seen. Eric Tourneret’s Le Peuple des Abeilles will always have an honored place on the Land Library’s shelves!

The text may be in French, but Tourneret’s photographs speak volumes. Many of the photos give such an upclose view of the bee’s world that you’d swear Tourneret strapped cameras to the backs of worker bees:

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A steady stream of incoming bees, with pollen baskets full.

In some ways our personal inability to read the text liberated us to focus on the incredible patterns of another world:

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Eric Tourneret also turns his lens on an equally fascinating creature: the beekeeper:

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Le Peuple des Abeilles tells the tale of beekeepers employing both modern and traditional techniques. There are wonderful photo-essays on the capture of wild swarms, and the never-say-die efforts of urban beekeepers — including a few atop the Paris Opera House!

Eric Tourneret has seen a hidden world through his lens, and we’re happy he shared it:

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If you don’t speak French, or if you someday hope to speak Bee, you’ll really enjoy this short clip!

Someday we hope a publisher issues an English translation of Le Peuple des Abeilles — but then again, we have loved the visual odyssey we’ve been on, unaccompanied by words!
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