Reading List - Books That Have Impacted My Alternative Lifestyle

This reading list originated as something I send to my Interns before they arrive. These books and DVDs have made an impact on my life as an organic farmer, off-grid enthusiast, and environmentalist. I tell them to read (or listen to) to them, think about what interests them, and get ready to have thoughtful discussions.

The list covers several subject areas; The Food Movement, Self-Sufficiency, Organic Farming, Livestock, Marketing, Wildlife. and Environmental Awareness. I am a great lover of books and learning, something I hope to share with each of you.

I was blessed to have been raised on a Kentucky farm and as a teenager was totally enamored with the back to the land movement. Like most kids, I hid under the covers and read at night. It started out with Little House on the Prairie, went to the Black Stallion series and then on to the Encyclopedia of North American Wildlife. As a teen, I purchased many books and magazines about the back to the land movement.

And so it began…

I built my own house and every room has wall to wall bookshelves

I built my own house and every room has wall to wall bookshelves

5 Books To Begin With…

The Food Movement:

Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan. Published in 2006 this book has been quintessential to the “Foodie Movement”. Written from the perspective of his career as a journalist Pollan literally chases down his meals and discusses each stage. I love that he is so brutally honest and does not mince words.

This book is great for people who are just getting started eating locally or thinking more about their diet. The different sections of the book trace Pollan’s meals from start to finish.  He examines the food chain that the meal goes through within industrial, organic, and the hunter-gatherer themes.

Do you sell at Farmers Markets or via a CSA? This book will help you connect with your customers. People want to know where their food comes from and have that personal connection.

Pollan is also featured in the DVD documentary’s Food, Inc. and Queen of the Sun (about bees and pollination) both worth watching although Food Inc can be difficult to watch from a humanitarian viewpoint.


The Humanure Book by Joseph Jenkins. For most of my interns, my composting toilet is their first experience with humanure. This book is a classic for environmentalists and preppers alike. (A prepper is a term used to describe survivalists actively planning for emergencies)

This book details the science of composting human poop as well as looking at the environmental advantages of composting toilets. You can also read my article COMPOSTING TOILETS ARE GREAT: NO SH*T

Why is this book listed under self-sufficiency you may ask? Having a composting toilet allows you to be free of utilities, is energy conservative, environmentally friendly, and perfect for independent off-grid living.

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Organic Farming:

The New Organic Grower by Eliot Coleman. Eliot Coleman is an organic farming guru and has written numerous books. This was one of his first books and a new updated version came out last year.

Coleman’s view is small is better. He plans his crop rotations and pest management based on efficient planning.

Coleman has also done a lot of hands-on experimenting with season extension and growing in an unheated greenhouse. It’s very interesting to learn about what he grows all winter up in Maine.

Coleman is all about tools and techniques that save time and backache! He worked with Johnnys Seeds for many years developing tools to make organic farming easier. He and his wife Barbara Damrosch (also a writer) own Four Season Farm in Maine.

Tomato’s growing at Fox Run EEC

Tomato’s growing at Fox Run EEC


The Backyard Homestead: A Guide to Raising Farm Animals by Gail Damerow. Gail Damerow writes in an easy to read yet thorough manner. This book is a great overall guide to livestock. Everything from bees to cattle, including housing, food, and using the resources they provide.

Another great read in the livestock category is Temple Grandin’s book. Grandin is an animal behaviorist and also widely known for her work in the field of autism


The Market Gardener by Jean-Martin Fortier. I went with a group of woman farmers to hear him speak at the University of Kentucky on February 4, 2015. It was very motivating and he is doing great things on his farm in Canada. The book is a best-seller on Amazon.

His book is a handbook of how he is using intensive gardening methods to make $150,000 per year on less than two acres of land. The book has some great beginner info on soil building, tilling and planting as well as some more advanced information on number crunching and marketing.

Environmental Awareness:

The Last Child in the Woods by Richard Louv. You don’t have to be a parent to appreciate Louv’s “nature deficit” philosophy. This book examines the damage caused by our alienation with nature. Powerful stuff!

Today’s children spend an extraordinary amount of time indoors. They go to school all day, where often recess has been excluded as a time suck, they then go home or to daycare which allows them to take a break in front of the game center and television. On most days the only time they are outside is when they walk to the bus stop.

