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My Empire of Dirt: How One Man Turned His Big-City Backyard into a Farm
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My Empire of Dirt: How One Man Turned His Big-City Backyard into a Farm

2.73  ·  Rating details ·  383 Ratings  ·  121 Reviews
For seven months, Manny Howard—a lifelong urbanite—woke up every morning and ventured into his eight-hundred-square-foot backyard to maintain the first farm in Flatbush, Brooklyn, in generations. His goal was simple: to subsist on what he could produce on this farm, and only this farm, for at least a month. The project came at a time in Manny’s life when he most needed it— ...more
Hardcover, 288 pages
Published April 27th 2010 by Scribner (first published 2010)
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Jul 19, 2010 rated it did not like it
Shelves: food, 2010
I picked this one up after seeing the author on the Colbert Report, having found the interview amusing but not knowing anything about it and not having read one review. If you're reading this before you read this book, you have not made my mistake.

The premise seemed interesting: a man with no agricultural knowledge attempts to create a farm in his Brooklyn backyard with the intent to live off of the harvest for a month. What you find out is that this was an all-expense paid stunt concocted by hi
Jennifer Miera
May 10, 2010 rated it did not like it
I was so excited when I stumbled upon this book in the book store and added it to my list to order from the library. As you can probably tell from my reading list, I have a penchant for books about gardening and sustainable city living. Boy, was I disappointed. The author's writing style is hard to follow and his sentences are awkward and painful to dissect. Many times I got so lost within the tangle of commas in one sentence, that I had to keep re-reading it to try to distill his meaning. Still ...more
May 19, 2010 rated it did not like it
Shelves: 2010
6/21: i was hoping this man came to a much unhappier ending than he did.

a note about tone, 60 pages in. you know those people who justify their bad table manners by calling you uptight, and excuse away their flakiness, unemployability and general asshattery by insisting they're free spirits when in fact they are just incompetent emo-douches? yeah, meet manny howard. so far we've got poor judgment, insane entitlement [my daughter deserves a FLOCK of songbirds! dude, she's two. give her a large c
Nov 06, 2010 rated it it was ok
I had such mixed thoughts about this book. I picked it up from the library after seeing his interview on the Colbert Report. The interview was hilarious and I loved Manny Howard's deadpan humor. The book was much the same, only with many more incidents of animal cruelty, which is why I have the mixed feelings.

The premise is simple - Manny is a writer who is asked to do a story about growing his own food in the small yard of his Brooklyn home. You know, think Barbara Kingslover, only with a wacky
Jul 02, 2010 rated it really liked it
okay, first I decided to read this book for one reason. Manny Howard is the only person Ive ever seen beat Stephen Colbert at his own game. On multiple occasions during his short little interview on the Colbert Show, Howard really managed to take Colbert by surprise and left him at a loss for words. He was hilarious. I was sold.

What I expected was a witty little story about home farming with a trendy social lesson at the end about how we're all doing our part to destroy the earth by not growing
Amy R
Feb 22, 2011 rated it it was ok
Shelves: 2011
Ugh. I couldn't help but think "this Guy is an idiot!", before I even made it halfway through. Save yourself some frustration and find a gardening or farming book to read instead.

I knew this story was in trouble when the author continued to harrass a fish salesman for a couple live Tilapia and couldn't seem to figure out how to go online and order some from a dealer. Come on now! If the big box pet store I worked for in Alaska could have salt water fish overnighted and couriered, why couldn't th
Jan 17, 2011 rated it did not like it
This man is an idiot. Do not waste your time by reading this book. I've had a thing for memoirs lately, and kept waiting for Howard's book to get better, perhaps filled with more chicken antecdotes or something. Instead, I keep reading about yet another one of his animals miserably dying - through neglect, accident, or sheer uncontrolled rage (there's more than one instance of Howard killing an animal because he's upset with it, not just because it's a farm and things die on a farm.) or how his ...more
Jan 05, 2011 rated it liked it
I, like many others, got interested in this book after seeing the author on COLBERT. NO, he's by no means Kingsolver - he doesn't really whitewash the fact that he's kind of a slacker a**hole. Through the hellish summer of his backyard livestock-&-gardening sustainability experiment, he screws up again and again. And then there's just bad luck. Peppered with fascinating side notes about the Brooklyn history, cockfighting, tilapia farming in dumpsters, tornado fun facts, and his own endangere ...more
May 29, 2010 rated it it was ok
I was disappointed. This was not a project he came up with on his own. It was simply an assignment and he treated it as such. Plus, it was an expensive undertaking and not something anyone without disposable funds could attempt. His lack of regard for the animals' lives was what really turned me off though. He mentions at one point buying $1100 worth of song birds for his daughter's birthday and because he doesn't know anything about birds, they end up killing each other. The sole survivor (a.k. ...more
Jan 05, 2011 rated it did not like it

So you know when you go out to dinner with friends, you meet a new couple there and the guy dominates the evening? He drinks a little too much. He has some interesting stories but it is clear he finds them funnier than the rest of the table (like the Christmas Eve story in the book). You notice his wife getting sympathetic looks when he spouts something that makes others cringe. And you are relieved to be free of him when walking to the car at the end of the evening.

