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Potatoes on Rooftops: Farming in the City by H. Dyer

Dyer, Hadley.  Potatoes on Rooftops: Farming in the City.  Toronto:  Annick Press, 2012. Print.

With the increased public interest in urban agriculture, this is a timely book.  While the publishers present it as being for grades 4-7, the content and reading level is much higher,  scoring at the Tenth Grade on the Coleman-Liau Index and 9.2 on the Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level test.

The design looks like a children’s book, with backgrounds composed of bright colour blocks, small monochrome drawings and many irregularly shaped photographs with overlapping captions that look as if they are hand-printed.   The text is often informal, using contractions and questions to engage the reader.  “What’s a city dweller to do if she doesn’t want to pay a king’s ransom for an egg?” (p. 18). However, the content is dense and covers urban agriculture almost like a text book.  It begins with a substantial introductory section on the state of food and the need for urban agriculture then moves through examples of small scale urban agriculture, larger scale urban agriculture and ends up with some of the larger social and political movements and philosophies.  There is also a glossary, resource list and index.

While the author is from Toronto and this book received Ontario Arts Council Funding, there is little Canadian content.  While the author does cite a number of international examples including some from Africa, Japan and Scotland, it is clear that the market for this book is the United States.  There are a few Toronto projects mentioned and the Inuvik Community Greenhouse, which is an old arena, but there is little said about the practicalities of urban gardening in Canada.  Climate is a major factor in successful gardening anywhere and the growing conditions of most American locations are quite different from those in most of Canada.  It is a lot easier to be an urban gardener in Florida than it is in Edmonton.

This book is a good introduction to the concepts of urban gardening but will be most useful to teen and adult readers.  Recommended for high school and public libraries.

Recommendation:  3 stars out of 4
Reviewer:  Sandy Campbell

Sandy is a Health Sciences Librarian at the University of Alberta, who has written hundreds of book reviews across many disciplines.  Sandy thinks that sharing books with children is one of the greatest gifts anyone can give.