Courtesy of Harley Soltes
Ballard urban farmer Joshua McNichols recently co-authored a book on the craft called, “The Urban Farm Handbook: City-Slicker Resources for Growing, Raising, Sourcing, Trading, and Preparing What You Eat.” He is passionate about procuring foods from local sources such as community oriented urban gardens and farms, not from commercial supermarkets.

Ballard Writer puts the spade to the page

By Shane Harms, Intern.

Ballardite Joshua McNichols may not look like your typical farmer. He has soft features and speaks like an English professor. However, don’t let the looks and academic demeanor fool you, McNichols is a true farmer, and an urban farmer at that.

McNichols recently co-authored a book on the craft called, “The Urban Farm Handbook: City-Slicker Resources for Growing, Raising, Sourcing, Trading, and Preparing What You Eat.”

McNichols is passionate about procuring foods from local sources such as community oriented urban gardens and farms, not from commercial supermarkets.

“That was our target but we ended up doing more – one family meal a day with foods that are completely locally derived ingredients that did not come from the grocery store," McNichols said. “It’s hard to fit it into your schedule all the time but if you do it thirty percent of the time it comes out to one meal a day.”

Through this passion he met the co-author of the book, Annette Cottrell, at a back yard bartering community.

" was more advanced than me in homesteading, and I fell in love with many of those activities. I’ve always had a hunger for local food and cooking and gardening,” he said. “She mentored me in terms of using heirloom grains that predate industrial wheat. She was the first person I saw with a pantry that was equipped with all this canning and grain grinding equipment.”

Bartering is one among many sections in “The Urban Farm Handbook” that stresses the value in a food community, and that stepping out from the convenience of commercial supermarkets people in a community can meet face to face to establish relationships that improve social and dietary health.

McNichols said, “People would come and bring canned goods or things they had preserved and then everybody would put their stuff on tables on my back porch…one thing about an urban lot is you can’t do everything, so it makes more sense to choose one thing that your really good at and then just barter the rest.”

McNichols explained that a bartering community was likely inspired by the economic crisis and also by the Do It Yourself movement in Seattle.

“I’m sure it had to do with the economic crisis. The question on many people’s minds is will it stick? Personally, I think that as long as those relationships are rooted in what we call a food community, where your sharing relationships with people based on exchanging food through bartering or sharing gardening knowledge…we’re not going to discard those relationships because things get better,” said McNichols.

Originally from Bellingham, McNichols went to the University of Washington for architecture but his inquisitive nature led him to journalism and McNichols started his journalism career as an intern for KUOW.

“They emphasize story telling that’s compelling in the way that its told, so for me as some one who is very interested in writing there is a strong connection in the discipline of story telling they teach there,” he said.

McNichols continues to report for KUOW and has appeared on programs such as “The Splendid Table,” and “Weekend America.”

“I’m definitely interested in stories around food, agricultural systems, and how we feed ourselves, but also the stories of the people who are a part of those systems. Although food is a really important part of my life, I’m interested in all kinds of stories and anyone who has an interesting story to tell,” he said.

McNichols said writing a book is challenging and takes discipline.

“I was writing a couple thousand words a day. Journalism helped because you have to get in the zone and write immediately without messing around, and I think I sustained some hearing damage from listening to arcade fire really loud when I was writing it, ” he said.

Aside from also being a master composter, McNichols said he’s part of the Ballard Writers group, a community of writers that live in Ballard.

"It's fun to be a part of a community of writers. In the same way I get really exciting about trading in a food community, I also enjoy that with a writing community," he said. "It’s been really exciting to find out how many writers there are in Ballard. We are constantly thinking of new things that we want to do and ways we want o collaborate…generally as a community its just been really fun.”

Along with urban farming and freelance journalism, McNichols said his life is centered around his wife Emily, daughter Luella, and son Gavin.

He said, “In the morning my day begins with making the kids lunches and getting the kids ready, offering any incentive I can to get them going before I take them to school.”

As a man that wears many hats, with the publication of “ The Urban Farm Handbook,” Joshua McNichols is a fresh face (well maybe a little mud here there) bringing urban farming and a do it yourself philosophy to the community.

To hear more from Joshua McNichols and about his book there is a reading on March 22, 2012 at the Ballard Library at 6:30 p.m. or check out BallardWriters.org.

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