This behavior has not only hurt us in terms of our relationship with the natural world but has stunted children’s imaginations and creativity. We have created a generation of people who cant think, don’t explore, and worse hate anything found in nature.

Enough of my lecture! Another great book by Louv is:

It continually amazes and saddens me the number of calls I get because there is an animal in the house, looking at the house or near the house. I had a woman scream at me one time because a garter snake was in their yard and it did not belong there. Incidentally, that’s not my job. I am a wildlife rehabilitator. I am not animal control although I’m glad to talk to you about humane options.

Read more about wildlife in our blog

Ready For More – 5 Books To Grow On…

The Food Movement:

Animal, Vegetable, Mineral: A year of food life by Barbara Kingsolver. Another classic for “foodies” updated in 2017 after Kingsolver and her family spent a year eating locally, both by growing their own and shopping at area farmers’ markets.

This book will really show you how it is possible to eat locally. To grow all that you can and then trade, barter, and buy what else you need from area farmers. Kingsolver is also a prolific novelist. My favorite is Animal Dreams.


The Self-Sufficient Gardener by John Seymour. This man is my personal hero. He along with Alan Chadwick led the Back to the Land movement of the 1970s. I cut my teeth on every word he uttered back in the day!!  This a wonderful book.

I have the first edition of this book and I’d be a rich woman if I had not loved it to death. Today it sits on my shelf held together by rubber bands.

I just love charts and illustrations and this book is full of them. It has many depicting layouts of the land, animal shelters, and food prep.

Organic Gardening:

The Organic Gardeners Handbook of Natural Pest and Disease Control by Fern Marshall Bradley. Every future farmer or gardener needs one good comprehensive book to identify the enemy! This book is an encyclopedia of good information. The pictures of insects and diseases are valuable references.


This is more a publisher than an author, although many great agricultural authors write for them. Storey’s Publishing has a great beginner series on raising livestock including,  Raising Dairy Goats by JD Belanger, Raising Chickens by Gail Damerow and Raising Sheep by Paula Simmons are all good! More recently they have published several good in-depth works such as Whole Farm Management: From Start-Up to Sustainability 

New Ways To Farm

I am totally excited about Regeneration Agriculture and so happy it is making the forefront. Ben Falk has been a leader in this movement. Regeneration agriculture perfectly meshes permaculture, ecology, organic farming and wildlife conservation.

At Fox Run we have several goals using regeneration techniques. I’m currently working on some sections of living fencing, a fruit guild, and managing the woods to produce more food for the wildlife and the humans.

Ben also has a fabulous YouTube channel.

Another great book in this category is Dirt to Soil: One Family’s Journey Into Regenerative Agriculture by Brown.

Keep growing… Some more authors that are very much worth reading.

Collapse by Jared Diamond. A very timely book right now! This was required reading in my Ecological Anthropology class and it really helped me look at societal collapse through an environmental perspective. It helps us to see the interrelations of culture and the environment. His latest book Upheaval is also pretty timely in our current crisis.

Joel Salatin is farmer extraordinaire, owner of Polyface Farms in Virginia and prolific author. He holds an annual mini-conference at his farm every year and I’ve had the pleasure of going twice. His books run the gamut from Foodie to Livestock to Environmental Awareness. They have a unique flavor that is all Joel. My Favorite is “Everything I Want To Do Is Illegal”. I don’t always agree with him but I devour each book and article he writes!!

My Salatin Favorites

Gene Logsdon passed recently and it was a sad day indeed. Gene was known as a “rabble-rouser” and advocate for sustainable farmers. I had the pleasure to get to know him via a mutual farm group.

A farmer/writer his books and articles are fun and thought-provoking. Gene also wrote about small scale grain growing which was a much-needed topic for those of us striving for self-sufficiency. When his book “Holy Shit” came out I went to the library to see if they would order it for me. The librarians could not decide if I was trying to be funny or had reached a new level of crazy.

My favorite Logsdon books

Author, Ame Vanorio has 27 years of experience living off-grid, is a certified teacher, and an organic farmer. She is the director of Fox Run Environmental Education Center and a licensed wildlife rehabilitator.

Check out our EVENTS page. Ame teaches classes locally and online about organic gardening, herbs, homesteading, green building, living off-grid and wildlife conservation. In addition, she is a freelance writer and writes for several gardening, tiny house and pet websites. She lives a sustainable life on her Kentucky farm with a myriad of domestic and wild animals.