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Solviva: How to grow $500,000 on one acre, and Peace on Earth Paperback – June 1, 1998
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"Your book Solviva is magnificent! I am always pleased to see someone carrying on good and true environmental and "right living" work. You're one of the best!"--John Shuttleworth, founder of Mother Earth News
About the Author
Anna Edey lives on her Solviva farm in West Tisbury on Martha’s Vineyard, where she is still learning, practicing, teaching, and advocating the art of living well while causing near-zero harm. Anna has lectured and taught across the US and Scandinavia, and her work has been praised in print and on television and radio across the world. She is the author of Solviva: How to Grow $500,000 on One Acre . . . and Peace on Earth.
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It occurs to me as I think about the book and write this, Solviva is best understood as an instructive story rather than a how-to manual. The book came across to me as someone just writing about her project, what inspired it stimulated it, details of the process, problems that occurred and what was done to overcome them, how it all worked out as a functioning farm and household, and, unfortunately, what eventually brought it to a halt. This is all useful information. The author shares about the work of her and others’ hands, and you read to share the experience, maybe get inspired by the passion she put into it, and glean ideas for your own projects. Granted, the writing wasn’t very structured, but it felt more like she was writing to a friend about what she did, not just someone giving a project report to a committee or writing an academic treatise. I also was quite excited that some of the things she did are I’ve thought about or gleaned over the years, and in one case she confirmed the practicality of one project I have planned in the near future.
It wasn’t but a very short time that a certain practicality started coming through to start putting my mind at ease that it wasn’t going to be a complete waste of time – for instance, the desire to derive solutions that would work in the real world. As one who approaches things considering what I’m going to have to do if things go wrong, the dissection of problems and their solutions was very helpful. The way to suspend some of the garden above the main growing beds was done in a way that would show whether or not it would shade too much what was below. Solutions for dealing with waste were really interesting, whether ammonia gas from animal bedding in the greenhouse or the black-water system for the house. It was also interesting, but not surprising, how it went presenting suggestions to the local authorities for waste-water systems with a positive track record, especially in light of the demonstrable short-falls and effects of conventional systems.
That the location of the site was so far north was noteworthy to me, especially given how far north I live (the UP of MI). That solutions for heating – a whole greenhouse, not just the house -- were found that didn’t use oil or gas was good news. How it could be scaled down a bit or how dependent on the lay of the land there is debatable, but the details are interesting and potentially useful.
After such an interesting journey through its development, I felt a twinge of sadness as she explained how things eventually had to end. As with pretty much any kind of endeavor, building and maintaining the entity requires vision, resources, and energy. She had to pull back eventually, and finding people to pick up the proverbial baton, even among those who were involved in the operation, failed. Seems that the combination of visionary and capitalist, or idealist and realist, is uncommon in one person. It’s also hard to tell how many times the effort could be duplicated; e.g., how many people could do this before market saturation, how it could be applied to other crops, how far down it could be scaled for just a one-family homestead (especially with the warming “system” for the greenhouse), etc.
I originally borrowed the book from the library, but then decided to buy one because it has some really worthwhile ideas.
I think it's important to note that some of the criticism surrounding her results not being replicable isn't fairly considering what goes into creating an autonomous building. There may not be a one-size-fits-all solution here, but rather a need to start from scratch with the people involved, their needs, and their resources. These ideas are valuable, but you might need to loosen your neck tie a bit to get there if playing by the rules is a must for you.
Reason for only 4 stars: I feel she overestimates how much you can make from her operation. You might be able to do it if you have a family partnership going, as opposed to hiring employees. The right crops are also important (when she started, there were no bagged gourmet lettuce salads in the stores as there are now), as is your location--she's in Massachusetts, where there are plenty of people wealthy enough and willing enough to pay for chi-chi food. California is another place where this kind of niche farming works.
Bottom line: She definitely makes a case that a family could easily supplement their food supply and reduce their energy consumption, as well as creatively recycling waste products. The book is worth buying for that alone.