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New Yorker pushes limits of the "locavore" life

Meet Manny Howard, the ultimate "locavore", who lived for 30 days on what he grew in his backyard in Brooklyn.

by: Timothy Gardner | 17 Sep 2007

Freelance food writer Howard knew about "locavores", people who try to eat only locally produced food. But seeing one locavore at a market, gave Howard the idea to try out life as an extreme locavore, in the biggest US city.

One of Howard's discoveries during the month this summer he ate only the plants he grew and the animals he raised and slaughtered on his 74-square-meter, backyard and garage to his Brooklyn, New York, house.

"We've all lost touch with the sources of our food, but it really underscored the gap for me when a guy like that made me warn his dispatcher before I did the work," Howard said.

Howard figured his farm could provide him enough food for a month late in the summer and began preparing in March. He built a chicken coop, dug a drainage system to water his crops, spent thousands of dollars on topsoil to cover his yard's lead-rich, nutrient-poor clay and bought rabbits, ducks and 25 chicks.

He also suffered hardships. Howard nearly sawed off a finger building the chicken coop and went without alcohol because making a home distillery was too much work.

He sat longingly through meals of non-local food his family ate. In the month of reaping what he sowed, he lost 29 pounds, both from the work and sparse meals, mostly eggs, tomatoes, greens, and chicken stew.

And the first tornado to hit Brooklyn in nearly 120 years bashed his corn, eggplant and squash crops.

It was hard on his family, too. His two kids grew bored with him because he rarely left the farm. His wife grew distant, even more so after seeing the carnage left by a rabbit that had panicked and killed her newborns.

Howard said she only began to see his side of things after she banged her head in a dark corner of their basement on a slaughtered Flemish Giant rabbit.

"She asked me if she had hit her head on a dead chicken. When I told her it was a 9 kg freshly-skinned rabbit, I broke down and wept," he said. "I think that's when she realised I wasn't getting off on all the blood and gore, and it was beginning to wear me down."

Financially the farm was perhaps unsustainable. The costs rose to $11,000 or more than $120 per meal for the month.

But now his family has a greater appreciation for the business of food and the people who grow it, he said. And the toil made the food rewarding to eat, even if his kids didn't eat everything he grew.

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