Man Lives Off the Fat of His Brooklyn Land A lot of people talk about eating locally, but Manny Howard went further. He created a farm in his 20- by 40-foot Brooklyn backyard — with rabbits, chickens, and a host of vegetables — and was determined to spend a month eating only from his land.
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Man Lives Off the Fat of His Brooklyn Land

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Man Lives Off the Fat of His Brooklyn Land

Man Lives Off the Fat of His Brooklyn Land

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.


And I'm Michele Norris.

NORRIS: eat local. But what if you went further and grew everything yourself? Could you survive? Magazine writer Manny Howard wanted to find out. So for one summer month, he grew as much as possible in his 20-by-40-foot backyard in Brooklyn, New York.

NPR's Margot Adler reports that it didn't work out quite the way he expected.

MARGOT ADLER: Even now in October, Manny Howard's Brooklyn farm looks luscious. Are those eggplants over there? Those look beautiful.

MANNY HOWARD: Yeah. Yeah. These are onions here, fennel over here. And there were beets.

ADLER: And I see corn, the remnants of. I see basil. I see a lot of tomatoes. What's gone are the 25 meat chickens that Howard slaughtered, his main source of protein, along with the eggs from the nine hens that are still producing. In the beginning, he thought he would get fat from the ducks, and even some vodka from potatoes.

HOWARD: There were a lot of dreams early on, you know, there's a tilapia pond. There is the vodka still. Those dreams both went by the wayside as soon as the project got out of control, which happened very quickly. Once the animals arrived, everything just started to slip away from me. Mostly, it was a battle against entropy.

ADLER: There were the rabbits that ate most of their young, the chickens that ate their own eggs, his children who wouldn't let the ducks be killed and a freak tornado that hit Brooklyn this summer and destroyed several crops and blew the roof off the chicken coop. Besides 16-hour workdays, there was his total obsession with the project that threatened his marriage.

HOWARD: It was that level of sort of myopic lunacy, you know? The farm was the only thing and, you know, it was madness.

ADLER: He managed two meals a day for a month - an egg and tomatoes each morning, a chicken or half of one along with the tomatoes, colored greens and eggplant in the late afternoon. The only things he allowed himself that he didn't grow himself were salt, pepper and coffee. He lost 29 pounds. On the plus side, there wasn't much to eat, but everything tasted great.

HOWARD: The chicken is better. The eggs are better. That was really the takeaway from this project was that - reconnecting work and food in my life.

ADLER: Then, there was what happened to his kids, a 3-year-old and a 5-year- old.

HOWARD: They walk around holding chickens. I caught them actually pushing the two roosters in a stroller down the street the other day. And one was wearing a doll's dress. So they're very comfortable with farm animals.

ADLER: Then, there was the day his wife said, watching you, I realized we wastes so much food. I will never shop like that again. And, says Howard, they now consume differently and waste far less.

But the downside? First of all, it was expensive. The clay soil in his yard had no nutrients. By the time he put in good soil, drainage, built chicken coops and a place to slaughter the animals, he had spent $11,000. Luckily, a well- paid article in New York magazine and, just recently, a book contract will pay for the experiment and more. And besides the expense, it was boring, grim work.

HOWARD: I spent the summer crawling around with my hands and knees, digging dirt and killing chickens and trying to keep rabbits alive. And that's all I did. By the 25th chicken, I was really ready to stop killing things. You know, there's a reason there's a global food industry.

ADLER: In fact, Howard says, there were days when he prayed that Animal Control would arrive at his doorstep, would TASER him and take the animals away. Now with some egg-laying chickens and pet rabbits and ducks, he's just considered eccentric. And there are blessings that continue.

HOWARD: Oh, egg. Just popped out. Not only is it warm, it's still wet. That's for you. That's for you.

ADLER: Oh, thank you.

Margot Adler, NPR News, New York.

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