That’s how it felt for me and

Jan 20, 2013 rated it it was ok
Shelves: nonfiction
I found this book at the Dollar Tree and am very glad that I only paid a dollar for it.

This book was sort of all over the place. Neat concept but Manny Howard seemed to write about the experience off the top of his head, with no attempt to order his thoughts, and frequently going off on rabbit trails (no pun intended).
Kind of a bumbling sort of guy who had NO earthly idea what he was doing, but isn't afraid to reveal that to us.

I learned that a can of sardines can lure raccoons into a trap, as w
Kat Chapman
Feb 10, 2011 rated it did not like it
Shelves: gardening
I wanted to laugh at this man but as much as I tried I could only pity him and the animals he bought to live on his "farm". Having no idea of how to take care of animals he repeatedly purchases livestock and through neglect, ignorance and even malice manages to kill most of them. I didn't find this very funny. He seems to learn nothing from their deaths and so it happens again and again. I didn't find that very funny either. The fact that he has a seemingly endless well of money to draw from onl ...more
Aug 17, 2010 rated it did not like it
I'm only halfway through but I don't think I'll finish this book. What's turning me off? The author is cruel to animals, doesn't know or care about vegetables and decides to embark on this "Farm" adventure because he was assigned a journalism piece. He will be reimbursed for all his expenses in this endeavor, and therefore spends crazy amounts of money to set up his backyard and basement to grow and raise food; I find this wasteful and unrealistic. He has multiple failures in his quest- and they ...more
Emily Mellow
Feb 06, 2012 rated it did not like it
I really wanted to like this book. More importantly, I really wanted the author's experiment to work.
He had unlimited funds behind him, and spent thousands upon thousands of dollars of his publisher's money setting up his food production system. What was he missing? Research and follow-through. He gave a half-hearted attempt at tons of different farming methods, things he really didn't bother to learn much about, and gave a bad name to urban agriculture when his farm failed.
It was frustrating t
Aug 13, 2010 rated it did not like it
Shelves: garden
not a good book for anyone that loves a living thing or cares about the food they grow. Manny Howard is the gardner that every gardner dreads might be out there. Not a fish out of water story- that could be good. This story is told with too much unneccessary violence, glorifing ignorance, bad planning and no humor. I didn't even like his kids.
Jun 03, 2010 rated it really liked it
Assigned to make his Brooklyn backyard into an urban farm for a New York Magazine story, Manny Howard managed all of it and also this book. It certainly is a cautionary tale and you might never feel the same way about chickens or rabbits, but his writing rings true and is so funny in places. He is also very funny in person.
Apr 28, 2014 rated it it was ok
Shelves: abandoned
Intriguing idea but ultimately tedious and boring, despite the self-consciously writerly turns of phrase. Made it about half way but watching someone stupidly and self-importantly bash his head against a wall isn't my idea of a good read.
Sep 09, 2010 rated it did not like it
This one was disappointing and I couldn't get through it. Once I learned that the author did this with an unlimited budget, I completely lost interest. That and the needless killing of the song birds...
Kelli Grimes
Jun 24, 2017 rated it really liked it
I like how honest he is about his failures. His approach to farming was fascinating in its lack of forethought, planning and mission. This book should be the go to guide on what not to do when deciding to become an urban farmer. But it is a good story, and you can skip the side trips and forays, and still enjoy the read.
Feb 11, 2015 rated it liked it
Manny's wife Lisa is extremely successful – she has the kind of job that entails dressing to the nines and being picked up and dropped off by a driver and car paid for by the publishing firm for which she works. Manny writes freelance for big name magazines (which Lisa's employer owns) from diverse locations all over the globe about everything from Haitian dictators to bear hunting with mobsters in Russia. When a documentary project about Afghanistan falls through he begins to seriously contempl ...more
Cheryl Gatling
Like many people, I was inspired to read this book after I saw Manny Howard plugging it on Stephen Colbert. Like many people, I found the book disappointing. And like many other people, the main reason is that I didn't really like Manny Howard. He comes across as a bumbling, incompetent farmer, yet somehow arrogant. Manny says that his wife had originally been attracted to his enthusiasms and his sense of adventure, but in his backyard farming project those qualities were manifested as what I wo ...more
Feb 27, 2013 rated it really liked it
Manny Howard is a big city guy and a food and travel writer for numerous magazines. He has no clue about farming. However, when a magazine editor calls him (while Howard is in the middle of a life crisis) to ask if he wants to turn his backyard into an urban farm and write a piece about it, he completely devotes himself to the project; livestock, 5 tons of soil and marriage problems follow. His goal is to feed himself off his land for a month.
On this journey, there is a lot of 'collateral damag
Mar 11, 2011 rated it it was ok
So my criticisms for this book parallel a lot of other peoples. It did NOT bother me that he was paid to complete the assignment. I am actually very interested in reading a book about someone who is thrown into this scenario with no real knowledge of the local food movement or farming. What I did have a problem with was the person he comes off looking like a sociopath (maybe he is?) and his particular way of approaching everything with money first and sense second.

