Cover image for Reclaiming the commons : community farms & forests in a New England town
Reclaiming the commons : community farms & forests in a New England town
Donahue, Brian, 1955-
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New Haven [Conn.] : Yale University Press, [1999]

Physical Description:
xvii, 329 pages : illustrations, map ; 25 cm.
Format :


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HD1289.U6 D66 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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This book is a lively account of a community working to combat suburban sprawl, to protect a large part of the landscape as common land, & to enjoy the land productively in an ecologically sustainable way. Based on the practical experience of one New England town, the book urges suburban environmentalists to go beyond preserving open space to actively engaging people with the places where they live. Brian Donahue, an environmental historian, in 1980 was a founder of Land's Sake, a community farm in Weston, Massachusetts. Working with the town's Conservation Commission, Land's Sake cultivates a twenty-five-acre organic fruit, flower, & vegetable farm, makes apple cider & maple syrup, maintains a sixty-five-mile trail system, harvests firewood & timber from fifteen hundred acres of town forest, & has kept draft horses & sheep. Donahue recounts the joys & sorrows of farming the suburbs. But beneath the light hearted tales of sheep straying into tennis courts & middle-school students tapping sugar maples in the town cemetery runs an incisive ecological history of New England & a penetrating analysis of how to live responsibly with this difficult but rewarding land. Donahue concludes with a call for all places to protect common land & establish community farms-especially in the suburbs, where most Americans live & where, like it or not, environmentalists may make their most lasting mark on the world.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Environmentalist Donahue appeals to suburbanites to protect farmland by using the land for small nonprofit community farms. His observations are based on the 25 years he has spent helping to operate community farms in the Boston suburb of Weston. Donahue describes the experience of creating a farm that grows fruits, flowers, and vegetables using organic methods. He recounts the successes, failures, and hard lessons learned about ecology, agriculture, and sociology. His suggestions aren't meant to replace private farming but to move Americans who voice concerns about the environment from a passive to an aggressive stance that gets them engaged with the land. Donahue combines social and natural history to examine how our culture and economy favor development and consumerism at the expense of the environment. His message is aimed at the suburbs because of their proximity to rural areas and because they epitomize irrational development, with sprawling subdivisions and commuter traffic. This book is an engaging look at environmental issues and what can be done beyond hand-wringing. --Vanessa Bush

Publisher's Weekly Review

The title of Donahue's visionary, green blueprint for transforming the face of America's suburbs is no mere metaphor. He wants each suburb or town in the U.S. to establish a local commons, a swath of the surrounding countryside that would be jointly owned by the citizens and used for local, sustainable food production, forestry or both. Donahue, who teaches American environmental studies at Brandeis, speaks from hands-on experience: in 1980, he and fellow activists launched Land's Sake, a nonprofit community farm in the Boston suburb of Weston, Mass., a model of organic farming and local self-reliance. To critics who blast the local commons concept as a form of creeping socialism, Donahue replies that common land ownershipÄa system brought over from EnglandÄwas an important yet largely forgotten feature of the first New England towns. His grassroots, dirt-under-the-fingernails autobiography is interwoven with an eco-history of New England, showing how the mixed husbandry practiced by colonial farmers gave way to commercial livestock production, which ultimately yielded to today's factory farms, automotive suburbs and clogged cities. Donahue advocates a national shift away from agribusiness toward increased local food production for reasons of health, energy conservation, climatic stability, and reduction of pollution, pesticide use and fossil fuel consumption. His radically conservative manifesto offers new approaches to make suburbia economically healthy, more livable and ecologically balanced. Photos. (June) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Choice Review

Everyone should read this book--it describes Donahue's experiences in converting the tragedy of the commons to the triumph of the commons. Sustainability comes to the suburbs, with a few bumps along the way. Why suburbanite environmentalism? Because most Americans live in the suburbs. Donahue the environmentalist and ecological historian poses two arguments: that suburbanites must protect the forests and farmlands as they spread into rural areas; and that the protected land should be sustainably used for productive purposes. After an introductory chapter that relates how love of wilderness drove him to the civilized, contemporary frontlines of ecological destruction as a realistic place to begin building a sustainable future, Donahue describes his efforts with others to create a community farm in suburban Massachusetts. Chapters offer personal narratives on market gardening, livestock husbandry, syruping, cidering, and sustainable forestry. The book is many things: an ecological history of New England, a how-to of community farming in the suburbs, an engaging journal on trial-and-error environmentalism, and a call for suburban sustainability. Enjoyable, stimulating reading for general readers, professional environmentalists, and everyone in between. Endnotes; useful index. S. Cable; University of Tennessee at Knoxville