Books: The Urban Farm Handbook

February 9, 2012(updated on October 3, 2018)

The Urban Farm Handbook

It has always been a dream of mine to have a little farm. When I was four years old, adults would ask me what I wanted to be when I grew up and I would say, “A farmer.” I imagined myself in overalls and a red plaid shirt, spending my days playing in the soil. I realize, my childhood vision of farming doesn’t actually line up with the reality of the profession.

Life took a number of turns and farming never became my path. Instead, when I became old enough to make my own choices, I moved to a city and into an apartment without even a stitch of outdoor space.

The Urban Farm Handbook

Most of the time I am entirely at peace with the way things have worked out (after all, apartment living hasn’t stopped me from canning my little heart out). However, in the springtime, I feel a yearning to plant seeds in the dirt and help them grow. Still, I dream of having a little bit of outdoor space someday, to plant a garden and maybe even have a chicken or two (my husband is firmly against the idea of livestock).

One of the way I feed this longing to plant and raise and grow is by reading stories from other folks who are doing it. At the moment, my favorite farming and homesteading book is The Urban Farm Handbook by Annette Cottrell and Joshua McNichols. What’s so great about this volume is that for me, it is both an aspirational volume and useful hand book in the present day.

The Urban Farm Handbook

In addition to being full of all of someday useful information about chickens, backyard dairy and how to get the most food out of your city plot, it’s also bursting with recipes and techniques that I can implement in my apartment-based life. It has a lengthy food preservation section, as well as information on grinding grain at home, making butter/yogurt/cheese and even homemade soap and lotion.

There’s also a section on building food community, bartering and creating your own buying clubs. I know author Annette has done a great deal of work in building a buying club in her area of the Pacific Northwest and I’m certain that the advice and experiences she in folded into this volume will help lots of other folks do something similar in their areas.

The Urban Farm Handbook

The other thing that I love about this book is that it has a number of producer profiles. I have always found it fascinating to learn about the lives of the people who nurture the stuff we eat and this volume contains a number of them.

Finally, those of you who are looking to dig more deeply into the subject of urban farming and self-sustainability will love the resources section in the very back of the book. The authors have been incredibly generous in gathering up all the books, websites and sources for chickens, goats and grain that they’ve spent years acquiring into just a few pages.

The Urban Farm Handbook

All year, Annette is going to be hosting an Urban Farm Handbook Challenge and there’s still time to sign up. Each month as a different theme designed to help you learn how to take steps towards greater sustainability. I’m going to be helping out a bit this August during canning month and I’m looking forward to it! Click over to Sustainable Eats to learn more.

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19 thoughts on "Books: The Urban Farm Handbook"

  • We have a little farmlet, 14 beautiful acres with a creek running through it.
    This book looks great, would you say that it was quite US-centric? We’re in Australia, so I wouldn’t want to buy something that was unsuited to our situation.


    1. Jade I think you’ll find the resources not at all helpful to you which makes me sad because I spent weeks building them! The gardening advice is geared towards the Pacific NW, although honestly it’s a small part of the book. The recipes and how-tos on baking, dairy, how to purchase a whole animal (and what to do with it), small space gardening and soil building, soap and lotion making, preserving (all methods, not just canning) and eating seasonally should be applicable anywhere. I sat down to write the book that I wish I had had just starting out on this journey, which is why it’s so comprehensive. I hope that helps answer your question!

      1. Thank you for the reply.

        I think I will hold off for now, but your book sounds lovely, so I’m sure it will sneak its way into my collection eventually!

    2. I believe that there is a blog based in Australia. The is I love the blog. Maybe she can help out.

  • Jade – Oh this book is awesome. Sure it is US and even Pacific Northwest Centric but it rocked my world. I like the way it presents topics on grains, vegetable gardening, worms, chickens, dairy, rabbits, compost, meat in a balanced way from things you can do in an apartment to things you can do on a quarter-acre like going ‘whole hog’. Imagine what you can do on more than an acre! I’m sort of in the middle … I only just this year got chickens and have no intention ever of getting rabbits for meat (though, rabbits for poop … ?), or raising goats, but I like the idea of learning how to make cheese from someone else’s goats. Or, since I’m pretty good at gardening, maybe I can do it better by increasing my winter gardening yield. This book, while it has lots of practical advice, is good inspiration for how *I* want to do it. It is not a Martha Stewart-like book that says you “have to do it my way, but you’re not perfect enough, so you’re going to fail.” It is a book that says “You can do it my way, or Josh’s way, or maybe you have a better way yourself, or maybe you can get together with some friends to share your ideas.” And here is a way to get started.

  • That book looks so great! My husband is firmly against livestock, too, and he’s very to be very surprised when a box of little chicks shows up here!

  • I never tried the homemade soap and lotion. It looks there is some really interesting stuff in this book.

  • I too am wondering about locality. I am in Eastern Canada (Nova Scotia! Woot!!) and am a beginner. I love the idea of this book but wonder if it will serve me in the location and experience capacity?

  • We are in the process of buying the empty rowhouse next to ours in East Kensington, Philly. It means a double backyard and maybe fulfilling my dream of having an amazing garden in the city. I’ve signed up for the challenge. Maybe it’ll keep me on top of the garden idea! Going out to get the book this weekend!

  • We grind our own grain (wheat) and roll oat groats for oatmeal. It’s very easy, and you can’t beat using the whole grain. Beyond that, the taste is something commercial oatmeals & flours can’t touch!


  • well, i’m trying my hand at canning first, then maybe farming in a year. we do have over 2 acres of land so….plus i need fresh herbs–that’s been my dream.
    i had a farm as a kid and it was hard ass work. mostly horses, goats and chickens. no crops just hay really. but it was hard work. rewarding at times though.
    Ordering my 1st canning book today—woohoo! lol

  • I absolutely loved this book. It sits stuffed full of bookmarks on my nightstand when I need a little motivation to keep going. 🙂

  • I absolutely love this book! Just came across your blog, and really like your ideas – great job!! We saw the post on the book and just had to “like” it.

    Jim and Mary

  • Raising chickens is not only a great way to relax and get back to nature, I think the eggs are much healthier than the ones in stores. I feel sorry for folks who can’t raise backyard chickens because of silly zoning laws and such.