I won't belabor the points that
Dan Polley
Apr 02, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: food
Manny Howard was a writer who was tasked with living off of only what his farm could produce for a month, and he details his experiences in "My Empire of Dirt: How One Man Turned His Big-City Backyard into a Farm."

The book did not go into as much how-to as I thought it would, but Howard does a good job telling the stories behind the farm, including the book-long fight with his wife over the endeavor.

As interesting as Howard's adventures of creating a farm in an 800-square-food backyard are, perh
Aug 22, 2010 rated it really liked it
Shelves: adult-nonfiction
If you have ever had the romantic urge to "live off the land" , go back to nature, or grow your own food, let Manny Howard first imform your decision. His book is labeled "A Cautionary Tale" with good reason. This book will make you appreciate the luxury of letting someone else grow your food. A restless writer, Mr. Howard was given the challenge, in 2007 by 'New York' magazine, to farm his small urban back yard in Brooklyn, then to live off the results of his labor for one month. Having grown u ...more
Alisa Kester
Jun 04, 2014 rated it did not like it
What an absolutely appalling book. Sickening, really, is the word for it. The level of careless and/or intentional animal neglect and cruelty is almost beyond belief. From neglecting his two year old daughter's pet songbirds until most of them die (and then purposely smashing and killing the last survivor against a wall in a drunken rage) to trapping, starving, then drowning a wild squirrel, to causing various rabbits to die in horrible ways (one he paralyzes and then kills as she's giving birth ...more
Joe Orchanian
Apr 15, 2014 rated it liked it
It's a well written book, but the guy is a bit of a doofus when it comes to food. But maybe that's realistic? I mean, most kids these days can't tell a potato from a porcupine. My biggest frustration with the story, other than his self deprecating attitude with regards to his wife ( seriously, she's completely unreasonable and he takes on all the blame) is his sense that all the success that he reaped from the farm is due to his hard work. No... It's from the handfuls of cash he threw at every p ...more
Apr 16, 2015 rated it liked it
This is book is more autobiography of the author during a time when he is struggling both in his professional and family life than it is about urban farming. The book is about Manny, trying to grow food in his backyard is just what he happens to be doing while he tells his story.

That said, I found Manny to be an interesting, if not entirely sympathetic, character. He has grand ideas, high aspirations, and lots of enthusiasm. What he dosen't have is a lot of patience for research or advice, and
Mar 14, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Apr 11, 2011 rated it it was ok
This book relates the experiences of an urban resident as he tries to produce some of his own food for the first time. Howard, a journalist living in Brooklyn, accepted an assignment from New York magazine to attempt to grow enough food to live on for a month and survive to write about it. Howard is an odd choice for such a journalistic assignment--he seemingly has no interest in the environment or health of his family or food, eagerly making use of whatever toxic chemicals he can find to ensure ...more
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farm cost 1 4 Nov 05, 2013 11:43AM  
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“We can commit ourselves fully to anything—a discipline, a life’s work, a child, a family, a community, a faith, a friend—only with a poverty of knowledge, an ignorance of result, self-subordination, and a final forsaking of other possibilities. If we must make these so final commitments without sufficient information, then what can inform our decisions?” 0 likes
“More dangerously, our practiced whimsy, our ability to cast aside the objects of our desire we impulsively collect, extends to metaphysical yearning as well. The whole culture, a country populated by people, like magpies, on the hunt for the next shiny alternative to whatever it is that occupies their sweaty grip at present.” 0 likes
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